Since 9/11, there has been an intense debate in this country over where to draw the line between privacy and security. But according to a 27-year-old woman, New York police officer Sean Christian, who works for the the 104th Precinct of the New York Police Department in Ridgewood, Queens, clearly stepped over the line into invasion of privacy. Pamela Held, right, alleges that the 41-year-old officer took her iPhone after he arrested her, then "stole" her private nude photos and videos that she'd made for her boyfriend, according to New York's Daily News.
"It makes me sick," Held told the Daily News, adding she plans to sue the NYPD for invasion of privacy. Its Internal Affairs department reportedly confirmed that it was investigating her complaint.
Held's problems with the NYPD began on Feb. 6 when five officers in a police van pulled over her car because it didn't have an inspection sticker, according to the newspaper. Prescription drugs and marijuana were found in the car, so Held and the friend she was riding with, who was unnamed in reports, were taken into the precinct for questioning. Interrogated by police as to her whereabouts that evening, Held says that she told them that she was visiting a friend and could prove it -- then handed her phone over to officers.
Held says that she realized something was wrong when she noticed later that 20 of her personal photos as well as five videos were sent to an unknown phone number. After consulting with an attorney, his private investigator was assigned to find the owner of the mystery phone number, which led to Christian.
In speaking to the New York tabloid, Held said that she's mostly concerned about what's been done with her private images. "Who knows what he's capable of?"
According to Held, the officers kept the phone for three hours, which is when she thinks her private images were lifted. "I knew they had my phone and I was bugging out," she told the Daily News.
In speaking to the newspaper, Christian denied taking the images, and even said that he doesn't work at the police precinct where Held had been interrogated. He also claimed that he's never met Held, and added that the unknown phone number that her images were sent to belongs to a phone owned by his brother.
A 50-minute call placed by Held to Christian, with NYPD's Internal Affairs investigators listening in, revealed that Christian was "quite familiar with Held," in the words of the Daily News.
But whatever did happen that night with Held's phone, the issue for legal commentator Jonathan Turley is the insight that the incident might provide into police overreach. "Why would a team of five officers be patrolling for sticker violations?" he asked on his blog, JonathanTurley.org. "They weren't," he went on.
Instead, he questioned the very legitimacy of the police search of her car. And he pointed to Supreme Court rulings such as Whren vs. United States from 1996, which said any traffic violation was a legitimate legal basis for a stop. Such a ruling, he wrote, has left "all citizens subject to these stops and searches as part of an increasing array of expanded and potentially arbitrary police powers."
Both Held and her friend have since seen the criminal cases against them over the drug possession charges adjourned.
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