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VA Hospital Police Sue Department, Claim Illegal Work Surveillance

Department of Veterans Affairs

Twenty-four current and former Veterans Affairs Department police officers have filed a lawsuit against the VA alleging their boss spied on them using hiding cameras and microphones, including in rooms used by officers for changing clothes at the VA Medical Center in Washington, DC.

But with the officers seeking class action status to cover everyone who has had access to or used the rooms since the bugging began about two years ago, the number of workers potentially recorded could go well beyond the two dozen cops.

"In the two years prior to the filing of this action, literally dozens of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs have used the rooms where the undisclosed recording equipment was maintained," the suit contends. "These include police officers, cleaning staff, doctors, nurses, and maintenance personnel. The class, therefore, could potentially involve more than 100 employees."

The police officers are demanding compensatory and punitive damages and the expunging of all disciplinary actions taken against them in connection with the recordings.   Named as defendants are hospital Chief of Police Jerry Brown, who they claim ordered the surveillance devices installed without legal authority, hospital Director Brian Hawkins, VA Secretary Bob McDonald, and the Milwaukee-based company that installed the equipment.

The lawsuit alleges that Brown "acted on the information he recorded through the use of these recording devices to discipline employees, including termination and to create an atmosphere of utter distrust amongst all employees."

Microphone Found

The lawsuit states that on Jan. 19, 2014, one of the officers told colleagues that Brown might have secretly installed cameras to monitor their activities. Some five days later a number of officers in the Police Control Room found a camera with a microphone mounted to a support bracket for the closed-circuit TV monitors. Though the devices had indicator lights, these were covered with black tape, the suit claims.

The officers in the room covered up the microphone while the group discussed what they should do about it, according to the lawsuit. As they were talking, Brown came into the room demanding to know what they were doing there and ordered them all to draft statements explaining what was happening, according to the lawsuit.

About two months later, on March 14, another hidden camera and microphone were discovered in a second room, this one used primarily for writing reports and as a break room.

Just a week later, on March 22, video and audio captured by the devices was used by Brown to discipline an officer by imposing a two-week suspension without pay.

Yet another camera and microphone were found in a third room in January 2015 – this time in the office of the Watch Commander, the suit claims.

This room is used, in part, as a changing room for both male and female officers. According to the officers' lawsuit, this camera and microphone remain in place at the hospital, with "the video and audio feeds ... delivered on a real-time basis to Defendant Brown's office where they are recorded."

The alleged illegal bugging of the rooms may go back as far as May 29, 2013, according to the suit. That's the start date given the court for including employees who may have been recorded by the equipment.

VA officials and the attorney representing the 24 current and former officers, Ken Gauvey of Hyattsville, Maryland, said they could not talk about the case, though Gauvey did provide Military.com with a copy of the complaint and photos of the devices.

In a brief statement the VA said it "remains vigilant in maintaining a workplace environment that protects employees.  However, we cannot comment on this case due to pending litigation."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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