San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs wasn’t present at a hearing regarding the release of security camera footage that resulted in a case dismissal — his legal representation was there, however.
On Feb. 12, Judge Donald Eaton, acting as a temporary district court judge, listened to testimony from Krebs’ council, San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord and several community members about whether security camera footage from a dismissed trial should be released to the public.
“The information for this administrative hearing was presented by counsel to the judge for his consideration,” Krebs told the Journal about why he was not at the hearing. “No additional testimony was requested and prior witnesses were not required to be in court.”
A criminal case tried in the district court was dismissed on Saturday, Feb. 2, with prejudice due to misconduct by a county employee. With prejudice means it cannot be retried. Eaton dismissed charges against Dustin Schible, 32, of Lopez Island, for criminal trespass, assault in the fourth degree and harassment. The case was being tried in district court because the charges were misdemeanors and a gross misdemeanor.
During the criminal trial on Jan. 31, a court security camera zoomed in on various locations around the room, including on a closed jury notebook, a prosecution exhibit, the prosecutor and the defense’s paperwork. Superior Court Administrator Jane Severin was watching live footage of the case on her computer and noticed the zooming action. She then told Superior Court Judge Kathryn Loring and then Eaton was alerted, according to Gaylord. Gaylord was serving as prosecutor for the state in the case.
According to Krebs, the courtroom was expected to be high tension given the defendant’s previous alleged threats of violence, and he was asked by Gaylord to provide extra security to the courthouse for that reason. Due to staffing restrictions, Krebs said he was unable to have a deputy at the courthouse and resorted to checking on the security camera, instead.
The camera was being operated by someone in the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office or the information technology department at the time of the incident, according to Krebs.
Unfamiliar with the way the system operates, Krebs said he double-clicked on the live camera stream to make it full screen and inadvertently zoomed in. The video feed is in the dispatch office. He said it was only on the documents for five to 10 seconds, and nothing was legible.
“There were approximately four to five people present during the entire sequence and all who were present were completely aware that the camera broadcast was visible by as many as 15 people including the court,” Krebs wrote in a press release to the Journal. He said when he noticed the camera was focused on paperwork, he promptly instructed the camera operator to move the camera off of it.
“The entire panning and zooming sequence of all areas took less than two minutes and came to rest on the various upside-down items for approximately 15 seconds each,” Krebs wrote. “The brief view of these things was unremarkable to those present in the room who were also focused on the adjacent security cameras and discussing work-related business. The camera was reset and everyone went back to their normal duties.”
Krebs added that both he and a dispatcher testified about the control error and said there was no malicious intent and no information was gained from the zooming action.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Sheriff Krebs knowingly or intentionally captured the attorney’s table materials for the purpose of capturing information that would be useful for any purpose,” Gaylord wrote in a memo opposing the motion to dismiss.
According to Gaylord, prejudice can only occur if the notes were able to be read. He wrote that to describe the camera movements as misconduct is going “too far.” He said all that was legible on the defense’s notes were a date, a name and a verb – none of which were unknown to the court. The prosecution did not see the video before it was aired in court, and therefore claimed that it did not cause prejudice against the defendant, Gaylord said.
Krebs and Gaylord are requesting that the video not be made public because it can provide details regarding the security of the courtroom – such as areas where a camera does not see.
“In my opinion, based on my years of experience in law enforcement, disclosure of the surveillance video footage would result in weakening of the San Juan County courthouse security,” Krebs said in a declaration filed Feb. 2. “I believe the nondisclosure of this specific and unique intelligence information is essential to effective law enforcement.”
Eaton is expected to give his decision on whether to release the security camera footage will be given at 2 p.m. on Feb. 19.