WILKES-BARRE — A jury Thursday found in favor of Luzerne County, a former sheriff and current deputy chief, named as defendants in a privacy violation suit filed by a former deputy Jennifer Roberts.
The verdict, reached after three and a half hours of deliberation in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, supported the defense’s case that Roberts’ rights were not violated when a training video was made of her and another deputy, Brian Szumski, undergoing a decontamination shower on Sept. 27, 2007.
Then-Sheriff Barry Stankus ordered that the video be taken by deputy Ryan Foy after Roberts and Szumski were contaminated with fleas while serving a warrant at a house. The suit filed in 2008 alleged Foy disseminated the video to co-workers, causing emotional distress, embarrassment and humiliation. She demanded the video and photographs be destroyed and sought unspecified damages.
The jury of five women and three men heard testimony and saw excerpts of the video during the trial that began Monday.
Roberts declined comment as she left the courtroom after the verdict.
Her attorney Cynthia Pollick offered a short statement as she left the courthouse. “We’re disappointed in the verdict because your right to privacy is so important,” Pollick said.
Stankus and Foy referred questions to attorneys Mark Bufalino and Matthew Carmody.
“I think the evidence was clear that she not only knew that and consented to the video, but that it was patently obvious that there was no videoing of any intimate body parts which is what the law prohibits,” Bufalino said.
The case had been closed after U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled on Aug. 31, 2010 that there was no dispute of facts and no need for a trial. His decision was appealed and in October 2011 the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded it for further proceedings by Caputo.
By then Roberts was fired from her deputy position. She had been charged with harassing and assaulting the girlfriend of her former partner in July 2011
Bufalino acknowledged he thought Caputo’s ruling of summary judgment was correct and, while respecting the appellate court’s decision, disagreed with it.
“But I think in the end the jurors righted the ship,” he said.
The verdict could be used to set policy, he added.
“I think that the lesson today is that the jurors found that the county and Mr. Stankus and Mr. Foy didn’t do anything wrong,” Bufalino said. “Having said that we always following cases like this will sit down with our clients and talk about what not only transpired here today but, you know, what may happen in the future.”