A former California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer will serve no jail time for stealing nude images of a suspect under his custody and then sending those images to colleagues as part of a “game.”
Sean Harrington, 35, entered a “no contest” plea on Tuesday to two felony charges of unauthorized access to a computer and stealing computer data. Under the plea deal, Harrington will serve no jail time; had he gone to trial, the former officer faced a potential prison sentence of nearly four years.
Under the deal reached on Tuesday, Harrington will serve three years probation and will be forced to speak at a community event about his actions.
In October, police executed a search warrant on Harrington’s home. In an interview with police, the officer admitted he had stolen the images from the woman — and at least six others. In one case, Harrington said he forwarded the images he stole to other CHP officers.
Investigators said they found several incriminating text messages between Harrington and another CHP officer — later identified as Robert Hazelwood — on Harrington’s cellphone. The text messages described Harrington and Hazelwood sending nude images of suspects to each other as part of a “game,” authorities said.
Both Harrington and Hazelwood were placed on administrative leave during the investigation. Harrington was arrested in November and entered a plea of “not guilty” at his arraignment. He resigned from the CHP after criminal charges were filed.
For months, Harrington’s affluent defense attorney Michael Rains had been working to hammer out a plea deal with prosecutor Barry Grove that would have spared his client jail time. Under the plea deal, Harrington will not be remanded to custody, but will live out the remainder of his days as a convicted felon.
“You had a person who was in a position of public trust. We as the public gave him a certain amount of power,” Grove told NBC station KNTV. “He violated that public trust, he abused his power, and now no longer forevermore is allowed to be a police officer.”
Despite the non-custodial sentence, Rains insists the former police officer received a harsher sentence than an ordinary person would because of his position of authority.
“I think if this would have been a case where it was not a police officer but some other citizen who didn’t have a criminal record, it would have been a misdemeanor case,” Rains told KNTV. Still, Rains said he appreciated the ruling handed down by the judge, calling the sentence “thoughtful.”
If Harrington fails to follow the rules of his probation, he will be forced to serve a 180-day jail sentence.
DUI charges against two women who were victimized by Harrington were eventually dropped. Hazelwood, who investigators said received nude images from Harrington, has not been charged in the case.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.