The Puyallup Police Department is facing accusations that its jailers forced DUI suspects to needlessly undress and recorded the nudity on the jail’s in-house surveillance system.
Seattle attorney James Egan and co-counsel filed the suit Thursday against the department on behalf of a dozen DUI suspects, eleven women and one man, claiming that their privacy rights were violated.
“It appeared from my limited review that it was happening to women -- attractive women, in particular,” Egan told KING 5.
“It’s not right,” said one of the alleged victims who did not want to be identified. She said jailers told her to take her clothes off in what she thought was a private cell.
“If this were any other person and had occurred outside the jail, we would call these people peeping Toms,” said Julie Kays, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
Jail surveillance video, obtained by Egan’s firm, shows the woman changing into a standard-issue jail uniform. But then a jailer comes back to the cell and she’s told to undress again.
The city of Puyallup says video surveillance is a standard tool in holding cells everywhere, and that completely stripping and changing into jail clothes is standard procedure that keeps prisoners from possessing contraband.
“He (said) 'You have to take everything off – off. Underwear too,’” said the married mother of two. “I said, 'It’s just underwear. What can I do in my underwear, you know?' He said ‘You just have to take everything off.’”
Egan said more than two years ago he noticed while reviewing evidence that two of his female DUI clients were forced to disrobe at the Puyallup jail, even though they weren’t being booked and they were about to be released.
He made public record requests for more jailhouse videos.
“I wondered if there was a pattern,” Egan said.
He said he found that women were being ordered to use the bathroom and change in cells equipped with video cameras. He found that males were more likely to use a curtained area in the jail’s common area that he said is not monitored by cameras.
Puyallup City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto says the suit is baseless.
"The jail videos we've watched so far don't show any inappropriate activity. In fact, the corrections officers are acting very professionally," Yamamoto said.
The city says there is no evidence of exploitation on the part of police. In fact, they claim that's something the women's attorney should answer.
Egan said most of the victims did not learn they were videotaped until Egan contacted them and showed them the videos.
“It’s so sick,” said Egan’s female client about seeing the tape for the first time. “Oh my God, I (didn’t) believe my own eye. It’s me. I felt sick to my stomach.”
The women are alleging the recordings amount to not just illegal strip searching but criminal voyeurism that should be prosecuted.
Egan said,"The irony is, these women are being suspected of misdemeanors and taken to a facility where officers are committing felonies."
Yamamoto said Egan's claims are "not true at all." He said Egan has “selectively chosen videos” and “cherrypicked” the ones he believes prove his case. Yamamoto said cameras in common areas and cells are a common fixture in jails.
In contrast to Egan’s statements, Yamamoto said the suspects were administratively booked and were required to change into jail uniforms to follow what is a common practice in the booking procedure.
“We see no wrongdoing on the part of anyone at the jail," said Capt. Scott Engle of the Puyallup Police Department.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist was out of the office today and unable to respond to whether he'll look into possible charges against the officers.
As for why those videos haven't been deleted, Yamamoto says they are required to keep them for several yeasr because of state records retention laws.
KING 5's Eric Wilkinson contributed to this report.