N.Y. legislators propose limits on posting crime-scene images

Thursday, March 31, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. — Staten Island lawmakers have proposed making it a felony for New York emergency personnel to take and circulate unauthorized crime-scene images or videos, citing a photo posted on Facebook that showed a woman found strangled in her apartment in 2009.

Yesterday, Democratic and Republican legislators, joined by the mother of victim Caroline Wimmer, said the posting compounded the pain and horror. They said that shouldn’t happen to anyone else, and their bill should be a model for laws around the country. Convictions would mean one to four years in jail.

“What if it was your daughter?” Marti Wimmer said. “It could be a fire. It could be a car accident.”

Bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly would make it a crime for public servants on duty to take unauthorized pictures or videos of crime scenes and circulate them.

The Albany Times Union reported that the measure would apply to workers who take photos “outside of the course of conduct of the public servant’s official duties,” and not to photographers authorized by police to take photos for evidence.

Paramedic Mark Musarella responded to the emergency call after Wimmer’s body was found in her apartment. He was sentenced to 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty in December to misdemeanor official misconduct and disorderly conduct. The 48-year-old retired New York Police Department detective has also given up his emergency medical technician license, authorities said.

Edward Pavia, Musarella’s lawyer, said yesterday that the posting was unintentional and his client quickly took it down. He’s sorry for the pain he caused the family, Pavia said.

State Sen. Diane Savino said Musarella took the picture of Caroline Wimmer, 26, with his cellphone and was later fired.

“It had been posted on Facebook for personal entertainment,” she said.

The photograph was on Musarella’s Facebook page for a day or two, and prosecutors found no other cases where emergency personnel had posted images from crime scenes, said Peter Spencer, spokesman for Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan.

Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, said company officials extend their sympathies to Wimmer’s family and found it “disturbing and despicable” that someone would take her picture under those circumstances.

Facebook cooperated fully with authorities and has no copies of the picture on its site or servers, Noyes said.

Earlier this week, NBC New York reported that Wimmer’s parents had filed a civil lawsuit against Facebook, Musarella and his employer, Richmond University Medical Center, Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano and the Fire Department of New York.

According to NBC New York, although the Wimmers aren’t seeking money from Facebook, they are asking a court to force the company to delete the picture from its data servers and turn over details about who saw and downloaded it.

“We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” Noyes was quoted by NBC New York as saying.

Calvin Lawson, 30, was convicted last May of second-degree murder for beating and strangling Wimmer during an argument. He was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison. Wimmer’s parents found her body.

Once Musarella finishes his community service, he can vacate his misdemeanor guilty plea and be sentenced to a violation, essentially clearing his criminal record, according to the district attorney’s office.

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