No charges have yet been filed, but a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer is accused of stealing nude photos from the phone of a woman he arrested and texting those photos to other officers as part of a “game” that has gone on for several years, involving multiple women who had been arrested. The most recent photos were sent to at least two fellow officers, according to court documents.
California Highway Patrol officer Sean Harrington confessed to sending photos of a 23-year-old San Ramon woman who was arrested on Aug. 29 for possible drunken driving. Following her arrest the woman discovered that nude photos of herself had been sent to an unfamiliar number from her iPhone. The record of the messages had been deleted from her phone, but showed up on her iPad, which was synced to the phone. According to video surveillance and time-stamped text messages, Harrington was in possession of the phone when the photos were forwarded. At the time the woman was being processed at the Martinez County Jail.
Officers Dion Simmons and Robert Hazelwood are also named in a search warrant dated Oct. 14, because they are suspected of receiving the photos and exchanging lewd texts about them with Harrington. An investigation has been launched into the matter. California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow said the allegations disgust and anger him. Harrington said he learned about the “game” of trading nude photos with other California Highway Patrol officers during his time working in Los Angeles. He has also reportedly sent photos to colleagues in the Dublin, Calif., office over the last few years.
Harrington admitted during questioning to stealing five photos from the woman’s phone and forwarding at least one to Hazelwood. The Oct. 14 search warrant affidavit additionally says that on Aug. 7 Harrington had sent Hazelwood photos of a 19-year-old woman, who had also been arrested for suspected drunken driving. Two photos of that woman were found on Harrington’s phone.
A legal analyst from CBS in Los Angeles, Steve Meister, said a search warrant would have been necessary to legally gain access to the phone, but that there was no reason to do that, as it would have no evidence connected to the drunken driving incident, and the woman was not under investigation for any other crimes. Communication via text messages was exchanged among the officers following the sharing of the photos, regarding how nude photos are always better with the face showing, and how attractive the woman was, rating her at only a “5 or 6 at best.” In a text Harrington promised a driver’s license photo and mug shot as well once he got back to the office.
A senior investigator with Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office Darryl Holcome said in the affidavit that officers’ behavior falls under felony computer theft. Rick Madsen is the attorney representing the 23-year-old woman who was the most recent victim of the California Highway Patrol officers’ “game.” He said the officers’ communications were horribly offensive and dehumanizing to his client and all women. County prosecutors are considering criminal charges, and also say that the officers’ conduct could jeopardize any criminal cases in which they are witnesses.
By Beth A. Balen