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OFF BEAT: DEA agent loses appeal over video of accidental shooting


A federal agent who was shown in a widely distributed video accidentally shooting himself while lecturing children on gun safety lost his lawsuit on Tuesday over release of the video.

Lee Paige sued his employer, the Drug Enforcement Administration, after the four-minute video of the 2004 incident in Florida appeared in the news and went viral on the Internet. The video, which is still available online, shows Mr. Paige telling about 50 children and their parents, “I'm the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry this Glock 40,” then proceeding to shoot himself in the leg.

Mr. Paige, a special agent in the DEA's district office in Orlando, Fla., said in the lawsuit that the video invaded his privacy and ended his ability to work undercover or give motivational speeches, and also resulted in humiliating comments toward him and his family on television as well as in grocery stores and restaurants, according to news reports.

In December 2010, a federal district court judge dismissed the case, holding in part that Mr. Paige had failed to prove the video was retrieved from a system of records and that the disclosure was intentional or willful.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal. The appellate court said in its ruling that the video contained no “private facts,” the accidental discharge of the gun occurred in a public place, “and Paige knew he was being video-recorded.”

However, the DEA came under criticism for its handling of the case, including the fact that several copies were made of the video, which originally was recorded by one of the parents in attendance.

“The widespread circulation of the accidental discharge video demonstrates the need for every federal agency to safeguard video records with extreme diligence in this Internet age of iPhones and YouTube with their instantaneous and universal reach,” said the three-judge panel in its unanimous ruling.

“The DEA's treatment of the video recording—particularly the creation of so many different versions and copies—undoubtedly increased the likelihood of disclosure and, although not an abuse of a system of records, is far from a model agency treatment of private data.”