“That’s psycho, weird, crazy shit.”
Such is the reaction of a woman who for the first time yesterday saw a video of herself using the bathroom—a video that had been taken at the Puyallup jail after she was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Although she alleges she had earlier been groped by an officer during a pat-down, she says had no idea that a camera was pointed at the toilet in the cell where she was being held.
No idea, that is, until she was contacted by Seattle DUI attorney James Egan, who has made it his business of late to unearth incriminating law enforcement videos. Through public disclosure requests, Egan says, he has gotten his hands on Puyallup jail videos of 12 people, all of them captured on tape either going to the bathroom or changing clothes.
“They were running a peep show,” Egan says of the Puyallup police officers in charge.
Egan says he plans to file a lawsuit this morning in King County Superior Court against the city of Puyallup, Police Chief Bryan Jeter and a lieutenant. The complaint charges invasion of privacy and civil rights violations.
Egan says he attempted to settle with the city in June, but was told he had no valid claim.
“It’s pretty much industry standard that jails have cameras,” says Puyallup Police Chief Bryan Jeter, speaking with SW this morning. He declines to comment further, saying he was unaware of the suit, and refers SW to the city attorney, who could not be immediately reached.
Egan says case law establishes that there are limits on what kinds of pictures and videos law enforcement can take. In his complaint, he cites from a 1963 case, York v. Story, which involved a California cop who ordered a woman to pose for naked pictures. “We cannot conceive of a more basic subject of privacy than the naked body,” stated the 9th Circuit of Appeals ruling.
Egan contends that his clients—11 women and one man—didn’t just happen to be caught by the camera. They were deliberately set up. First, he contends that cameras in two cells were deliberately pointed at the toilets. Second, officers insisted that his clients change into jail uniforms for a booking photo--going as far as telling one woman to take off her panties—even though the individuals were not actually booked. They were, instead, held for a few hours and released.
In any case, booking photos show only a person’s top half, according to Egan, so there would be no reason to take off underwear except for the voyeurism of those watching.
The woman who saw the video of her yesterday, who like all of Egan’s clients is remaining anonymous, says she was already disturbed by the groping before finding out about the video. Now, she’s livid. “I want those bastards to be blown up on TV, so that everyone can see what fucking jerks they are,” she says of the officers involved. “I want their badges taken away.”
She says she finds the videos particularly disturbing because she is “very conservative, very modest.” “I don’t even wear a bathing suit in the summer,” she adds.
Among plaintiffs’ statements included in Egan’s complaint are two from women who say they were sexually abused in the past. “As a child, I was victimized by a male family member, who would make me walk around naked in front of them and would watch me use the restroom,” one woman is quoted as saying. “It wasn’t until recently when I married my husband that I started to feel confident and comfortable. And now this happens.”
UPDATE: Puyallup officials are hitting back hard at Egan. Calling back SW with several others in the room, City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto branded Egan as “slimy.”
Yamamoto contends that Egan “abused” the state public records act to get “dozens if not hundreds” of videos over the last several years, threatening to sue if they were not released. He then “trolled” for clients by finding videos he thought he could make a case out of, and contacting the people in the videos.
Egan has made no bones about conducting what he calls a “fishing” expedition with his requests for videos, and then seeking out potential clients. But he has said he’s not in it for the money but for correcting wrongoing.
Yamamoto, along with Police Captain Scott Eagle, insist the city has done nothing wrong. They maintain, as did Chief Jeter, that jail cameras are standard. “They’re an extra set of eyes and ears,” Yamamoto says, elaborating that they can document assaults and injuries, or keep watch on somebody who is threatening suicide.
Eagle says that individuals brought in for DUI are booked at least “administratively,” meaning they are held until they can be released to somebody sober. As such, he says county protocol requires that they take a booking photo and change into jail uniforms--without their underwear--to do so.
But Eagle says officers do not watch them change. Regarding the videos in Egan’s possession, the captain says: “The only one we know who watched them is Mr. Egan.”