An invasion of privacy lawsuit filed against a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office deputy who allegedly improperly availed himself of information gleaned from the County Jail database for personal use won a small but significant procedural victory last week. Bakersfield man Jeffrey Whitson claimed that former custody deputy Jake Malone looked at Whitson’s jail record multiple times in 2015. At the time, Malone was in the throes of a highly charged custody dispute with Whitson, who is the biological father of Malone’s wife’s child. Whitson had been booked into County Jail in 2011 for public intoxication in Isla Vista. During a deposition in the custody dispute, Malone admitted having looked two times at Whitson’s jail information; later, he acknowledged the number was nine. Subsequent discovery indicates Whitson’s jail records were examined 36 times, though not all by Malone.
Last week, Judge Donna Geck ruled that Whitson should be allowed judicially supervised access to Malone’s personnel records to determine if Malone had been disciplined in the past for similar actions. With law enforcement officers, access to such information is legally barred absent a court hearing. Whitson’s attorney, Diane Weissburg, is a civil rights specialist focusing on abuse of electronic records. Weissburg argued that a large number of jail database searches could cause her client to be regarded in a prejudicial light. Because the jail’s database is connected to other statewide law enforcement databases, she said, her client could suffer more broadly from whatever inferences are drawn. County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni declined to comment on the case. In legal papers opposing Whitson, the county argued Malone’s actions would not be deemed “highly offensive to a reasonable person” because the invasion was so slight. In addition, the county argued Malone did not act with “reckless disregard” and that Whitson had not suffered “severe emotional distress.” Judge Geck also ruled that court records pertaining to the underlying custody dispute should be sealed.
Editor’s Note: This story was corrected as an editing error made it unclear that Whitson is the biological father of Malone’s wife’s child.