Top brass at the UC Irvine Police Department secretly installed microphones and cameras to spy on employees at the organization’s headquarters, according to a lawsuit filed by the union representing campus police officers.
Microphones capable of picking up sound through walls were placed throughout the building, recording private conversations of employees and the public in restrooms, hallways, offices and other areas, the union said.
The lawsuit also alleges that some police officials deleted months of recordings in an attempt to cover up after employees discovered the surveillance systems in December.
The suit says Police Chief Paul Henisey and Assistant Chief Jeff Hutchison directed Johnson Controls Inc. to install the equipment. Henisey and Hutchison did not return calls seeking comment.
UC Irvine spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the university denied the allegations and would “vigorously defend against them.”
Also named in the class-action lawsuit are the police department and the University of California Board of Regents, which is accused of approving funding for the program.
The surveillance is a blatant invasion of privacy no matter the intended objective, said attorney David Mastagni, who filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court on Nov. 6 on behalf of the Federated University Police Officers’ Assn.
“The way that I view this is the UC regents and their managers are spying on employees of a university and the public at the same time — and students at the same time,” he said.
Mastagni said he hadn’t heard specific recordings, which purportedly include conversations inside and outside the building on topics including employees’ medical conditions and finances, internal investigations, and privileged communications between attorneys and clients.
“It doesn’t matter what was talked about, and it could have been anything,” Mastagni said. “The idea is to have a citizenry free of fear that their conversations are being eavesdropped on or recorded warrantlessy.”
Employees asked that the equipment be removed, but they were not sure how long they were recorded or if the recordings were continuing, the lawsuit says.
The suit asks for yet-to-be-determined damages and requests an injunction to stop further eavesdropping.