Freeland couple testifies in favor of Rep. Dave Hayes’ bill allowing release of booking photos
A husband and wife from Freeland whose home had been burglarized while they were away testified today before the House Public Safety Committee in Olympia in favor of a bill by Rep. Dave Hayes that would allow booking photos at jails to be open to the public.
Rod Mourant told the committee that while he and his wife, Carol, were away for four days last year, an intruder, known to be a repeat offender, broke into his home.
“The downstairs steel door had been kicked in. That intruder touched, inspected and generally messed up every room in our house. Every closet, every drawer, every pantry in the house had been touched and things taken,” said Mourant.
The list of things taken, he said, was more than 12 pages long, and included televisions, electronic equipment and jewelry. Law enforcement had a good idea of who had been involved as the crime fit other burglaries in the area. The couple was told by others in the community to keep a close watch of their property, because the perpetrator was known to return after he assumed an insurance settlement was made.
“We investigated every noise within our house and outside. We watched every vehicle that drove past. We watched every individual who walked down our private road. We were living in fear,” said Mourant. “We went to the Sheriff's Department and asked for a photo of their prime suspect. And they said, 'no,' even though they have the discretion if they think it will help in their investigation. We asked the county prosecutor's office for a photo and they also denied our request. So we continued living at home, hearing noises and watching people, and we don't even know what this person looks like, even if he walked to our front door.”
Hayes says under current law, records of a person confined in jail are generally confidential and may only be released under certain circumstances to a criminal justice agency. Law enforcement may also use booking photos of a person arrested to assist in a criminal investigation.
“Most people think they can get these booking photos because they see them in the newspapers. But under current statute, it is only law enforcement that can use those for investigative purposes. So that's why you see them in the newspapers sometimes,” said Hayes, who serves as a sergeant in the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office. “We need to give victims peace of mind. If they have a booking photo, they can know who the perpetrator is, and they can protect themselves and their families.”
House Bill 1723 would allow booking photos and electronic images at jails to be open to the public. The measure would require jails to include booking photographs of persons charged with an offense as part of its jail register.
Concerns were voiced during the hearing that releasing photos of those arrested but not charged would violate their right of a presumption of innocence before a conviction. But Roland Thompson of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association said Washington is only one of two states west of the Mississippi River that doesn't allow full access to booking photos.
“We are very much an outlier in the nation in terms of booking photographs. Some states allow them after charges have been filed. Some states allow them after booking into the jail. At some point, the public really should have the ability to view them,” said Thompson.
Executive action on the bill is scheduled for Friday by the committee.
###Washington State House Republican Communications