Assault and trespass charges against a Washington state man were dropped over the weekend after it was revealed that the local sheriff had manipulated a courtroom surveillance camera to zoom in on notes from the defense attorney as well as a juror. San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs, who is accused of moving the camera from the sheriff's dispatch office, said in court filings that he "inadvertently" did so, that he didn't even realize the camera was able to zoom in, and that he didn't read or pass along to the prosecution anything he saw. But the judge in the case called a weekend hearing to dismiss the charges against the man whose trial was going on at the time of the incident—he found that the man's right to a fair trial was violated due to government misconduct, and the charges cannot be refiled—and quite a furor has ensued, the Seattle Times reports.
"I'm flabbergasted," says the public defender whose notes were targeted; a trial exhibit was also zoomed in on. "The sheriff used the courtroom to violate my client’s rights. Outrageous hardly covers it." The prosecutor is just as upset, saying the situation left him "frustrated" and "concerned," but he distanced himself from the sheriff's actions, noting that only Krebs knows exactly what happened and the intent behind it. He also said his office received no information from Krebs. Both he and Krebs insist this was an isolated incident stemming from security concerns about the defendant, who was accused of threatening to stab a local grocer. A local civil rights lawyer is pushing to have the video from the security camera made public—and also wants to know why the camera even has a zoom function—but the judge has so far rejected his efforts; a hearing on the matter is set for next week. (See the full story at the Times.)