CHP vs PAPD city attorney says officers stealing and texting explicit photos are “quite different in scope”

An unnamed Palo Alto police detective won’t face charges for texting a picture of a “scantily clad” female burglary suspect who was in his custody, unlike a CHP officer in Contra Costa County, who faces two felonies and lost his job for doing the same thing.

Sean Harrington, a former CHP officer who worked in Martinez, is accused of stealing nude photos from the cellphone of a female DUI suspect and sending them to other officers.

Harrington, 35, pleaded innocent Nov. 14 to charges of stealing sexually explicit photos from the cellphone of a female suspect and copying the photos to send out to others.

The Palo Alto cop sent the picture from the female suspects own cell phone to his supervisor, but city Attorney Molly Stump said the incidents are different.

Stump said that while the CHP officers case may have “some parallels superficially” in the Palo Alto case, “they are actually quite different in scope,” due to the fact that there was only one photo texted by the Palo Alto police officer. She also said the context of the two cases is different.

A spokeswoman for the Sana’a Clara County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on the Palo Alto case, referring all questions to police.

The Palo Alto case came to light on Tuesday when the city released a report by its independent police auditors, who critiques police disciplinary cases and sends his findings to City Council twice a year. The auditors report doesn’t include the names of the officers who were disciplined or the names of the suspects arrested by police.

Auditor Mike Gennaco said in his report that the Palo Alto detective who texted the photo was disciplined internally, but he wouldn’t say what kind of punishment he received.

Gennaco said the detective texted the photo to a supervisor for “no legitimate law enforcement reason” and the supervisor took more than two weeks to report it.

“It was bad judgment and he [the detective] was held accountable,” said Gennaco who, with Stephen Connolly of the Pasadena-based OIR Group, serve as the independent police auditors.

Since the photo involved was distributed internally to another detective, the case was not seen as serious, but had it been shown to the public, the damage would have been greater and so could the penalty given the detective, Gennaco said.

When the woman received her phone back and the detective asked her to provide information about the person who had received stolen property from her, she noticed the text had been sent and complained to the detective not involved in the investigation, the auditors said.

‘Poor Judgment’

The Police Department’s investigation “concluded that there was no legitimate law enforcement reason for the detective ‘texting’ the photograph in the way and manner that he did “and it could have” left someone with the impression that it was sent as a joke,” the auditors said.

The department determined that the detective “exercised poor judgment” in sending the photo. It “was unbecoming for the officer and disrespectful to the arrestee” and “reflected unfavorably” on the department, the auditors said.

Gennaco and Connolly stated that police also concluded the detective had violated its policies and “and held him accountable for the transgression.”

The auditors themselves describe the department’s investigation as “thorough” and agreed with it’s disciplining the detective, but added that the supervisor should have  informed police command immediately upon the texting so that an investigation could have started right away.

The sergeant who learned of the photo should not have had the supervisor delete it before preserving it as evidence, even though the sergeant’s “intentions were good” in wanting to prevent it from being circulated, they said.

They further criticized detectives for “laxity of vigilance” for not watching the suspect closely after giving her the phone back to help them find a picture of her accomplice and then permitting her to scroll through the phone and possibly erase photos of evidentiary value.

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