A former California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer who forwarded nude photos of arrested women from their mobile phones to his and his colleagues’ phones has escaped jail time.
Sean Harrington, 35, pleaded no contest to two felony charges of unauthorized access to a computer and copying computer data when he secretly sent himself photos of suspects who’d been arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI).
According to a local NBC news outlet, Harrington’s plea deal, finalized on Tuesday, means he’s getting a 180-day suspended sentence and three years of felony probation.
Plus, he’ll be telling the story of what he did to a community violence solutions class, prosecutor Barry Grove said.
Grove said that Harrington could have faced a maximum of up to three years and eight months in prison if convicted on all counts.
Even though he got off without prison time, Harrington’s lawyer, Michael Rains, said he thought the penalty was harsher than what a non-cop would have received:
I think if this would have been a case where it was not a police officer but some other citizen who didn't have a criminal record, it would have been a misdemeanor case.
Prosecutors said that Harrington admitted that he’d victimized more women than the two who’d come forward to complain. In all, he admitted to stealing photos from women’s phones four to six times during the last few years and forwarding them to colleagues.
He was arrested in October after a 23-year-old woman from San Ramon realized, after being released from jail, that six photos of her in various stages of undress had been forwarded from her iPhone while she was in custody.
The phone number to which the photos had been forwarded turned out to be Harrington’s.
A search of his phone showed that Harrington exchanged text messages with fellow Dublin CHP Officer Robert Hazelwood less than half an hour after he’d stolen the photos.
Neither Hazelwood nor another police officer to whom Harrington had sent the messages – Dion Simmons – will face charges.
Harrington quickly resigned after criminal charges had been filed.
According to the Mercury News, he has apologized for his crimes, reading from a statement outside the court in Martinez:
I apologize to my family, my wife, my friends. I apologize to officers everywhere, especially to the two women involved. I'm trying to put this behind me and move forward from this. I hope now everyone else can, too.
Rick Madsen, an attorney who’s representing one of the “Jane Doe’s” whose photos were taken, says his client is contemplating a lawsuit against Harrington and the CHP.
The judge has granted stay-away orders to keep Harrington away from the two victims, as well as ordering him to maintain their anonymity.
In at least two of the cases, the women whose photos were stolen had handed police their phones and their passwords upon request.
But US persons are not required to hand over passwords when police arrest us and seize our phones or other devices.
A June 2014 Supreme Court ruling found that warrantless searches of mobile phones is unconstitutional.
And as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, our rights against unreasonable search are covered by the Fifth Amendment, which protects us against giving self-incriminating testimony – including passwords or encryption keys, as courts have generally agreed.
If a legal authority is demanding that you hand over a password or encryption key without having produced a warrant, it’s time to seek legal help.
Of course, the first thing to do is to make sure you have a password to protect your phone.
Otherwise, anybody – be they police officer or thief – can get at your private images and data just by getting their hands on your device.
Image of CHP car courtesy of Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com.
22 comments on “Cop who stole nude photos from arrested women’s seized phones escapes jail time”
catchy title “escaped jail” I thought he was jailed and broke out 🙂
I think that would be “escaped from jail” 🙂
We’ve changed the title to avoid any confusion 🙂
Your headline is terribly misleading – he did not ‘escape jail’ – he avoided jail time. There is a very big difference.
See above. At least in British English, I’d expect a preposition if there were a jailbreak. Escaped from, broke out, etc. Do you really think it is *terribly* misleading, and that there is a *very big* difference?
I see the title of the article has been changed to “escapes jail time,” which fixes the problem, though the web page title still just says “escapes jail.” Newspapers have been dropping prepositions from their headlines for decades, so it’s not surprising that we mentally insert them in article titles.
I knew what they meant as soon as I read the headline! Edit it back to the way it was…. I’m confused by what it means now. 🙂
We’ve edited to avoid any confusion.
I wonder if either of these two women have filed a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit?
I must agree with the lawyer if this was a normal civilian. A friend with whom she got drunk with. Would it have escalated to such a point?
Though it’s wrong what he did, the second she gave him the password, wouldn’t be consider some form of consentual search?
This is clearly an abuse of power. So gross.
Deface a website: Get twenty years in prison.
Victimize several women: Get probation.
The officer should not have forwarded the pictures in the first place but the persons crazy enough to take compromising pictures of themselves and store them on an unprotected device share in the responsibility. If your going to be stupid you need to be tough enough to bare the consequences.
I’ll give you a pro tip. I can’t violate your 4th amendment rights, but, an agent of the state can.
This case is exactly what happens when you do not know your rights and demand them. Example if an officer asks you for permission to search your car and you say yes you can hardly then claim to be harmed when he finds that two kilos of crack in the trunk. If you simple said no then the officer would have been force to get a warrant or let you go. Rule if an officer asks your permission he does not have the probable cause to proceed and can not force you to consent.
You have to remember that if you have an iPhone with the thumbprint scanner, they can make you put your thumb on it as it is not “knowledge”. So turn your phone off if you’re worried so it comes back up requiring a password. Sad times.
After three (I think) errors the system requires entry of the pass code. If you are forced to use the touch sensor, use the wrong finger three times and it won’t open without the code. I have also inadvertently caused a read error by positioning my finger incorrectly.
“I’m trying to put this behind me and move forward from this. I hope now everyone else can, too.”
easy to say when you’re not the victim.
Love the lawyer’s reasoning “if he wasn’t a cop he’d have been let off lightly” – of course he would, the crime here isn’t just stealing the photos, it’s abuse of the power of the badge.
If a cop comes up to you and demands your phone, most people will hand it over, even if they know they don’t have to, strictly, legally.
If a non-cop stranger comes up and demands your phone, you know straight away they’re just a weirdo and, if you’re dumb enough to hand it over, you’re to blame for any photos they get hold of.
I live in California and this really makes me mad. As for his lawyer saying he got more than a non-officer would have got, that’s how it should be. If you’re a police officer and you break the law like that you should be held to an even higher standard. You’re supposed to stop crimes, not commit them.
Stupid lawyer. Cops are held to a higher standard because of the power they wield. Cops violating the public’s trust should get jail time.
I thought he got a light sentence. When no one is looking he’ll apply to have that probation terminated. Did the CHP hope to find more evidence of DUI on the phones? Women who turned over their devices and passwords were intimidated. It wasn’t consensual.