Court Dismisses Criminal Case as Sheriff Used Courtroom Camera to Access Juror’s Notebook, Lawyer’s Notes
An unprecedented unethical act by the Sheriff’s office has made the whole legal fraternity worried. Defense attorneys in San Juan County worry that Sheriff Ron Krebs has a tool to manipulate on the scales of justice after learning he used a courtroom security camera to zoom in on defense documents and a juror’s notebook during a criminal trial last week in a way not to be noticed.
The incident, however, attracted attention from criminal and civil-rights attorneys and frustration from the county prosecutors. And it led to a rare weekend hearing during which a judge dismissed misdemeanor assault and trespass charges against a man from Lopez Island after finding the incident amounted to government misconduct that had violated his fundamental right to a fair trial.
“I am flabbergasted,” said San Juan Public Defender Colleen Kenimond, the attorney whose notes were targeted. “This was a court of law, you are supposed to be safe there, and the proceedings are supposed to be fair, here, the sheriff used the courtroom to violate my client’s rights, outrageous hardly covers it.”
However, Public Defender is not alone. San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord, whose office has been affected by misconduct in the Sheriff’s Office before — distanced himself from Krebs. “I too am frustrated at what has happened here, frustrated that it has happened to cases I was involved in, and concerned about the community we represent.”
As per Gaylord, only the sheriff knows precisely what he was doing, and why. “We are independently elected officials.”
He added that no one in his office received information from the sheriff from the video in this case or any other. “We would not do that,” he said. “We do not know anything like that.
In court records, Krebs and Gaylord stated the incident was isolated and unintentional. It led from security concerns about the defendant in the case, who allegedly had threatened to stab a Lopez Island grocer.
In a sworn declaration, Krebs said he “inadvertently manipulated the camera in the District Courtroom in such a way that it zoomed in on one or more locations in the courtroom” and he said not having read or passed on anything he may have seen. He also claimed that he was unaware of the zoom function of the security camera.
However, no comments from Krebs could be fetched yet.
As per the testimony and documents, Krebs was manipulating the camera from the sheriff’s dispatch office.
County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton reviewed the video from the security camera during a hearing on Friday and Saturday. He then sealed that video and denied to make that public after repeated demands from San Juan civil-rights lawyer Nick Power. Gaylord also opposed releasing the video to the public as it might have security concerns.
Judge Eaton has set a hearing on February 12, and he will decide whether to make this video public or not. And in the next few days, he is also expected to issue formal findings regarding his dismissal of the case.
Power has provided screenshots from the video, and it shows close-ups of a trial exhibit, a steno book belonging to the No. 3 juror in the case and a legal pad belonging to Kenimond were introduced as evidence at the hearing and played into Eaton’s decision to dismiss the charges with prejudice, meaning they cannot be refiled. Eaton has yet to issue written findings in connection with the dismissal.
Kenimond was representing Dustin Schible, a Lopez Island resident, in what was by all accounts a routine, low-level misdemeanor criminal case before a district court jury when the misconduct was revealed. As per Power, the only thing unusual was that the case was being heard by Eaton, a retired jurist who was filling in while District Judge Kathryn Loring worked on another matter.
Kenimond also said if that hadn’t been the case that hadn’t been the case the whole incident likely would have gone unnoticed. “And that might be the most frightening thing of all,” she said.
It was Loring who noticed something was not right on Thursday, as per the court filings.
As per Loring, she was reviewing a calendar at the desk of Jane Severin, the court administrator, which has two computer monitors — one for work and the other showing clips from security cameras in and outside the San Juan County Courthouse. As far as the court documents are concerned, Loring’s attention was drawn to the movement of one of the normally stationary cameras. When she tried to look little closer, it revealed it was the camera located above the jury box in the district court, and that it was panning, tilting and zooming into the jury box and counsel tables.
Severin at Loring’s request approached the judge at a break in the case Friday. Eaton then let Kenimond and prosecutor Gaylord know of the revelation. Eaton reviewed the video, then secluded the jury Friday and started a hearing on the matter. The hearing included testimony from Loring and Severin, as well as the county’s expert in technology and Krebs.
As the hearing went on, Eaton dismissed the charges, citing government misconduct over the camera zooming in on Kenimond’s legal pad.
It is for the second time the San Juan Prosecutor’s Office has lost due to misconduct in the Sheriff’s Office in recent years. In 2016, Eaton — then sitting as a superior court judge — threw out the felony conviction of a high school teacher accused of having sex with a student after it was reported that the sheriff’s detective on the case was having sex with the victim and had lied.
Power, in the filings, to make the video public, asked several questions on the need for security cameras in the courtrooms.