In the early hours of July 25, 2010, a Hillsborough jail deputy snapped a routine booking photo of Meagan Simmons, who had been arrested on a DUI charge. In the picture, her head appeared slightly and seductively cocked. Her hair, tousled just the right way. Her eyes, hazel and piercing.
The mug shot turned out like a glamor shot, and it launched a thousand memes. "Guilty of taking my breath away." "This is what a model inmate looks like." "Arrested for breaking and entering your heart." On countless websites, Simmons, 28, became known as the "attractive convict."
None of this escaped her notice. Last year, the mother of four from Zephyrhills tweeted "look who made the cut!" when her photo was part of an Inside Edition special about hot mug shots. She did interviews with the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail in April. There was even chatter she'd pose for Playboy if given the opportunity.
This week, however, she indicated she's had enough publicity. In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County, Simmons accused the background check website InstantCheckmate.com of using her picture for commercial and advertising purposes, without compensating her or even getting her permission.
Simmons declined to comment to the Tampa Bay Times and spoke through her attorney, Matthew Crist.
"At the end of the day, this is actually about intellectual property," Crist said. "If someone is going to use your image, they need to pay you for it."
He likened the issue to Colgate using Tom Cruise's image to sell toothpaste without his permission.
Interest in the photo simmered up in August 2012, when a compilation of images was posted to men's interest site the Chive under the headline: "Who knew mugshots could be so attractive." From there, Simmons' face made its way through various photo sharing sites. On April 3, a user named Vestra on Reddit posted her picture with the caption, "Can I have her cell number." Another user quickly followed with "I guess it's true, looks do kill." It went on from there.
Even today, Simmons has a strong social media presence — she has 1,182 Instagram followers and 2,434 Twitter followers. She told the Daily Mail last year she didn't much like the photo that has become so admired.
"I don't think it's that good a picture. There are other ones I would prefer," she said in the Daily Mail story.
So why does Simmons have an issue with the exposure now, when before she seemed to embrace it?
The distinction, Crist said, is that InstantCheckmate.com is using her image for obvious financial gain. The other pictures floating around are more for fun and enjoyment.
An InstantCheckmate.com ad attached to the lawsuit shows Simmons' photo with the caption "Sometimes the cute ones aren't that innocent." The Checkmate logo is displayed next to a button that says "check now."
InstantCheckmate.com did not return a call for comment.
In the suit, Simmons alleges the exposure has disturbed her peace of mind, invaded her privacy and caused her anguish. The suit seeks monetary damages and an injunction to prevent further use of her picture.
When asked how the situation caused her mental anguish, Crist said it was early in the lawsuit and the main point was that what InstantCheckmate.com was doing was illegal.
"The legal issue is it's your face, and your name. You own it," he said. "You can use it, you control it and when someone misappropriates it — that's when you're violating Florida law."