On October 23, 2014, Contra Costa, CA prosecutors have met, considering felony computer theft charges against 35-year-old California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Sean Harrington. The District Attorney Investigator has recommended that criminal charges be filed against Harrington, who is suspected of accessing nude photos of a DUI suspect and covertly sending them from her cellphone to his own.
On Aug. 29, 2014, Harrington and a second CHP officer pulled over a 23-year-old San Ramon, CA woman for allegedly making an unsafe lane change. She reportedly showed signs of intoxication, failed field sobriety tests and was taken to County Jail.
Investigators say that Harrington asked the woman for a password to her cellphone, in order to find contact information for the person she wanted to call from jail. After unlocking the phone, Officer Harrington looked through the photo folder, where he found explicit photos of the woman. He then forwarded six of those pictures to his own cellphone.
The woman never gave Harrington permission to access the photos, especially “private and compromising” ones in which she exposes various parts of her body, said the victim’s attorney, Rick Madsen. “It’s tantamount to theft,” he added.
Authorities believe that Harrington attempted to erase any record of the pictures being forwarded to his phone. His cover-up failed, since the woman’s iPhone was synced to her iPad. Several days after being released, the victim was using her iPad and noticed that six of her private photos in various stages of undress had been sent from her iPhone to a telephone number in the 707 area code. She didn’t recognize the number and conducted online research, finding out that the telephone number belonged to Harrington, investigators said.
The woman gave a statement to the District Attorney’s Office investigators, who then searched Officer Harrington’s home. The search warrant documents describe the six explicit photos retrieved by investigators from Harrington’s personal devices.
Investigators also reviewed surveillance video from the jail and saw Harrington in the booking area at the same time when the woman’s phone was used to send a text message containing the six photos. The video shows Harrington handing a piece of paper to the woman, who then wrote down her cell phone password, believing that the CHP Officer would use it only to find contact information on her phone.
In light of this information, the CHP assigned Harrington to desk duties during the probe. The CHP is no longer planning to pursue DUI charges against the woman.
Attorney Rick Madsen said that his client’s privacy rights were violated by a public servant she should have been able to trust. “I’m appalled,” Madsen said. “I’m a former prosecutor and practicing lawyer for 20 years. I thought I’d seen it all. I’m stunned, absolutely stunned.”
This year is proving to be challenging for the CHP’s public image. In September 2014, the agency has reached a $1.5 million settlement with a 51-year-old woman, who was brutally beaten by CHP Officer Daniel L. Andrew. As a result of the settlement, the officer involved has agreed to resign.
On Oct. 17, 2014 CHP Sergeant Eric Lund, 49, who has served as a public face for the agency in Fairfield, CA was arrested for allegedly possessing child pornography and sending or selling obscene materials. He posted $115,000 bail and was released. Diana McDermott, the CHP’s Golden Gate Division Commander, said that Lund was placed on administrative leave, which means that he is continuing to collect his salary at the expense of American taxpayers.