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Sep. 22 2009 - 12:56 pm | 676 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

In defense of Wal-Mart in the bath tub photos (a.k.a. child pornography) controversy

This is not child porn. (From the Hill family archive)

This is not child porn. (From the Hill family photo archives)

Wal-Mart has wreaked havoc upon a family in Peoria, Arizona. In a lawsuit first reported by Courthouse News Service, Lisa and A.J. Demaree seek damages for “defamation and outrage.” Because of Wal-Mart, the Demarees temporarily lost custody of their children, were placed on a sex offenders’ list, and Lisa Demaree lost her job as a teacher.

It all started with a trip to Wal-Mart to get their photos developed.

Of 150 photos on the memory stick, about seven showed the girls “with a towel around and in various portions of nudity,” Treon said…

Wal-Mart h
as an “unsuitable print policy” by which it decides “(without telling the customer that it had this policy) whether any photographs supplied by a customer on a computer ‘memory stick’ contained nudity of a minor of any kind and, if so, Wal-Mart would then decide whether to turn those photographs over to the police,” according to the complaint in Maricopa County Court…

According to the complaint against the state, Wal-Mart reported the photos to the Peoria Police Department, then Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Hunter “published defamatory remarks to more than 35 family members and friends of plaintiffs, falsely stating that plaintiffs Lisa and A.J. Demaree ’sexually abused’ their children.”

via Courthouse News Service.

In what universe are bathtub pictures mistaken for child pornography?

Wal-Mart ruined the lives of this family and will likely be paying them big bucks for it. But won’t anyone stand up in defense of Wal-Mart’s policy of monitoring photos for criminal behavior?

In an interview on Good Morning America, Lisa Demaree says:

“You need to have an awareness before you go to have anything printed or developed what the policies are… There was nothing that was displayed for us that someone would be censoring our photos at Wal-Mart.”

The Wal-Mart lab technician who mistook bath tub photos for child porn makes me worry about what’s in the water in Peoria. That misinterpretation of innocence for molestation troubles me.

But I’m not troubled by someone looking at photos being developed and raising a red flag when there’s something disturbing in them. Had these photos actually contained sexual abuse rather than innocent bathtime fun, this technician would be a hero instead of a laughingstock.

The episode reminds me of a scene from Robert Altman’s Shortcuts, a film tracing the intersections of nine groups of strangers in Los Angeles. One group goes fishing for the weekend and discovers a dead girl in the water at their fishing spot. Her body is included in the photos they take on the trip. Another group in the film is a couple — a make-up artist and his girlfriend. He practices his “beat-up-woman” make-up on her, and then takes photos.

When the two groups drop off their photos for development, they get mixed up. The fishing buddies get the photos of an abused woman, while the couple receive the photos of a dead woman.

Both are disturbed by the content of the photos. Yet, if I remember correctly, they just trade photos and everyone goes their own way at the end. I found that tremendously disturbing at the time.

If Wal-Mart were to develop photos and ignore scenes of sexual abuse, violence, and criminal destruction, that would be even more reprehensible than misinterpreting the innocent nature of a bunch of bathtub photos.


4 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 14 Total Comments
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  1. collapse expand

    Unreal story! I hadn’t heard of this. I suppose every single person (ok, I suppose some parents didn’t have cameras, so most) with baby pictures has been a victim of child pornography by their guilty parents?

    I understand that rules are in place to keep order and maintain standards of socially accepted decency, but a case like this, where subjective judgment needs to be accompanied by some level of common sense, boggles my mind. I can see the lab technician saying, “That’s what it says in the rules,” kind of like when someone says “That’s not in my job description,” but this is pretty absurd.

    I’m always baffled by people who don’t have common sense or tact that can identify what is “normal” and what isn’t, but maybe this photo developing lab technician is that one person that grew up without embarrassing, or in his/her eyes, criminal baby pictures. Monetary damages or not, the damage has obviously been done to the family’s reputation and that’s unfortunately something that no amount of money will be able to restore.

  2. collapse expand

    Okay, but what exactly is your defense of Walmart? Are you defending its no-nudity-no-exceptions policy? The I’m-just-following-the-rules employee? Seems to me Walmart is demonstrably in the wrong here, by a) not publicizing such a draconian policy and b) adhering to a dangerously broad policy in the first place.

  3. collapse expand

    Well, +1 to Walmart for having attentive folks working in the photo department, but -2 for their inability to exercise any kind of discretion.

  4. collapse expand

    Lisa, I think it’s a good policy, but poorly applied in this case. In other words, I agree with Marc and Dave.

    • collapse expand

      I was struck by the slant this story has taken from first reports. Wal-Mart seems to be the target here, but in reality they hold no power over anyone.

      Handing over “innocent” photos to the police would have ended the matter. However, looking over accounts of the police report, the photos in question were anything but what most of us would consider apres bath photos of kids.

      Then the police would have to have the support of CPS workers to proceed further. Then a judge would need to agree to an order to remove the children during an investigation….

      So I’m not sure why Wal-Mart is getting this hung on them, other than their unpopularity–rightly or wrongly–with a large portion of the population.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Have to agree on reflection- the buck doesn’t stop with Walmart- if completely innocent, it would have stopped with either the police or the AG- or child services. The photos apparently raised enough red flags with actors who preferred to err on the side of caution.
        But I stand by my earlier statements- the parents ought to consider a little more judgment here- not every moment of childhood needs to be photographed- and privacy in the digital age needs to be reconsidered, yet another reason to think before taking pictures.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    There is no defending Walmart, I have been in the photo industry for close to 30 years. I can not imagine how on earth the “lab technicians” could possibly think those pictures were child porn, or “taken to titilate or arouse the viewer”. IF you are dumber than the “lab technician” you take child porn to a commercial lab. If you intend to shoot child porn, why wouldnt you just print it at home. IF a “lab technician” sees pictures like this, maybe, just maybe, they should ask a few questions long before they call the cops. I hope this family becomes multi millionares over this and I hope they get an injunction preventing walmart from processing photos until each and every one of their “lab technicians” goes through a training course on copyright laws, child porn laws and commen sense!

    • collapse expand

      Well, personally, I’d rather answer to a law enforcement officer (or even child protective services) why I had taken photos of my children’s genitals than to have some clerk at Wal-Mart a call and say, “Hey! What’s up with this?”

      I’ve always assumed that when I take photos to a lab they are “looked at” by the person processing them. If not, all manner of nonsense could get processed and the lab technician held culpable.

      In this particular case, just the police report’s description of the photos made me uncomfortable. For the parents’ attorney to say even letting reporters look at them constitutes “child pornography” [his words] then putting a photo processing person in that position is poor judgment at the very least.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand

    Were these photos the ones that were authorized for printing, or were they merely on the flash card? I’m wondering whether Wal-mart employees have a legal right to inspect all data files on one of these cards when you drop them off for prints. There may be other- private- data that you do not wish to disclose to third parties, or that may at least be recoverable from these media.
    Legal standing here for snooping?

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