The federal drug agent who accidentally shot himself during a gun and drug safety demonstration in Florida says the Drug Enforcement Administration violated internal rules in failing to protect a video of the incident that drew national publicity.
The agent, Lee Paige, has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to revive a suit in Washington federal district court that alleges the DEA's handling of the video of the shooting violated privacy rights. The appeals court said this week it will hear the case in October.
Lawyers for Paige, a former undercover agent, say the questions for the D.C. Circuit include whether the DEA intentionally disclosed the video to the public and whether the agency must reveal the person who disclosed the recording. The case also explores the DEA’s internal rules on the control of evidence.
A federal trial judge shut down the suit last December, saying Paige cannot demonstrate willfulness because the identity of the leaker is unknown.
“The exact number and chain-of-custody of the copies is unknown due to the free-for-all and massive violation of DEA rules concerning the video, including the large number of copies made, the absence of virtually any record-keeping, and contradictory and false testimony and purported failures of recollection by various DEA agents,” an attorney for Paige, Ward Meythaler of Tampa’s Merkle Magri & Meythaler, said in court papers (PDF) filed this month in the appeals court.
Meythaler said the video “was a private fact, particularly since the video revealed his identity and subjected him to the very real threat of being killed because of his undercover activities.” And disclosure of the video, Meythaler said, made Paige “a laughing stock around the world despite his notable and often extremely dangerous service to the United States.”
Paige has given hundreds of speeches to schools, charitable groups, sporting teams and businesses, his lawyers said. One talk, however, will forever stand out from the rest.
Paige accidentally shot himself during a discussion in April 2004 at the Orlando Minority Youth Golf Association at a recreation center in Orlando. A parent of a student recorded the talk. Paige’s lawyers said the recording was the only made of the meeting.
Speaking to the class, Paige pulled out his firearm and said he was the only one in the room professional enough to carry the firearm. Within seconds he shot himself in his thigh.
Paige, according to his lawyers, only used unloaded firearms during presentations. Paige “forgot to remove a loaded magazine from the firearm before he began” his speech, his lawyers said in court papers.
The DEA took control of the video and conducted an internal investigation. Paige did not contest a five-day suspension.
Paige’s attorneys allege the DEA did not follow record-keeping and record-control procedures to “secure, protect and avoid the improper distribution” of the video recording of the shooting. Paige contends more than 30 copies of the video were made by DEA agents or employees.
An internal investigation of the leak, in which at least 54 people were interviewed, did not turn up the identity of the person or group that distributed the video. The investigation, Paige said, lasted more than two years.
The U.S. Justice Department has not filed its brief responding to the allegations Paige made this month in the D.C. Circuit. The government is expected to file its papers next month.
Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, David Tatel and Janice Rogers Brown make up the appellate panel.