By Henry K. Lee 11/3/14
A former California Highway Patrol officer “abused his authority” and is deeply sorry for his “insensitivity” in stealing racy cell photos from two women he had arrested for drunken driving, his attorney said Monday.
Sean Harrington, 35, of Martinez made his first court appearance after being charged with two felony counts of theft and copying computer data belonging to two women.
He did not enter a plea and spoke only once, saying, “I do” when Judge Terri Mockler of Contra Costa County Superior Court asked if he was willingly giving up his right to a speedy trial. He was ordered to return to court Nov. 14, at which time he may enter a plea.
Harrington, who resigned from the CHP last week, left the court without commenting. Earlier Monday, he surrendered at County Jail in Martinez and was freed after posting $10,000 bail.
His wife sat in the courtroom gallery and supports him, his attorney Michael Rains said after the brief hearing. Rains said Harrington is a father of two children.
Rains said that although his client had in the past described his conduct as a “game” and a “joke,” according to court records, Harrington’s behavior was far from that.
“This is no game,” Rains said. “What he meant was, ‘I didn’t do anything with it other than look at it myself, I sent it to one or two other people, we thought it was cute, we thought it was funny. We didn’t send it anywhere else, we didn’t put it on the Internet, we didn’t put it on Facebook, it went no further.’”
Rains said Harrington “recognized the impropriety of his conduct. He knew that that kind of conduct should and will cost him a career in law enforcement and, frankly, it should cost him a career in law enforcement. He tarnished his own name, and he tarnished the good name of law enforcement officers everywhere.”
If convicted, Harrington could be sentenced to anywhere from probation to three years and eight months in prison.
Rains asked for the arraignment to be postponed, saying he needed to review the evidence surrounding what he said was a relatively new statute that had not been tested.
But prosecutor Barry Grove said outside court that the law wasn’t complicated, saying, “If you go into somebody’s cell phone and you take their nude selfies without their permission, it’s a crime.”
Grove said Harrington’s actions were “egregious, not only because of the invasion of privacy, but because it undermines the public trust in the criminal justice system.”
Grove said he couldn’t charge other officers who allegedly received photos from Harrington with receiving stolen property, because the women still have their pictures in their possession.
“If I take a picture of your picture and you still have your picture, that’s not stolen property,” Grove said. “Definitely some of the text messages that we’ve all seen are especially unappealing and unethical, but commenting on those photographs is not a crime as well, even though there may be consequences for them at their jobs.”
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 in turn responded, “No f— nudes?” senior district attorney’s office inspector Darryl Holcombe wrote in a search warrant affidavit.
Then, on Aug. 29, 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 a lawyer and notified the district attorney’s office.