A California Highway Patrol officer has confessed to stealing nude photographs from the cellphone of a woman, then distributing the images to fellow officers as part of a “game,” according to court documents.
The Contra Costa Times newspaper reports Officer Sean Harrington told investigators that highway patrolmen from across the state have been swapping nude images of criminal suspects for at least a year. Harrington confessed to secretly forwarding images from a female DUI suspect’s phone to his own after the woman was booked into jail in August.
The woman, whose DUI case was tossed out because of Harrington’s actions, learned that her photos had been forwarded without her permission after checking her Apple iCloud account. The woman traced the number, which contained a 707 area code, to Harrington’s phone. She hired an attorney, and both gave statements to investigators earlier this month.
On Oct. 17, investigators obtained and executed a search warrant against Harrington’s home. When interviewed by officers, Harrington admitted to stealing images from suspects in at least six other cases; in one case, Harrington said he forwarded the photographs to two other C.H.P. officers.
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“The allegations anger and disgust me,” CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow told the Times. “We expect the highest levels of integrity and moral strength from everyone in the California Highway Patrol, and there is no place in our organization for such behavior.”
The search warrant said there was “probable cause” to suspect Harrington and several others engaged in felony computer theft. Officials say they found incriminating text messages between Harrington and another C.H.P. officer, identified by the Times as Robert Hazelwood, in which the two discussed distributing nude images of suspects as part of the game.
According to text messages sent in early August, Harrington first forwarded images of the female DUI suspect in a bikini to Hazelwood. The photographs escalated to explicit after Hazelwood asked if Harrington had any nude images of the female. Harrington asked Hazelwood to “rerun the favor” later on down the road, and the two continued to exchange messages opining about the suspect’s figure and breasts.
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Both Harrington and Hazelwood are on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Neither have been criminally charged.