I-Team: websites charging to remove mug shots - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

I-Team: websites charging to remove mug shots

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TOLEDO, Ohio -

Should one picture stop you from getting a job and cause years of embarrassment? The 13abc I-team discovered that it's a big problem for some people in northwest Ohio.

They're calling it extortion and a violation of their rights. 

The problems center around mug shots.  They're seen on television programs across the country.  You'll find them in newspapers and magazines.  These days you'll find more and more of them on the internet.  The problem is that, without money, they can hang over people's heads for years, and that's where the fight begins.

"I was loud, my husband was loud.  We're loud.  Probably shouldn't live in an apartment being loud," said Kody Kline, who admits that night last February was not something she's proud of.  "There was an argument, and it got loud.  The police came.  I was arrested.  The charges were dropped."

Her domestic violence charge was eventually dropped and the whole thing should have gone away, but her mugshot won't go away.  Some, like Kline, think a mugshot implies guilt just by its nature.

"It's one of the worst pictures there is of me," said Kline.

"Googling" her name brings up that mug shot. She knows it and knows employers know it.  The photo brings you to several websites that now have the mug shot.  Kline can get them to remove it, but it's going to cost her, in some cases, hundreds of dollars. 

"It seemed like it was wrong and like so many other things in the world today we all have an idea of how the world is supposed to work and we develop a sensibility about that," said Kline's attorney Scott Ciolek. 

Ciolek is representing Kline and 259,000 people in a class-action lawsuit, suing four sites:

  • Justmugshots.com
  • Bustedmugshots.com
  • Mugshotsonline.com
  • Findmugshots.com

The suit claims two things:  First, that these sites violate the person's right to privacy, while making money off their image.

"Individuals get to control how those things are used for commercial gain," said Ciolek. 

Second, extortion for making people pay to remove the photo. 

"You commit extortion if you threaten to embarrass or injure the reputation of someone under the promise of money," said Ciolek.   

"It's just an instant judgment. Here's a mug shot. You are labeled as a criminal," said Kline.

Some may ask why news operations can use mug shots and not get caught up in similar lawsuits?  According to the Ohio Revised Code's section on publicity in individuals persona, there is an exemption for material that has newsworthy value.

The I-Team contacted all the companies listed in the suit.  The only one that replied was the ownership group of bustedmugshots.com.

A representative said they could not comment on pending litigation but in a company fact sheet they claim their mission is to provide transparency to the criminal justice system.  They point out that all the information and mug shots are legally obtained through public records request. 

People like Kline want to know where the line is drawn between public information and public embarrassment?  Her attorney says it comes with an emotional and financial price.

"If I get a large enough judgment against these mug shot companies it will discourage other mug shot companies from opening up," said Ciolek.  

"I know a lot of people are hoping they'll get money or something like that out of it.  I honesty just hope it will stop these people.  It's hurting my reputation," said Kline.   

Kline readily admits that the best way to stay away from any of this is not to get into a situation with the police where eventually a mug shot is taken.  But she says anybody can be caught in a bad situation that isn't what it looks like.

Link to court case in Lucas County Common Pleas Court

Lawsuit

Fact sheet from bustedmugshots.com

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