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Woman seeks to block records

Computer data seized from an ex-Pinellas Park police captain may include private pictures.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- A woman wants a judge to block the release of computer records seized from a former police captain because they may contain pictures of her in "semi-undress."

The woman, identified in court documents only as "Jane Doe," asked the judge Friday to intervene in a lawsuit filed by former Pinellas Park police Capt. Robert Hempel against the city and the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.

Hempel's personal laptop computer, his briefcase and other information had been seized by the agencies investigating his use of his private computer on city business and city time.

That investigation has been completed, but Hempel sued Pinellas Park and the sheriff to prevent a release of the report because it contains information he thinks is of "a most private nature."

Hempel won a temporary injunction barring Pinellas Park and the Pinellas County sheriff from releasing those documents. The St. Petersburg Times has intervened to ask that the records be released.

Hempel, being groomed as the next chief as recently as a year ago, has never said publicly what officers might have found on his laptop.

But Jane Doe's attempt to intervene might have shed some light on that question.

"Upon information and belief included in Mr. Hempel's personal computer files seized by the city were photographs and/or images of Jane Doe in a state of semi-undress," according to the motion.

"Said photographs and/or images were the personal and private property of Mr. Hempel and/or Ms. Doe, and were not related to any closed or pending criminal investigation, nor did they serve any other public purpose, nor were they ever intended for public release or disclosure," the motion said.

Revealing those pictures would cause "unwarranted damage" to her good name or reputation, said her attorneys.

At a recent hearing, Tom Reynolds, Pinellas Park's assistant city attorney, told the judge that certain city employees were mentioned in the file. He asked Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge David Demers for permission to inform those employees of that fact. Demers granted that request.

Jane Doe's motion to intervene was filed after that, but one of her attorneys, David Sockol of St. Petersburg, said his client's decision to seek legal help was not prompted by Reynolds' actions. Sockol declined to say whether she is a Pinellas Park employee.

"I was not contacted pursuant to anything the court did or anything Tom Reynolds did or had permission to do," Sockol said.

The only reason his client contacted him, Sockol said, was because she is "aware of a private photo or two" that might be on Hempel's laptop computer.

Sockol declined to comment on the circumstances in which the pictures were taken, other than saying his client would not be concerned over allegations that the photos may have been taken in Hempel's office.

"I haven't seen any government purpose or wrongdoing," he said. "It's like a photograph you carry in your wallet."

Spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said she's aware of no photographs like that in the sheriff's possession. The only photographs in the sheriff's file, she said, are of Hempel's computer and of his office in the Pinellas Park Police Department.

It is unclear whether Pinellas Park has copies of any such photos in the 3,000-plus pages of documents from the Hempel investigation. Police Chief Dorene Thomas could not be reached for comment.

Hempel, 46, had worked for the Pinellas Park Police Department since 1982. He resigned or retired from the department in early April.

He has since been awarded retirement benefits.

Recent coverage

Captain, police part (April 11, 2001)

Police chief turns down captain's resignation (March 21, 2001)

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