Criminal case dismissed after sheriff uses camera to zoom in on lawyer’s notes

A sheriff in San Juan County, Washington, has prompted outrage from criminal and civil rights attorneys after it was revealed that he used a courtroom security camera to zoom in on a juror’s notebook and defense documents during a criminal trial, The Seattle Times reported Monday.

According to the local paper, San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs was found to have reportedly manipulated the camera earlier this month during a trial in which a local man was being faced with misdemeanor assault and trespass charges.

The charges were dismissed by county Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton over the weekend. He determined the incident amounted to government misconduct that violated the local man’s right to trial.

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San Juan Public Defender Colleen Kenimond, the attorney whose notes were reportedly targeted, told the Times she was “flabbergasted” by the news. 

“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.”

Krebs reportedly said in court filings that he unintentionally manipulated the camera and said the incident was isolated. He added that the move resulted from security concerns about the defendant.

In a sworn declaration, Krebs said that 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.”

He also said he didn’t know the camera had the ability to zoom and that he didn’t read anything.

San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord expressed his frustration over the findings while speaking to the Times, saying: “I too am frustrated at what has happened here, frustrated that it has happened to cases I personally was involved in, and concerned about the community we represent.” 

Gaylord said his office doesn’t know what Krebs was attempting do but added that his team had “no knowledge of anything like that” prior to the discovery late last week. 

Eaton reportedly viewed footage from the surveillance camera during a hearing on Friday and Saturday. The footage has since reportedly been sealed.

A hearing has been set for Feb. 12 on whether the court should release the video.

The misconduct was discovered last week after a court official saw that one of the local court’s normally stationary cameras located above the jury box was tilting and zooming in on the counsel tables. 

Shortly after learning of the incident, Eaton reviewed the video and reportedly sequestered the jury over the weekend to have a hearing on the issue.

He later dismissed charges brought against the local man at the center of the trial, citing government misconduct. 

The instance is reportedly the second time the San Juan County Prosecutor’s Office has lost a case due to misconduct in the local sheriff’s office.

According to the Times, Eaton also threw out a felony conviction against a high school teacher accused of having sex with a student in 2016 after it was revealed that the sheriff’s detective on the case had also been having sex with the student and lied.