Sheriff: Booking unit to resume releasing mug shots of criminal defendants

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Judicial Center

The York County Central Booking Unit will resume public access to mug shots taken of defendants who have been arraigned there, at least for now, according to York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber.

Keuerleber told The York Dispatch on Wednesday, Feb. 5, that his office is transparent to the public and that he believes booking mug shots are public information.

"We were merely doing what we were told to do," Keuerleber said.

The issue, he said, isn't whether the public should be able to obtain the photos — it's a question of which law-enforcement agency should release them.

"It might not be us who releases them," the sheriff said. "Moving forward, the question is, whose record is it?"

The county's booking unit is staffed by sheriff's deputies and located in the basement area of the sheriff's office.

Booking unit supervisors had been sending media agencies emails twice daily with booking mug shots attached — once after morning arraignments and once after evening arraignments. That stopped on Jan. 22.

Media alert: On Jan. 30, in response to query by The York Dispatch, Lt. Shawn Malehorn sent out an email stating that, effective Jan. 20, the booking unit would no longer be releasing mug shots or charging documents on defendants, "per the request of President Magisterial District Judge David Eshbach," on behalf of the county's 19 district judges.

Keuerleber said York County's district judges were concerned that booking unit supervisors were releasing the charging documents of defendants who had not yet been arraigned and who hadn't had their paperwork signed by a district judge. Because of that, the district judges want to release their own charging documents, he said.

The York Dispatch contacted York County Common Pleas President Judge Joseph C. Adams and asked him to look into the matter.

York County President Judge Joseph C. Adams

Adams and Keuerleber said that going forward, charging documents must be obtained from the district judge office where they are filed and that the booking unit won't release them. York County's 19 district judges already routinely release public charging documents to the media.

"We don't want 19 sets of different rules," Adams said.

Proxy agency: In Pennsylvania, district judges don't have purview over mug shots. That's because the booking unit acts as a proxy for both district judges and police departments. It's police who would be taking booking mug shots and fingerprinting defendants, were it not for the central booking unit.

"Because the mug shots are not part of the magisterial district judges' record, I told the sheriff that we have no position on how that gets disseminated to (the media)," Adams said, noting it's the arresting police agency that has purview over the photos.

Keuerleber said that on Wednesday, he attended the monthly York County Chiefs of Police Association meeting to ask police chiefs how they want the release of booking mug shots to be handled going forward.

Because the district judges are tweaking the way their defendants are handled in the booking unit, it's possible that not everyone brought to the booking unit will be arraigned by the on-duty district judge, and if they aren't arraigned, their photos cannot be released, the sheriff said.

York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber

Keuerleber said he expects it could be a month or so until York County's police chiefs tell him whether they want the booking unit to continue releasing mug shots, or whether police departments want to do that on their own.

The sheriff said that until police chiefs make that decision, his office will resume sending booking mug shots to York's media outlets.

"There is no ill intent here," he said.

What is it? The central booking unit is a public agency funded partially with taxpayer money and partially by fees assessed to the defendants who go through the unit.

Police officers from around York County drop off defendants at the unit, where they are kept in holding cells until they can be arraigned on their charges and have bail set by the on-duty district judge, usually via video arraignment. Defendants are photographed at central booking as part of that process.

The booking unit is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Malehorn said the booking unit sends mug shots to the arresting police agency and to the state.

Keuerleber began serving his fourth term as sheriff on Jan. 3.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.