Family Sues CHP for Leaked Accidental Pictures of their Daughter *update*

  1. old story but I did a search and didnt see this posted: source

    A Family's Nightmare: Accident Photos of Their Beautiful Daughter Released

    Family of Nikki Catsouras Has Sued Investigators for Allegedly Releasing Accident Pictures


    Nov. 16, 2007—

    Not long after their 18-year-old daughter died in a car accident, Christos and Lesli Catsouras were forced to relive their grief.
    They soon began receiving anonymous e-mails and text messages that contained photographs of the accident, including pictures of Nicole Catsouras' decapitated body, still strapped to the crumpled remains of her father's Porsche. A fake MySpace page was created, which at first looked like a tribute to Catsouras but also led to the horrific photos.
    "What type of individual would do that?" asked Christos.
    Watch the story Friday, Dec. 7 on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET
    The pictures, taken by California Highway Patrol officers and e-mailed outside the department, spread around the Internet, making their way to about 1,600 Web sites, according to an investigator hired by family. The images became so persistent that Lesli Catsouras stopped checking her e-mail. Nikki's three younger sisters were forbidden to use the Internet, and 16-year-old Danielle was taken out of school to be home schooled out of fear that her peers might confront her with the pictures.
    "There was threats that people were gonna put the pictures on my locker, in my locker," said Danielle. "I remember her in such a great way, I don't wanna see it and have that image stuck in my head."
    "I've stopped using my e-mail," says Lesli Catsouras. "I don't want to see these every single day. &And you know, I take a risk every time I go on the computer."
    We talk about Nikki all the time, " said Christos. "We've got pictures of her everywhere, We laugh about her, cry. I always called her Angel."

    'A Life of Its Own'

    A judge in California ruled that the Catsouras family's lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol for allegedly releasing the accident scene pictures can go forward. According to Catsouras family attorney Tyler Offenhauser, the ruling is a significant step toward getting justice for Nikki because a jury will now decide whether the CHP must take responsibility for its employees' conduct of disseminating the graphic photos outside the agency.
    "They were crime scene pictures that never, ever should have gone out," Christos Catsouras said. "There was a big mistake made by the California Highway Patrol that was never really acknowledged, or they never wanted to help us once that mistake had been made."
    The California Highway Patrol declined to comment on the case, citing the pending litigation. Though the CHP has admitted in a letter to the Catsouras family that its dispatchers violated department policy, it has said it is not legally responsible for the Catsourases' anguish.
    According to state highway patrol reports, at approximately 1:45 p.m. last Halloween, 15 minutes after taking her father's Porsche 911 for a drive without permission, Nikki Catsouras was traveling 100 mph on State Route 241, near Lake Forest, Calif., when she clipped another car and lost control, slamming into a concrete tollbooth, killing her instantly.
    Photos of Catsouras' decapitated body, still strapped into the car, were taken by highway patrol officers investigating the crash, as per departmental procedure.
    According to Keith Bremer, an attorney for the Catsouras family, "One of the officers e-mails some of the photographs to a dispatcher and then the dispatcher e-mails them outside the Police Department. And then from there, you know, it, it created a life of its own and created momentum and it just, it just exploded."
    "There is absolutely no public benefit pursuant to the investigation and the preparation of that police report for those photographs to go anywhere other than in the evidence locker," he said."
    The pictures were passed around to thousands of sites, and the Catsourases began receiving the images masked behind anonymous e-mails and text messages. A fake MySpace page was created, ostensibly as a tribute site to Nikki's life. But friends and family were again met with the horrific photos, captioned by "false and degrading labels" about Nikki and her family, according to the lawsuit.
    "Everybody I know has either seen them or they know someone that's seen them," said Lesli. "This was an expensive car and it was a young girl and she was also a very pretty girl. It was also Halloween, so it was just the perfect recipe for something like this."
    "People say that she deserved to die," said Christos. "She was irresponsible, driving fast, we understand that. But she didn't deserve to die, and especially in the manner that she died."

    (continue in next post)
  2. 'This Is In No One's Interest

    Though the Catsourases hired a company to remove the photos from the Internet, the images live on. "It spreads in bursts, and when it spreads it happens very fast," said Michael Fertik, the founder of ReputationDefender, a company that helps clients remove items from the Internet. "We go at it by just direct human to human contact. We reach out to the people who are posting them, or chiefly in these cases, hosting the website where they are posted, and saying 'Look, this is in no one's interest. You're getting less pleasure out of this than these people are suffering pain."
    "We've asked them to please take down the pictures, and they've said, 'No, I don't have to because I've got my First Amendment rights," says Lesli Catsouras of the Web sites that still carry the photos. "But we have rights, you know, we're living in the United States of America."
    One such Web site did not remove the photos. It's owner declined a request to be interviewed, but provided a statement to ABC News, which reads in part:
    "Wanting to view photographs of tragic events is a part of human nature. It's a very rare person who doesn't rubberneck as they pass the scene of an accident, because we're all interested in a glimpse into death and misfortune. When we look upon photographs, like those of a young girl who has been violently struck down in the prime of her life by a moment's recklessness, we gaze upon our own mortality, and we think about how easily this could have been us. &While I sympathize with the family and have no desire to perpetuate the pain of their loss, I also realize the reality of the internet. Once photographs like these leak online, they spread like a virus. & For those who find photographs of deceased individuals disturbing, they have the option of not visiting the sort of sites that display those images. (Most of those sites have ample warnings before anything disturbing is shown.) But the right of the rest of us to view such images should not be infringed upon."
    After an internal investigation, the California Highway Patrol identified two dispatchers, Thomas O'Donnell and Aaron Reich as being responsible for the leaked images. Citing "pending litigation," the highway patrol has yet to comment on the case, but it sent a letter to the family admitting the mistake.
    "After a thorough and complete investigation we have determined that a CHP employee did violate departmental policy in this matter. Appropriate action has taken place to preclude a similar occurrence in the future," the letter, signed by Orange County Communications Center Lt. Cmdr. Paul Depaola, states.
    "Again, my sympathy to you and your family at this difficult time of loss," Depaola wrote.
    "The CHP has taken the position that plaintiffs do not have a civil case against them because the release of the photographs, while morally wrong, did not violate any governmental regulation or statute," Bremer said.
    Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Perk refused to dismiss the case against the California Highway Patrol. Bremer expects more challenges to the lawsuit from the dispatchers as well.

    'She Was a Person'

    Rex Parris, a lawyer for defendant Thomas O'Donnell, said his client is innocent of any wrongdoing and said that O'Donnell did not leak any of the photos. He only received pictures and sent them to his own, personal e-mail, Parris said. O'Donnell says that the agency isn't defending him in the lawsuit, and that he feels abandoned.
    "I don't understand why the department isn't sitting here with me, helping me," he said.
    "Other than looking at the photographs and forwarding them to his own private e-mail account, he did nothing," Parris said. "He was just a recipient of the digital photographs, he didn't forward them on to anyone," Parris said.
    Sharing photographs of accident scenes are a part of the job for highway patrol workers and dispatchers, and always have been, he said. He claimed that as long as taking accident scene pictures remains part of CHP policy, incidents such as this one will continue to come up.
    "There isn't anybody out there that wouldn't want to protect this family from seeing those photographs," Parris said. "This is an issue of technology, not morality or equal prohibition. It's one of those painful things that come along with technology."
    Parris and Bremer said the CHP should apologize.
    "It is disappointing that the CHP acknowledges an internal error of this magnitude has occurred," Bremer said, "but steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the ramifications and extent of pain it has caused the Catsouras family."
    "They'd like the California Highway Patrol, which has admitted that internal policies were violated, to come and say that they are sorry."
    On the first anniversary of Nikki's death, the Catsouras family cut together a video tribute with their own pictures of Nikki, set to the song "Angel," which is what her father always called her.
    "I feel like no one really realized she was a person, and they in a sick way got really entertained by this photograph, and it's just sad that someone can feel the need to put it out and keep it going on and harming others by putting it up," said Danielle.
    "We are a real family with real hearts," said Christos. "And it hurts what people are doing."

    Copyright © 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures

    such a sad story. she was a beautiful girl with a very loving family :crybaby:
  3. Sad and tragic....
    and the family relive the horror of their daughter's loss
    everytime the pictures show up...

    Somebody has to take resposibility to the suffering those picture gave to this poor family....
  4. Gods, why do people have to do sh*t like this? I don't think I could deal with something like that.

    The section saying pictures posted on the Internet take a life of their own is true. About 3 years ago, I sent a photograph of my cat Phaser sleeping across the coat hangers in DH's closet to maybe a half a dozen friends in an email. About a week later, my daughter forwarded to me an email with the question, "Ma, isn't this YOUR cat?" and the picture was there, forwarded from someone I'd never heard of. I then googled "Cat In Clothes Hangers" and a whole slew of sites came up, and they ALL had the picture I'd taken and sent to 6 friends! I was floored how quickly it went around the world. And it's STILL going. Yesterday DH told me his old school friend sent him an email that contained the picture! If I had a nickel everytime someone viewed that pic...

    I told about the cat picture to show how quickly and without some people's knowledge, things can get around on the 'Net. Sadly, there are people who get some kind of sick satisfaction out of pictures of accident/murder victims, there's even entire websites devoted to this! It IS distressing to family... the one pic I saw of the car where my grand-niece and grand-nephew burned to death was distressing for me. It showed a yellow tarp inside the back seat area and I know under it was Devlin's body.

    It's so hard, especially if the leak comes from an "official" source.
  5. Sarsi - yea, I feel horrible for the family. the poor kids had to pulled out of public school so they wouldnt see their sister's pics. sad.

    speedy - woah what the heck?!! aw man, i wonder how it got on the net. your story makes me think twice about posting pictures online. and i'm so sorry about the pics of your grand-niece and nephew.
  6. That was horrible.

    There was no reason to publish those.
  7. I'm just glad it was a picture of my cat and not me naked or something... but it proves just how quickly something like that can happen.

    Someone who was close to the case involving the kids tried to shame the people who posted that picture of the car with the yellow tarp, telling them that family had seen it. I hear she got a nasty note back saying it was "news" and it would stay.

    Sad. The descriptions of such things is bad enough, but pictures? No need for such graphic things.
  8. Some people (and I admit that I'm included) have a morbid curiosity. But there is a big difference to looking to satisfy one's morbid curiosity and sending the pictures to the victim's loved ones. That just crosses a line.

    I have seen pictures of Jayne Mansfield's car accident. I wasn't searching for them, but I wanted to find some more information about her.

    I don't want to see the pictures from Princess Diana's car accident.

    I don't purposely search for car accident pictures.
  9. To add, I don't think any more pictures of car accidents should be published or posted.
  10. I agree these pictures should of never seen the light of day. But suing the CHP?
  11. I think suing is the right thing to do. What the hell were the CHP doing by forwarding this to their own private email account, so they could send these pics to their buddies and saying, "WHOA, look, this girl got really MESSED UP!!" Did they think that perhaps these pictures might be cool to share? That is not right.
  12. Suing the CHP is RIGHT ON target! That was a SERIOUS slip in conduct, and they need to have their a**es put back in place. That family lost their daughter and those idiot officers were amused by the graphic nature of it.

    S I C K.
  13. Those pictures are not something that any family member should see of their child/sibling. I don't blame the family for being outraged that those photos were leaked. My heart goes out to the family, but I don't think those photos will ever be eliminated from the internet. :sad:
  14. AMUSED by the graphic nature of these pictures. I know several people in law enforcement. Not one is amused by the hideous outcomes of these kinds of accidents.
    Why does the online companies who posted these get a free pass? They are the ones that spread this around the world & put it up for everyone to goggle & gwak at.
  15. I hate to say this but our privacy as we know it is changing with our ever evolving technology and it's only going to get worse folks. With everyone carrying camera phones/videos and the onslaught of "MySpace" and emails anything is up for grabs. The dispatcher did wrong yes, but just as easily a bystander by the toll booth could have taken those morbid pictures and spread them through the world wide web. The use of camera phones is like the landline of yesteryear.

    It's a very big and real problem, I think our privacy is in jeopardy and I don't have the answers to stop it?