A Philadelphia woman arrested on drunken-driving charges said Cherry Hill police went too far when they secretly videotaped her using the bathroom last year.
The woman, identified only as "Gretchen W." in the federal lawsuit filed yesterday in Camden, alleges that authorities violated her privacy when they spied on her using a holding-cell toilet in the Cherry Hill Police Department.
A black bar inserted into the video fails to conceal much and at times hides nothing because it can't keep up with movement, the lawsuit said.
"This is outrageous. A person's private bodily functions are just that; they're private. That does not stop just because someone is being held at a police station on a traffic offense," said lawyer Philip Stephen Fuoco, whose Haddonfield firm filed the suit.
"It is hard to imagine a more embarrassing and humiliating experience than for strangers - let alone the government - to secretly watch and videotape a person using the toilet," he said.
The 42-year-old woman is hoping a judge will allow the lawsuit to proceed without revealing her identity.
"She does not want to be known as the lady on the toilet in the videotape," said Joseph Osefchen, who works with Fuoco. The lawsuit is seeking class-action status. It also seeks to end the practice and collect unspecified financial compensation.
Cherry Hill spokesman Dan Keashan said authorities could not comment.
According to the lawsuit, the woman was stopped March 18 on Route 70 in the township and given a field sobriety test, but she refused to take an Alcotest to measure her blood-alcohol content.
She was videotaped arriving at the Cherry Hill Police Department, sitting on a bench, and leaving. Twice, in about an hour's time, she asked to use the bathroom.
Osefchen said it appeared via the video that she was taken to use a toilet in a 10-by-5-foot concrete holding cell, which also had a bench and sink, but no stall or mirrors.
Cherry Hill lawyer Michael McKenna said he received the videos as part of discovery to defend the drunken-driving charges. He called the toilet footage "bizarre," saying it almost looked like poorly made burlesque.
"I have been getting these tapes from Cherry Hill for 27 years, and I have never received such a tape," McKenna said of the bathroom footage. "It's just the craziest thing."
The woman, who pleaded guilty to refusing to take a breath test, was "shocked" by the videos, McKenna said.
Haddon Heights lawyer Arnold Fishman said he received a video from Cherry Hill showing his client, a male arrested for drunken driving, urinating. The client, who had lived in Cherry Hill, did not want to join the lawsuit and "take on the township."
"They do videotape in the bathroom, and that's not the only department," Fishman said. "I received one from Gloucester Township."