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Family says 'Orwellian' police wrongly spied on them


A suburban Kansas City Police Department's apparent bid to catch a man feeding feral cats has a family saying they were unnecessarily and possibly illegally spied on.

The camera that was apparently pointed at a family's backyard was removed after the family complained to police. The family also contacted KCTV5 and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Doug Bonney, a Kansas City attorney for the ACLU, wrote a letter on Monday to the Platte City Police Department. In it, he described what happened as "Orwellian misconduct" and asked for assurances it wouldn't happen again.

Stephanie Santos and her father, Steve Nash, live in opposite sides of a duplex. The family first noticed the camera on Thursday and went to police on Friday.

"My dad came through the front door and said, 'Big Brother is watching us!' I don't know what he is talking about. He brings me to the back door and points out the camera he spotted," Santos said.

The camouflage-colored camera was mounted in a tree on a vacant lot next to the home.

Santos said the camera was pointed at her bedroom, her children's room and the backyard where the children play. She was terrified not knowing why the camera was there or who put it up.

"You have all these scenarios running through your head. Was it put there by thieves scouting out our house or pedophiles and kidnappers trying to check up on my kids to harm them?" she said.

An officer came to the home on Friday and told the family that city had installed the camera on city property. The camera, which was actually installed on private property owned by a Jackson County resident, was removed Saturday morning.

In his scathing letter, Bonney cited numerous court cases explaining why the city's actions violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Bonney says there's no indication the city obtained a warrant as required. He says video surveillance should be reserved for investigations into serious crimes.

The Santos family believes they were targeted because Nash had spoke out against an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of feral cats. However, the family also says the police and city are changing their stories as to why the camera was installed on what was private, not public, property. Monitoring wildlife is one of the more recent examples the family was given.

"Although the Santos family is glad that the police department removed the camera on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, the family believes that the city violated its privacy for several days, and the family would like assurances from the police department and other city officials that this Orwellian misconduct will not be repeated, that the police department and city will adopt policies that will prohibit future video surveillance of private homes, and that the city will take other steps to compensate the family for the invasion of privacy," Bonney wrote.

Platte City police Chief Carl Mitchell declined to comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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