Washington Jail Detainees Sue over Videotaped "Peep Shows"
by Mark Wilson
"They were directing them to do it like dolls. Like taking clothes off a Barbie doll,” stated Seattle, Washington attorney James C. Egan, referring to a pattern of videotaping female detainees in holding cells at the Puyallup City Jail as they undressed and used the toilet.
In 2011, Egan noticed that his DUI clients were routinely forced to strip at the jail, even when they were being released. Surveillance video he obtained through public records requests confirmed his suspicions. The videos, which were readily available to anyone making a records request, revealed a “significant pattern” of women prisoners being forced to strip naked, change clothes or use the bathroom in areas under video surveillance.
Guards orchestrated “peep shows,” Egan alleged. One woman said jail staff ordered her to undress in what she believed was a private cell. After changing into a uniform, a guard forced her to strip again.
“An officer came in and says something to her and she takes her jail pants off and then her panties,” said Egan. “I thought, ‘this has got to stop.’”
In August 2013, eleven women and one man arrested on misdemeanor DUI charges who were videotaped in holding cells at the jail sued the city, the police chief and a lieutenant. The lawsuit, filed in state court, alleged that jail staff violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights and privacy by filming them as they disrobed and used the toilet. The plaintiffs, represented by Egan, were not identified in the complaint.
“Plaintiffs had a reasonable expectation of privacy which was violated by their having been secretly videotaped in assorted states of undress. It is believed that officers may have committed this offense for the purpose of obtaining arousal or personal gratification,” the lawsuit stated.
Some of the women who were videotaped said they felt “sickened” and taken advantage of, calling the guards “peeping toms” and “perverts.” One of the plaintiffs said jail guards made comments like, “I love red heads” and “You have a nice body.”
“It was one of the worst experiences of my life because of how mean and rude they treated me,” said another plaintiff. “I am absolutely horrified and violated. I honestly can’t believe it. I had no idea there were cameras around. The fact those are supposed to be police officers upholding our justice system while violating it is absolutely disgusting.”
The defendants, of course, saw things much differently.
“The tactics that Mr. Egan uses are slimy,” stated Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto, adding, “Mr. Egan does not have the best interest of these folks at heart” – apparently because he “cherry-picked” defendants who had the most compelling video footage from the holding cells.
Yamamoto did not address whether the practice of filming detainees while they were undressing and using the bathroom also was “slimy.” Instead, he defended the videotaping as necessary to ensure security at the jail.
“While at first blush it may seem a little intrusive to have a safety camera monitoring a holding cell, there are numerous reasons why these cameras are present,” the Puyallup Police Department wrote in a statement on August 22, 2013, when the suit was filed.
“In our view, Mr. Egan’s claims are completely baseless,” added Puyallup Police Captain Scott Engle.
In a phone interview with PLN, Egan said the city made two mistakes – they placed cameras in areas at the jail where detainees had an expectation of privacy, and the video footage was recorded and stored, making it available to the public through public records requests. He also noted that, ironically, while his clients had been jailed on misdemeanor DUI charges, the offense of voyeurism in Washington state is a felony.
The lawsuit was removed to U.S. District Court, and on July 7, 2014 the court ruled on the defendants’ motion to dismiss and the parties’ cross-motions for partial summary judgment. The court dismissed claims for voyeurism, invasion of privacy under the state’s Public Records Act and violation of a state law related to strip searches (RCW 10.79).
The defendants noted that as of December 13, 2013, the jail no longer recorded video footage from the holding cells, and that all preexisting footage had been destroyed except the videos introduced as evidence in the lawsuit. The district court ordered those videos sealed, and the case remains pending. See: K.S. v. City of Puyallup, U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:13-cv-05926-RJB.
Additional sources: www.mynorthwest.com, www.thenewstribune.com, www.puyallup.patch.com, CNN
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Related legal case
K.S. v. City of Puyallup
|Cite||U.S.D.C. (W.D. Wash.), Case No. 3:13-cv-05926-RJB|