Puyallup police have for years been selectively videotaping and watching young women change their clothes and use the toilet while in custody, according to a lawsuit filed today in Pierce County Superior Court.
The lawsuit names as plaintiffs 11 women and one man who claim they were videotaped in various states of undress by officers in the city jail’s holding cells.
Attorney James Egan said the plaintiffs were “detained for misdemeanors only to become the victims” of what he called “felony voyeurism.” Egan said he began investigating the police department’s booking and surveillance practices more than two years ago. He called the practice of observing detainees a “peepshow.”
But Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto claims that cameras in jail holding cells are nothing new, that all Puyallup detainees are required to change into jail clothes for mug shots and that Egan went through the jailhouse videos and “cherry-picked” for alleged victims.
According to Egan, the plaintiffs all had been detained by Puyallup police on suspicion of driving under the influence.
They were taken to the police station where several plaintiffs claim they were patted down thoroughly and in a sexual manner, according to the suit.
They then were directed into a video-monitored holding cell where they were told to strip and change into jail clothes for their mug shots, according to the lawsuit. Egan said there is no reason to require someone to change their clothes to pose for a mug shot.
He said many of the plaintiffs were released within hours of being booked.
Egan said he came across the practice a few years ago after filing public-disclosure requests in cases involving two separate women who had retained him to defend them in DUI cases. The documentation in both cases included videos of the women undressed or using the holding cell’s toilet.
“I have defended thousands of DUI cases over years and I have never — I mean never — come across anything like this,” said Egan.
Those two cases piqued his curiosity, and Egan said he began filing public-disclosure request on other DUI cases. He claims his investigation showed that some detainees were allowed to change in private, but that it appeared “young and attractive women” were being directed to the holding cells with cameras.
Egan believes the practice violates both state and federal privacy laws and the constitutional right to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures.
His co-counsel, Julie Kays, a former King County prosecutor, said there also are questions about whether the jail officers were involved in voyeurism.
One plaintiff, a 22-year-old Puyallup woman arrested on suspicion of DUI in April, said she was mortified on learning of the video and worried that it could find its way to the Internet because it is part of the public record. The lawsuit is asking the court to order those portions of the records sealed and asking Puyallup police to remove the cameras from the holding cells.
The woman alleges she was manhandled by the booking officer, who cupped her breasts and patted her down in a sexual manner. The officer asked her to change her clothes and directed her to a cell. The woman said she left her underwear on, and said the officer confronted her about it and sent her back inside to remove them, she said.
Yamamoto said the city jail follows procedures and practices that are in place throughout the state. Cameras in holding cells are nothing new. For example, he said, information from the cameras can be used to determine how a fight started and who was involved and whether an inmate’s claim of being injured is legitimate. “People regularly claim they got hurt in the bathrooms. This allows us to show if it was self-inflicted,” Yamamoto said.
The suit was filed after Puyallup refused to meet a settlement demand of between $10,000 and $100,000 per plaintiff.