A lawsuit in Washington DC will proceed against two VA executives where VA was caught using spy equipment to snoop on VA police officers in a changing room.
The plaintiffs are a group of VA police officers who caught Jerry Brown, VA police chief, using surveillance equipment in changing rooms where male and female police officers undress.
RELATED: Smile, VA May Be Spying On You
Defendants named in the lawsuit are Jerry Brown, chief of VA Police Service, Brain Hawkins, director at Washington DC VAMC, and Johnson Controls Inc, the outside government contractor that installed the spy equipment. Secretary McDonald was also named in the lawsuit but the claims against him were dismissed.
VA SPYING ON VA POLICE
The lawsuit alleges the named VA executives violated wiretapping laws since it was done without a warrant. It also alleges the defendants conspired to violate the Fourth Amendment rights.
This will be a very interesting case to watch especially given that VA has also been caught spying on veterans in violation of the same laws implicated in this suit.
According to Courthouse News Service:
“It is not apparent from the existing record, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, that the undisputed facts establish either that plaintiffs lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversations or their actions in the rooms where the surveillance allegedly occurred or that, if they had a reasonable expectation of privacy, the search was reasonable in both its inception and its scope,” the judge wrote.
“Given that plaintiffs have not yet had the opportunity to take discovery, and considering the disputed facts viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the court cannot find that defendants’ surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment. For the same reason, it is premature at this juncture to conclude that Chief Brown is protected from liability by the doctrine of qualified immunity,” Huvelle ruled.
Huvelle did dismiss the claim against McDonald, on the grounds that the Federal Torts Claims Act does not allow for suits against federal officials or agencies, and that the officers would have had to name the United States as a defendant under that law.
As mentioned before, this is not the first time VA was caught spying.
TAMPA VA SPYING ON VETERAN FAMILY
In 2013, VA executives had to explain why the Tampa VA was caught spying on a veteran’s family using a secret camera in a smoke detector.
Initially, when asked about the recordings, VA officials lied to reporters and the family by claiming that the video feed was not being recorded. They also claimed the audio was not being recorded.
Later, VA officials admitted the statements were in fact not true, and that they were keeping recordings of the video and audio.
Congressman Jeff Miller, Majority Leader of the House Committee of Veterans Affairs, pressed VA’s Scott Gould about the matter. Ultimately, Gould stood by the VA’s decision, claiming the illegal recordings were made to preserve the safety of the veteran.
In response to the allegations, Gould said, “Our greatest priority is safety and security of our patients, and we secured it with that camera.”
Safety and security?
I would assume the VA should first be worried about the Constitution and the right of the veteran’s family to privacy.
In response, Rep. Jeff Miller said, “Common sense would say if you’re going to put a camera up, just put a camera up where people can see it.” He continued, “For some reason, someone [in the VA] made the decision to hide the camera. It was installed without notice. It was installed without consent. What is interesting to me… is that there is a claim that consent is not required within a VA facility…”
The family tried to expressly state to VA that there was no consent given.
As for the current example of spying in Washington DC on VA employees, it may be worth keeping an eye on this case for sure.
Wouldn’t you just love to see VA’s policy on spying? Maybe that will be my next FOIA.