Wal-Mart Employee Causes Couple to Lose Custody of Kids

Are you aware that if you take your film to Wal-Mart to be processed, that their employees are likely to look through your pictures?  More disturbing is that if they see anything questionable, they are encouraged to report it to their boss who then calls police.  I know this can be easily avoided by using a digital camera, but there are still a number of people who prefer the old fashion film and printed photos.

Knowing that, how many of you parents have taken pictures of your young kids in the bathtub?  Many parents do as those photos are often precious keepsakes commemorating a milestone in their growth and development.  That’s exactly what Anthony and Lisa Demaree of Arizona had done.

In 2008, the Demaree family took a trip over to San Diego, just like many Arizonans do.  While at the hotel, their 5, 4 and 1 ½ year old daughters were in the bathtub and the parents took some tub photos of the three girls.  After the bath, the three girls were naked lying on a towel with their arms around each.  Mom thought it looked so cute that she took a photo of them.

When they returned home, they took their film to Wal-Mart in Peoria, AZ, to be processed.  Instead of getting their vacation photos from the store, they ended up being confronted by the police and having their children taken from them.

A Wal-Mart employee working in the camera department saw the pictures of the three girls in the tub and on the towel, and reported it to his boss as possible child pornography.  The boss called the Peoria Police Department who in turn called the Arizona Child Protective Services Agency.  With a suspicion of child pornography hanging over their heads, their kids were taken from them for over a month.  While the kids were in the custody of the state, they were subjected to a pelvic exam to determine if there had been any sexual abuse.

Lisa Demaree told the local news:

“Some of the photos are bathtime photos, but there are a few after the bath. Three of the girls are naked, lying on a towel with their arms around each other, and we thought it was so cute.”

Eventually, a Maricopa County Superior Court Judge cleared the parents and ruled that the photos were not pornographic.  Additionally, the physical exams of the girls showed no evidence of sexual abuse and the girls were finally returned to their parents.

However the damage was already done as Anthony and Lisa now had their names on a central sex offenders registry, even though they had been cleared of all charges.  The couple felt they had no alternative but to file a lawsuit against the Peoria Police Department, the Arizona State Attorney General’s office for defamation of character.  They also filed a lawsuit against Wal-Mart for their part in the fiasco and for not informing them that they had an ‘unsuitable print policy’ and for turning the photos over to the police without their knowledge.

Remarkably, a federal judge ruled in Wal-Mart’s favor, stating that employees in Arizona are immune from prosecution for reporting possible child pornography.  The Demarees then filed an appeal of that decision which was just heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Richard Treon, attorney for the family, argued before the 9th Circuit Court that Wal-Mart was guilty of fraud by not informing customers that their employees would be snooping through the customers’ private photos.  He also pointed out in court that the customers are unaware that Wal-Mart employees were allowed to take photos from customers’ orders and give them to them to police without notifying the customer.  Treon told the local media:

“In order to convict a person of a crime of sexual exploitation of a child, you have to show that the intent of the photographer was to sexually stimulate the viewer. All the experts agree that even police officers don’t have the authority to make that decision.” So, we argued that Walmart was negligent in setting up this program with untrained clerks and giving them tremendous power over the lives of their customers.”

“The photos involved were simple childhood nudity.”

Unfortunately, this is the most liberal appeals court in the land and there is no way to predict how they may rule.

How do you feel about Wal-Mart’s policy to be the photo police and allow their untrained employees to pilfer through your personal photos and make judgment calls based upon their untrained opinions?  I hope and pray that the 9th Circuit Appeals Court will rule in favor of the Demaree family and sends a message to Wal-Mart and other stores about prying into the private lives of their customers.

I’m all for stopping child pornography and child sexual abuse, but I’ve also seen what happens when state people operate on knee-jerk reactions, like everyone is doing on gun control.  It’s always the parents that are hurt and have their reputations smeared and damaged.