"As a woman, I'm offended and as a former prosecutor, I'm blown away," Kays said.
A lawsuit filed today in Pierce County Superior Court accuses the Puyallup Police Department of discreetly filming select female detainees, and one man, as they changed clothes and went to the bathroom—acts that Seattle attorney James Egan, who's representing 12 such videotaped plaintiffs in the complaint, characterizes as felony voyeurism.
“This is a significant issue of police misconduct that goes to the heart of dignity and self respect,” Egan states. The lawsuit claims privacy violations including plaintiffs being taped urinating on camera and women recorded while changing. Egan says that some of his clients were also groped and had their breasts grabbed by male officers while their hands were cuffed behind their back. None of the women were searched by female officers, which Egan and his partnering law firm on the case, Connelly Law Offices, say violates state law addressing both strip searches and voyeurism.
“These were blatant civil rights violations committed against our clients,” states Julie Kays, a lawyer with Connelly's firm and former King County deputy prosecutor specializing in sexual assault cases. “If this had happened to any other person outside of jail, we would call them Peeping Toms. That's what they were. They had no legitimate purpose to view the intimate parts of their bodies, to view them using the bathroom, to videotape it, to make fun of our clients, and to violate their privacy.”
Kays and Egan, a DUI defense lawyer, characterize their clients as first-time offenders pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving. None of their clients were being booked into the jail, they were simply being held on temporary detention while taking a breath alcohol concentration (BAC), yet all were instructed to change into jail uniforms for prison booking photos—a practice that both Egan and Kays characterized as highly unusual.
Furthermore, a series of records requests conducted by Egan systematically over the past two-plus years has revealed a pattern of male officers directing women into holding cells to change into the jail uniforms, where, unbeknownst to them, discreet cameras captured their every move. Meanwhile, male detainees in similar circumstances were directed to change behind a curtain. “All the men I obtained in these videos changed behind the curtain,” Egan stresses. “While some women were specifically directed by officers to take off their bras and panties—after already changing into a jail uniform,” which seems to indicate that male officers are watching the women undress.
“These Puyallup police officers have a heightened security protocol that seems to apply specifically to women—maybe women they deem as attractive,” Egan adds.
By contrast, Egan says that DUI suspects in other jurisdictions are simply brought into a holding cell, asked to sit in front of a BAC machine, answer questions, and released to face charges at a later date. They're not asked to change clothes and “if they have to use the toilet at that time, there are no hidden cameras," Egan explains.
Not only were the women filmed changing and using toilets that lacked privacy stalls, officers allegedly made obscene and degrading comments to the women after filming them getting undressed and urinating. As Egan explains, one officer allegedly said to one suspect, “You're a redhead—are you red downstairs, too?” and “You've got a great body.”
Another suspect was reportedly called a “squatter” by officers after she peed in a cell toilet. Egan describes the misconduct as being executed by a group of three to six Puyallup police officers. All of these incidents happened between 2010 and April 2013. Egan says that it's likely there are other victims. “I don't think for a moment that these 12 are an anomoly. I think there's likely, statistically, a greater group that are subject to privacy violations.”
“I have not been able to get this off of my mind,” Plaintiff 3 states in court documents (the plaintiffs in this case are anonymous to protect their privacy and keep anyone from filing a public records request similar to Egan's). “I have been avoiding restrooms in public places for fear someone might be watching me. Every time I see a Puyallup Police Officer around town I am reminded that there is a video of me floating around, and that they may have seen it.”
Egan is seeking unspecified damages for his clients, as well as the immediate removal of the holding cell cameras and sexual harassment training for Puyallup police officers. The city of Puyallup has not yet replied to a request for comment; I'll update when they do. A trial date is set for August 2014.