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University cops say bosses eavesdropped on them in bathrooms

Department secretly installed a surveillance system throughout its headquarters, according to a lawsuit filed by a police union

By Kale Williams
San Francisco Chronicle

IRVINE, Calif. — A University of California campus police department secretly installed a surveillance system throughout its headquarters, including in bathrooms, and recorded officers’ private conversations, according to a lawsuit filed by a police union.

Devices installed throughout UC Irvine’s police headquarters were powerful enough to pick up normal conversations through walls, said the suit, filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court on behalf of the Federated University Police Officers Association.

The class-action suit names UC Irvine Police Chief Paul Henisey, Assistant Chief Jeff Hutchison, the UC Board of Regents, security outfit Johnson Controls Inc. and the Police Department.

Henisey and Hutchison, with approval and funding from the regents, hired Johnson Controls to install audio-visual recording devices in and around the UC Irvine police headquarters sometime before December 2013, the suit claims.

The recording devices were installed in offices, hallways and bathrooms, as well as outside the building, the suit says.

The system recorded officers’ conversations about finances, medical treatments and history, working conditions, grievances filed with the union and internal affairs investigations, the suit claims.

When the devices were discovered, UC Irvine police officials deleted several months of recordings to try to cover up any wrongdoing, the suit says.

Andrew Lopez, the police union president, said his group sued to “protect students, faculty, staff, the general public and (its) members at the University of California Irvine campus from nonconsensual and surreptitious audio recording of their private conversations. This is a blatant violation of the privacy rights of members of our community.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages and a permanent injunction against the surveillance.

Cathy Lawhon, a spokeswoman for UC Irvine, said the suit has no merit.

“We deny the allegations and will vigorously defend ourselves against them,” she said.

A spokesman for Johnson Controls said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

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