Another California Cop 'Shares' A Suspect's Intimate Photos With His Fellow Officers

from the to-serve-and-titillate dept

Ability + opportunity. That's an equation that often results in trouble. It certainly did for several California Highway Patrol officers, who dug through suspects' phones, sometimes for evidence and sometimes just to pass around any intimate photos they happened to come across. It happened so often that one officer now being investigated referred to it as a "game."

This is probably not limited to the sunny climes of California, but a similar incident occurred within the Palo Alto Police Department, resulting in another investigation.
A Palo Alto Police Department detective has been disciplined for sending a supervisor a picture of a "scantily clad" woman he found on her cellphone while investigating her involvement in an alleged burglary, according to a new independent police auditor's report…
An interrogation of a burglary suspect resulted in the officer "taking" her phone to look through it for evidence. The (unnamed) officer then forwarded the photo to the supervisory detective.

(This happened in early 2014, apparently ahead of the Supreme Court decision imposing a warrant requirement. I doubt it would have mattered even if it had occurred past this point. Securing a warrant wouldn't have prevented the officer from sharing the photo. And I doubt many law enforcement officers are advising suspects of this new requirement. What's most likely happening is a slight rearranging that turns a demand into a question, with little to no decrease in the number of searched phones.)

When the phone was returned to the woman, she noticed the photograph had been sent to the detective's number. She complained to a different detective, which (eventually) led to both an internal and external investigation.

The outside investigators noted more than a few problems with how this case was handled.
The independent police auditor said the department's investigation was "thorough" and agreed with its findings and analysis. But they were concerned that it took the supervisory detective more than two weeks to report the incident to the sergeant, though the delay may have been due in part to "non-overlapping" work schedules, according to the report.
Wow. It's like email doesn't even exist. Or Post-It Notes. Or a functioning chain of command with overlap in key positions to prevent this sort of gridlock.

In addition, the auditor pointed out these flaws in the police department's handling of the incident.
The first was the sergeant's instruction to the supervisory detective to delete the picture from his cellphone. The sergeant said he wanted to prevent it from being distributed again.

"While the sergeant's intentions were good, it would have been preferable to obtain a 'screen shot' or some other evidentiary preservation of the photograph before deleting it," [auditors] Gennaco and Connolly wrote.
Police investigators argued the deletion was to keep the photo from being distributed to others in the department, perhaps hinting at the moral turpitude contained within its walls. This defense of its poor evidence management skills also doesn't say much for the detective who received the unsolicited photo (and very eventually reported it), positing that his level of restraint is no greater than the sending party's.

The second flaw uncovered was also evidence-related -- one that seems to show the officer who sent off the "scantily clad" photo wasn't too interested in any actual evidence contained on the suspect's phone. Once he had found what he "needed," the phone was returned to the suspect and she was asked to "retrieve information" about her accomplices.
Detectives assigned to the burglary case also displayed a "laxity of vigilance" when they asked the woman to help them locate evidence on her cellphone. By their own admission, they did not closely monitor her while she scrolled through her cellphone, according to the report.

"During this period, she could have deleted information from the phone that possessed evidentiary value," Gennaco and Connolly wrote.
If there's a next time, I'm sure the unnamed suspect will delete any scantily-clad photos of herself first.

The department has refused to comment, claiming that state laws prevent the discussion of internal investigations, presumably for privacy reasons. The unnamed officer has been "held accountable" according to the independent auditor's report but does not offer further details on disciplinary measures. The police spokesperson noted that the independent auditors are able to release more information than the police department itself can -- clearly indicating that without this investigative body, very little, if any, information about this act of misconduct would have been made public.

There are obviously parallels to the abuse uncovered at the California Highway Patrol, but the Palo Alto city attorney claims there actually aren't, because this was one incident with one photo. This is the same spin the California Highway Patrol applied to its photo-sharing problem, but now that it's out in the open thanks to an investigation, it can no longer claim that.

The problem with the city attorney's statement is that it assumes there isn't similar misconduct occurring. But the attorney doesn't have that sort of information and most likely has no reason to seek it. Unless an incident triggers an independent audit, the details will stay buried until forced out of the PAPD's hands. This isn't the sort of statement one should make while allowing a police department to sweep its bad news under the State Law rug. Maybe there's nothing else there, but unchecked access to suspects' devices presents plenty of opportunities for misconduct, so I wouldn't bet on it -- at least not with the level of confidence exhibited here.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:54am

    to bad this didnt happen in arizona where their shitty revenge porn law would result in this officer having a felony and being a registered sex offender.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 3 Dec 2014 @ 11:14am

      Re:

      Well, the suspect took revenge on the officer using her scantily-clad photograph, so most likely she would get registered as the sex offender, in analogy to sexting teens getting convictions for child pornography.

      This is the U.S. we are talking about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    mcinsand, 3 Dec 2014 @ 8:57am

    if not rape

    If not rape, this should still at least be classed as a sexual assault... it goes that far into violating a person's sexual boundaries.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    OnTheWaterfront (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 9:41am

    CFAA

    Can't they be charge under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Phoenix84 (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 10:03am

      Re: CFAA

      How shall I count the ways it's not?

      1) A phone is not a computer, duh. Everyone knows it's a mobile device. A computer is bigger.
      2) It wasn't fraud or abuse, it was 'conducting an investigation'
      3) This is the government. Even if the above isn't true, the law still doesn't apply to them.
      4) ???
      5) Profit?

      /sarcasm, if you couldn't tell

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 10:05am

    It was "to serve and protect". That was changed to "to protect and serve". Now I guess it is "this perve is erect". The "authorities" wonder why we want to encrypt our devices, really? It also makes me wonder why the farmer left the wolf in charge of the security for the hen house. There must be something going on between the two of them also. What ever it is, I don't want any part in it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 10:10am

    I strongly agree that this was a molestation. But the auditors belief that the original should be destroyed is the willful destruction of private property, and illegal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 3 Dec 2014 @ 11:03am

    jail time for a citizen and a worded reprimand for a cop

    2 tiered justice system at its finest

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 11:50am

    Shouldn't the officer be charged under Revenge Porn laws?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 12:05pm

    Still waiting for the case where female officers distribute photos of 'scantily clad' (or not) hot male suspects.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    PRMan, 3 Dec 2014 @ 4:53pm

    I used to work with police

    I used to work with police and they sent around pictures of people that had been butchered, etc. I can only guess that scantily-clad women would make their list as well, although I never personally saw that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2014 @ 6:56pm

    Porn central?

    Is this the same department that wants to use drones for surveillance? Just imagine drones peering into back yards for nude sun bathers or bedroom windows.It boggles the mind for the possible avenues to collect salacious pics for entertainment. I'm sure they will put a flashing blue light and siren on the drone so we can protect our privacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    WysiWyg (profile), 4 Dec 2014 @ 1:51am

    Copyright infringement?

    I'd say a $150 000 award against said cop for copyright infringement might send the right message. At least better than whatever is coming.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Dec 2014 @ 5:30am

    Doesn't California have a "Revenge Porn" law on the books that would come into play here? Oh wait... it is a cop, they are not prosecuted even when they commit murder on video.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Big Boy, 4 Dec 2014 @ 11:21am

    Thugs in Blue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Deserttrek, 4 Dec 2014 @ 1:48pm

    cops who do this kind of thing are equal to thugs and child molesters ... no mercy for punks like this. At the minimum permanent sex offender registration for him and ALL involved who did not respond in the proper manner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Dec 2014 @ 11:56am

      Cops are higher caste citizens.

      Good luck implementing that.

      They can away with murder with impunity, let alone sexual indiscretion. Let alone passing around discovered cheesecake photos.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.