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Sheriff’s use of courtroom camera to view juror’s notebook, lawyer’s notes sparks dismissal of criminal case

Charges were thrown out in a San Juan assault case after it was revealed the county sheriff had been using the court security camera to focus on defense notes and a juror’s notebook.

Some defense attorneys in San Juan County worry that Sheriff Ron Krebs has a finger on the scales of justice after learning he used a courtroom security camera to surreptitiously zoom in on defense documents and a juror’s notebook during a criminal trial last week.

The incident has drawn outrage from criminal and civil-rights attorneys and frustration from the county prosecutor, and prompted a rare weekend hearing during which a judge dismissed misdemeanor assault and trespass charges against a Lopez Island man after finding the incident amounted to government misconduct that had violated his right to a fair trial.

“I’m flabbergasted,” said San Juan Public Defender Colleen Kenimond, the attorney whose notes were targeted. “This was a court of law. You are supposed to be safe there, and the proceedings are supposed to be fair. Here, the sheriff used the courtroom to violate my client’s rights. Outrageous hardly covers it.”

Kenimond isn’t alone. San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Gaylord — whose office has been stung by misconduct in the Sheriff’s Office before — distanced himself from Krebs. “I too am frustrated at what has happened here, frustrated that it has happened to cases I personally was involved in, and concerned about the community we represent.”

Gaylord said only the sheriff knows exactly what he was doing, and why. “We are independently elected officials,” he said.

Gaylord said no one in his office received information from the sheriff from the video in this case or any other. “We would not do that,” he said. “We have no knowledge of anything like that.

In court filings, Krebs and Gaylord insisted the incident was isolated and unintentional and resulted from security concerns about the defendant in the case, who allegedly had threatened to stab a Lopez Island grocer. Krebs, in a sworn declaration, said he “inadvertently manipulated the camera in the District Courtroom in such a way that it zoomed in on one or more locations in the courtroom” and insisted he didn’t read or pass on anything he may have seen. He claimed he did not know the camera had a zoom function.