By Henry Lee 1/22/15
A disgraced former California Highway Patrol officer accused of stealing racy cell phone photos from two women he had arrested did nothing wrong when, while stopping another woman for DUI, he did not respond to a fatal car fire, his attorney and the agency said Thursday.
Sean Harrington and his partner had stopped the woman for drunken driving about 12:30 a.m. Aug. 31 on Stone Valley Road in Alamo. Harrington was conducting a field sobriety test when Dr. Ronald Wyatt pulled up behind the car stop and reported seeing a car fire down the street, officials said.
Wyatt told KTVU that Harrington appeared to dismiss his concerns, saying he was busy on the car stop. Wyatt said he called 911 after returning to the fire and realizing that a man was inside the burning car.
The victim, 60-year-old Michael Sevenau of Alamo, had crashed while intoxicated and died of extensive burns, according to the Contra Costa County coroner’s office.
Harrington’s attorney, Michael Rains, said Harrington did nothing wrong and, in fact, had used his radio to ask dispatchers to send another CHP unit and firefighters to the burning car. CHP officials said the same thing.
Rains said it would have been improper for Harrington to have responded to a car fire and potentially allow the DUI suspect or her husband — who was the passenger and was also allegedly intoxicated — to drive away.
At the time of the car stop, Rains said, “They had no information that anybody was inside of the burning car to begin with. They could not have possibly driven away and left two intoxicated people with the car.”
Rains said his client did nothing improper with the woman’s phone.
The woman who was stopped, though, has said the encounter was not routine, and has accused Harrington of improperly accessing her cell phone. None of her photos were taken, her attorney said.
The attorney, Rick Madsen, said Harrington asked the woman’s husband for her cell phone password and, the next day, drove in his personal vehicle to the couple’s Concord home, showing up unannounced with the woman’s empty purse.
She had already received its contents after being released from jail, but Harrington said the purse had been wedged in the seat of his patrol car, said Madsen, who called the visit “disturbing and highly irregular.”
Rains said the woman’s husband had accidentally left the purse in the patrol car while getting a ride. Harrington decided to do the woman a favor by returning her purse as he was heading to a wedding with his wife on his day off, Rains said.
Harrington, who resigned from the CHP, is expected to plead guilty Tuesday in Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez in connection with the cell phone photos case, Rains said.
In that investigation, bikini photos of a 19-year-old woman were allegedly stolen by Harrington as she was undergoing X-rays after being involved in a suspected DUI crash in Livermore on Aug. 7.
“Taken from the phone of my 10-15x while she’s in X-rays,” Harrington allegedly texted fellow Dublin CHP Officer Robert Hazelwood. In police parlance, “10-15x” refers to a female arrestee.
Hazelwood responded, “No f— nudes?” wrote senior district attorney’s office inspector Darryl Holcombe in a search warrant affidavit.
Then on Aug. 29 — two days before the Alamo incident — Harrington secretly forwarded at least five photos that belonged to a 23-year-old woman he had arrested on suspicion of DUI in San Ramon, authorities said.
That woman found out what happened when she looked at her iPad, which was synced to her iPhone, authorities said. She hired Madsen and notified the district attorney’s office.
Prosecutors opted not to charge that woman in her DUI case because of Harrington’s alleged conduct.