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Judge dismisses suits over nude photos
Federal judge dismisses lawsuits accusing Culpeper police of distributing nude photos found on cell phone

Date published: 9/5/2009


A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a woman claiming Culpeper police officers distributed nude photos of her found on a cell phone seized when her boyfriend was arrested.

U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon of Charlottesville ruled Thursday that Jessica Casella did not have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" because she lent the phone to her boyfriend more than two months before it was seized and offered no evidence that she took measures to ensure the photos were protected.

"She therefore lacked possession, control, and dominion over the phone, as well as the power to exclude others from accessing the information and pictures stored on the phone," the judge wrote.

Casella and her boyfriend, former Culpeper schoolteacher Nathan Newhard, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville in March against former Sgt. Matt Borders, police Chief Scott Barlow, "unnamed town of Culpeper police officers" and the town of Culpeper Police Department after Newhard was arrested on DUI charges.

The suit claimed that the arresting officer seized a cell phone from Newhard that contained several nude pictures of Casella and Newhard in "sexually compromising positions."

The suit alleged that the unnamed officer then shared the pictures with Borders, who alerted several additional law enforcement officers and members of the public "that the private pictures were available for their viewing and enjoyment."

Casella and Newhard said the actions violated their civil rights and rights to privacy and sought $350,000 in punitive damages each.

Moon also dismissed the lawsuit brought by Newhard, ruling that Newhard had no "clearly established" right to privacy.

"In the Internet age, the extent to which the Fourth Amendment provides protection for the contents of electronic communications (such as images stored on a cell phone) in a search incident to arrest or inventory search is an open question," Moon wrote.

Borders resigned from the force Dec. 31. Chief Barlow previously said the town had received and investigated a complaint about the matter and he was "confident that we handled the complaint appropriately and professionally."