WASHINGTON – A federal agent who accidentally shot himself while lecturing children on gun safety lost his appeal Tuesday in a lawsuit over release of the video that subjected him to ridicule on the Internet and late-night talk shows.
Lee Paige sued his employer, the Drug Enforcement Administration, after video of the 2004 accident in Florida appeared in the news and went viral on the Internet. The video shows Paige shooting himself in the leg just as he displays his firearm and tells a gathering of about 50 youth and their parents, "I'm the only one in this room professional enough, that I know of, to carry this Glock 40."
Paige claimed in his lawsuit that the DEA's release of the video, taken by a parent attending the demonstration, invaded his privacy and ended his ability to work undercover or give motivational speeches. Paige, a former professional football player who worked at the DEA since 1990, said the release has also resulted in humiliating comments toward him and his family not only on television but at grocery stores and restaurants.
Siding with the DEA in December 2010, a U.S. District court judge ruled that Paige had provided no evidence of who made the video public. On Tuesday, a three-judge appeals court panel upheld that ruling and found that the video contained no private facts because the accidental discharge occurred in an Orlando community center at an event open to the public.
But the appellate judges found that even though Paige's privacy rights weren't violated, the DEA's handling of the video as part of its internal investigation into the shooting "is far from a model of agency treatment of private data."
"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," the judges wrote.
The video shows that after Paige shot himself, he tried to continue his presentation to the Orlando Youth Minority Golf Association. "See how that accident happened?" he told the audience. "It can happen to you, and you can be blown away. So guys, never play with guns."
Limping, he started to bring out another gun to show but the audience protested. He tried to assure them the second weapon was unloaded — as he had claimed when he brought out the Glock — but ended the presentation when the crowd continued to object.