The Gilroy woman who accused a Morgan Hill police officer of illegally accessing her smartphone and uploading a personal photo to her Facebook account will get a check from the city for $75,000.
In return for the settlement, Casey Serrano agreed to give up her right to sue the city, and she released the city from any future liability arising from the July 16, 2011 incident, according to Morgan Hill city attorney Danny Wan.
Serrano, 36, was arrested on suspicion of public drunkenness that evening, and was cited and transported to the police station to sober up.
While in custody, an officer accessed her mobile phone and posted a topless photo of the suspect to her Facebook account, and deleted photos that she took of a police car parked outside the home on LaRocca Court where she had been that evening, according to claims filed by her and an officer who was involved in the incident.
“They settled with us because they’re guilty,” Serrano said Thursday afternoon. She referred further questions to her attorney, Dan Siegel, who did not return phone calls before press time.
Serrano returned to the station the day after her arrest to report the suspected breach, and police “immediately” launched an internal investigation, according to MHPD Chief David Swing.
In an administrative complaint for damages that Serrano filed at City Hall, she accused the officers of posting an “intimate” photograph to her Facebook page. She accused the city of false imprisonment and invasion of privacy, and of causing her physical and mental pain and trauma.
The city denied that claim, which was filed in January, but Serrano threatened to sue the city, leading to the out-of-court settlement that was announced Thursday.
Serrano did not name or know which officer or officers were responsible for the Facebook incident.
However in April, David Ray, the city’s former K-9 officer, filed a lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination. His complaint says he was fired in relation to the same incident, and accuses the city of violating state laws and its own policies when it decided to fire him.
The city asked the district attorney’s office to investigate the incident. Prosecutors did not find any officers committed a crime, Swing said.
“We took immediate action to investigate the complaint, and responded with corrective actions to hold responsible personnel accountable,” Swing said.
Swing and other city staff have said they are prohibited by state law from releasing the results of the internal investigation, including what disciplinary action was taken.
Serrano and Regina Partida, 37 of Gilroy, were arrested early in the morning of July 16 on LaRocca Place when Ray and other officers saw them taking photographs of themselves with Ray’s parked patrol car. They were also seen trying to open the car’s doors, according to the police report of the incident.
Ray, who was already in the area responding to an unrelated incident, determined the two women were “very intoxicated” and arrested them, the police report said.
Ray’s lawsuit states that an officer or officers deleted the photographs of the women posing with the police car from Serrano’s phone. The women also found that a photo that was on the phone prior to their arrest – depicting one of the women’s bare breasts – had been posted to the social media website.
The district attorney’s office subsequently declined to file public drunkenness charges or any charges against Serrano and Partida.
Ray is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages exceeding $25,000, and is asking the court to order the city to exclude all evidence, statements and testimony it illegally obtained from him, according to the lawsuit. That includes reversing whatever disciplinary action the city took against him, and removing all references to that discipline from his confidential personnel file.
The city responded by denying Ray’s accusations, Wan said. No court date or further proceedings have been scheduled in that case.
Officer Mindy Zen was inexplicably given a pay cut some time after the July 16 incident. She was listed as the supervisor on the police report of the incident, and was listed as a “corporal” in a document from early 2011 listing city employees’ compensation information. In April, she was listed as an “officer,” a position that is paid less, on the city’s website.
As of Thursday, she was listed as a “domestic violence detective” on the city’s staff directory.
City staff have repeatedly declined to say how or if she was responsible to any degree for the Facebook incident, and whether or not her change in titles is related to the incident.
The city attorney added he is grateful that Serrano cooperated with the city, and that the parties were able to avoid litigation.