SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — A federal judge ruled that when a New Mexico State Police officer took pictures of a man police had shot to death and texted the pictures to friends, no constitutional right to privacy was violated.
The late Samuel Pauly’s father and brother sued the New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Officer Mario Vasquez in September 2015 after learning that Vasquez had sent cellphone photos of the crime scene to friends.
The complaint quotes State Police Chief Robert Shilling calling Vasquez’s acts “unprofessional and appalling.”
But U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera ruled on Aug. 10 that the lawsuit failed to “show that the constitutional right asserted — a privacy right of close family members to control dissemination of ‘death scene photographs’ under the Fourteenth Amendment — was clearly established at the relevant time.”
Herrera agreed that Vasquez’s conduct was “offensive and unprofessional,” but said the officer is entitled to qualified immunity.
Samuel Pauly’s 2011 death began with an incident of road rage. State Police officers responding to a report of someone running another vehicle off the road found Pauly and his brother Daniel in their home.
According to the Paulys’ complaint, the brothers were “fearful that the people outside were intruders,” and “informed the intruders that they had guns and fired warning shots into the air.” An officer crouching behind a rock wall shot and killed Pauly.
In October 2012, a grand jury ruled that the shooting of Samuel Pauly was justified.
Lee Hunt, the Paulys’ lawyer, told the Albuquerque Journal that the family will probably appeal. “Our intent on appeal would be to try to establish that there is a right to privacy for the images of a loved one and that the right to privacy doesn’t die with the person,” he said
Published by Courthouse News Service