Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, August 9, 2004


Page 1


Ninth Circuit Rejects Jail Use of Webcams by ‘Toughest Sheriff’


By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts


The use of cameras to broadcast over the Internet images of detainees being booked into a Phoenix jail, and being held in temporary cells, was properly enjoined as a probable due process violation, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

A divided panel affirmed a preliminary injunction barring Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who often refers to himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff”—from using the webcams at the Madison Street Jail.

“We get people booked in for murder all the way down to prostitution,” Arpaio explained on national television after he installed the cameras four years ago. “When those johns are arrested, they can wave to their wives on the camera.”

The cameras, Arpaio argued both on television and in court, served to warn viewers of what they would have to go through if they were arrested in Phoenix, as well as to open the jail to public scrutiny.

Four cameras provided still images updated approximately every 10 seconds. The images were broadcast on the sheriff’s official site until it became overwhelmed and Arpaio arranged to move the broadcasts to the site

Site Shut Down

That site shut down while the lawsuit by 24 former inmates was pending. The case was initially brought in Maricopa Superior Court but the sheriff—the subject of a state court ruling holding him personally liable for “deliberate indifference” to conditions at the “Tent City” he erected in the desert to handle overcrowding at the main jail—removed it to federal court.

Arpaio acknowledged focusing one camera on the men’s holding cell, one on the pre-intake area where booking took place, and one at the intake search area where detainees were patted down.

The fourth camera focused on the women’s holding area, and the plaintiffs contended that for at least six months, it captured images of the toilet and surrounding area, being moved only after suit was filed. Arpaio claimed that the camera was moved as soon as his deputies learned that the toilet area was visible.

U.S. District Judge Earl H. Carroll of the District of Arizona found that the suit was not moot and granted the preliminary injunction.

He rejected the sheriff’s argument that the cameras served a security, rather than a punitive function. Noting that there were closed-circuit cameras in the area, Carroll said the webcams “amount to an exaggerated response to an already-fulfilled security need.”

Ninth Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez, joined Friday by Judge Marsha Berzon, said the webcasts amounted to punishment without trial in violation of the Due Process Clause and that the judge did not abuse his discretion in enjoining them.

Paez wrote:

”Plaintiffs were certainly harmed by Sheriff Arpaio’s actions. Having every moment of one’s daily activities exposed to general and world-wide scrutiny would make anyone uncomfortable. Exposure to millions of complete strangers, not to mention friends, loved ones, co-workers and employers, as one is booked, fingerprinted, and generally processed as an arrestee, and as one sits, stands, or lies in a holding cell, constitutes a level of humiliation that almost anyone would regard as profoundly undesirable and strive to avoid.”

The judge acknowledged the substantial loss of privacy, and the embarrassment and humiliation, inherent in being booked into jail. But the impact of the webcasts is to increase those effects “by several orders of magnitude,” he declared.

Not only were the webcasts unnecessary from a security point of view, he went on to say, they were far more intrusive than needed to promote public scrutiny or deterrence, the alternative justifications suggested by the sheriff.

Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent make clear that deterrence is not a legitimate reason for imposing adverse conditions on pretrial detainees, Paez explained. And as for public scrutiny, the judge reasoned, “we fail to see how turning pretrial detainees into the unwilling objects of the latest reality show serves” that purpose, since “displaying images of the County’s pretrial detainees to internet users from around the world is not rationally connected to goals associated with educating the citizenry of Maricopa County.”

Dissenter’s Reasoning

Judge Carlos Bea argued in dissent that his colleagues were so anxious “to express their repugnance for the Madison Street Jail webcast policy” they were substituting their “personal tastes for the analysis the Supreme Court directs us to use.”

The webcasts, Bea argued, are rationally related to the sheriff’s legitimate objectives. He compared them to “the now ubiquitous-on-TV `perp walk’—the conspicuous exhibition of coiffed, suited, corporate criminal suspects, usually handcuffed, as they are brought to the courthouse or police station before charging, much less conviction.”

The dissenting jurist elaborated that “[p]ersons arrested cannot choose to whom the fact of their arrest can be publicized, whether it is through a perp walk shown on nationwide television, or an arraignment calendar detailing the charged crimes, hanging outside a courtroom.”

The district judge, he argued, abused his discretion by failing to consider “the Sheriff’s stated legitimate, governmental objectives.”

The case is Demery v. Arpaio, 03-15698.


Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company