ONTARIO - The ACLU of Southern California will argue tomorrow in federal appeals court that a video camera hidden in an Ontario Police Department locker room violated police officers' right to privacy in the workplace. More than 100 officers were captured on videotape, and the ACLU/SC sued the department in 2004 on their behalf. In April 2006, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips held that the videotaping violated the U.S. Constitution and California privacy laws.
According to the lawsuit, in 1996 a hidden surveillance camera was installed in the police officers' locker room as part of an investigation into the theft of an officer's flashlight. The camera, which was hidden in the ceiling, provided a view of the door and the adjacent lockers and dressing area and was connected to a videotape recorder located in a nearby office. It was discovered in 2003 when the Police Department began the process of moving to a new headquarters.
Judge Phillips held that Ontario Police Detective Brad Schneider, who arranged for the camera to be installed, violated his fellow officers' rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution's right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment bans this kind of video surveillance without probable cause and a court-issued warrant. The ACLU/SC is also seeking to have a jury find that then Chief of Police Lloyd Scharf authorized the surveillance, and that the City of Ontario is liable for the violation of the officers' rights.
The City of Ontario appealed the decision, and tomorrow a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena will hear arguments on February 6 in the case, Trujillo vs. Ontario.
'People demand that the police respect their right to privacy, and we demand no less for police officers from their own bosses, who are supposed to know better than anybody the constitutional limits on installing a hidden camera,' said Peter Eliasberg, Manheim Family Attorney for First Amendment Rights at the ACLU of Southern California.
'This case is about letting the people who run the police department know that they are not above the law,' said Sgt. Steven T. Trujillo, a 23-year veteran of the Ontario Police Department and one of the more than 100 officers involved in the case. 'We want to hold them to the same high standards that all police officers are held to every day.'