Woman sues CHP after officer stole racy cell phone photos

Natalie Sramek says she was taken into custody for DUI by California Highway Patrol Officer Sean Harrington on Interstate 680 in San Ramon in August 2014.

But what should have been a straightforward arrest became anything but.

According to Contra Costa County prosecutors and now this civil suit, Harrington asked Sramek for the password to unlock her cell phone, presumably so that he could get a phone number to help her contact a friend.

Instead, the suit says, while she was in custody, Harrington "illegally accessed her photo library and rifled through thousands of images stored on her phone in search of salacious photographs.”

According to the suit, Harrington stole at least six photos and attached them to text messages he sent to himself using Sramek's phone.

“The photographs were personal in nature, private and showed plaintiff in various states of undress,” the complaint says.

The suit says that the CHP officer then forwarded the photos to at least one other officer, Robert Hazelwood. Both at the time were assigned to the CHP's Dublin office.

According to the complaint, the two then launched into a "disturbing dialogue" about the woman's anatomy,

Sramek says she only found out about what happened when she looked at her iPad, which is synced to her iPhone, and realized her photos had been forwarded to a phone number she didn't recognize.

Authorities say Harrington referred to his actions as "a game."     

We spoke to Rick Madsen, the woman's attorney, earlier this year.

“Quite frankly, there is no sentence that can ultimately undo the damage that has been inflicted on Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. Both of these victims will live with the uncertainty of public disclosure, ridicule and embarrassment,” Madsen said.

Harrington resigned from the CHP last fall and was sentenced in January to three years’ probation after pleading no contest to theft and copying computer data belonging to Sramek and the other woman. The judge ordered Harrington to attend a 27-hour violence prevention training program and to obey all laws.

Outside court, Harrington, a married father, apologized.

“This has cost me my career in the CHP, a career that I loved and was good at, and a career that made my family and friends proud of me,” Harrington said with his wife, Christina, at his side. “My actions have caused that sense of pride to be eroded and replaced it with embarrassment."

The suit names the CHP, Commissioner Joseph Farrow and Harrington and Hazelwood as defendants. The CHP did not respond to a request for comment Friday.