PUYALLUP, WA—Back in late August, 11 former DUI suspects filed suit against the Puyallup Police Department, charging that they were needlessly required to undress in police holding cells, and that all of their actions in the cells, including using the toilet, were recorded on video equipment by department personnel and the videos maintained in departmental files. The suspects, 10 women and one man, are claiming that their privacy rights were violated.
"He [said], 'You have to take everything off—off. Underwear too,'" said one of the suspects, a married mother of two. "I said, 'It's just underwear. What can I do in my underwear, you know?' He said, 'You just have to take everything off.'"
According to the suspects' attorneys, James Egan and Julie Kays, the orders to undress were directed mainly at "women—attractive women in particular."
But in mid-October, Puyallup TV station KING 5 learned that an additional nearly two dozen women had come forward with similar complaints.
"They're telling us they didn’t know they were being videotaped," said another plaintiff's attorney, Lincoln Beauregard. "They didn’t consent to being on camera. They feel violated by finding out this information."
"We've got dozens of other people calling who had similar experiences in Puyallup," Egan added. "We're sorting through them right now."
But city officials are circling the wagons and claiming that the cops didn't do anything wrong.
"The jail videos we've watched so far don't show any inappropriate activity," said City attorney Kevin Yamamoto back in August. "In fact, the corrections officers are acting very professionally."
However, that's not the way most of the women tell it.
"I was told I needed to take off all my garments and change into the uniform," said one woman who was arrested for DUI in April—but when she refused to comply, and demanded that a female officer be present, "Basically, I was harassed for not doing it and put back in the holding cell and made to stay there for about 12 hours."
The city has defended the videoing as a "common industry practice" and within the accepted standards of dealing with prisoners, but according to KING 5, four jail experts have deemed the practice as "highly unusual and improper."
Egan obtained the jail videos through a Freedom of Information Act request, and he noted that most of those appearing in the videos were unaware that they were even being recorded until Egan showed them the footage.
"It’s so sick," said one of Egan’s clients after seeing the tape for the first time. "Oh my God, I [didn’t] believe my own eyes. It's me. I felt sick to my stomach."
Yamamoto said that the reason the videos were available for Egan's review is Washington's records retention laws, but that the videos for which the department is being sued were "selectively chosen" and "cherrypicked."
Exactly what laws the plaintiffs are suing under was not made clear, but good possibilities are 42 U.S. Code Section 1983, "Civil action for deprivation of rights," and the state's "Peeping Tom" laws.
Pictured: An image from a Puyallup jail surveillance video, courtesy KING 5 News