Federal jury sides with Puyallup in jail camera case

A federal jury on Thursday unanimously found that the City of Puyallup did not violate the privacy rights of DUI suspects by using video cameras to monitor holding cells at the city’s jail.

The verdict came 10 days after the trial began in U.S. District Court in Tacoma and one day after the jury got the case.

“I am extremely pleased with the jury’s verdict,” said Police Chief Bryan Jeter, who had been named a defendant in the lawsuit. “We had faith in the system that justice would prevail.”

Eleven women and one man sued the city last year, contending the use of the cameras violated their constitutional right to privacy. The cameras recorded the plaintiffs using the toilet or changing clothes after they’d been booked into the jail for investigation of misdemeanor DUI charges.

“The damage in this case is my clients’ dignity,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Lincoln Beauregard, said during closing arguments Wednesday.

“The damages in this case is the look in my clients’ eyes that isn’t lying when they sat back on that witness stand and looked humiliated when we tried to play really, really short as possible, seconds of the tape of them using the bathroom in front of you.”

Beauregard argued that his clients each should receive $100,000 in damages.

The city countered, successfully, that the cameras were a necessary tool in the jail, both for inmate safety and to protect jailers from false claims of misconduct.

“I think the evidence is clear here, that the City of Puyallup was not running a peep show,” attorney Richard Jolley argued on behalf of the city. “They had legitimate reasons for everything they were doing.”

The use of the cameras was made public last year by Seattle attorney James Egan, who later made numerous records requests for copies of jail video recordings.

The city resisted the requests but finally turned over nearly 3,000 hours of video to Egan to avoid paying potential civil penalties and legal fees should he prevail in a public records dispute.

Egan then tried to contact people who might be pictured in the videos in an effort to begin a case against the city.

Puyallup officials soon thereafter changed policy at the jail regarding the use of cameras, including turning some off and blurring out spots where someone might be recorded using the toilet.

Police Capt. Scott Engle said Thursday the changes were made so the city would not be put in the position of releasing potentially embarrassing video of inmates under future public records requests.

Those changes will remain in place until the Legislature clarifies whether such recordings should be considered public records, Engle said.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune