Peeping Tom law signed, but the man who inspired it is still upset
Last week, Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a bill that rigorously steps up consequences for "peeping Toms." Drafted by state representative Joe Rice and sponsored by state senator Evie Hudak, the bill essentially makes invasion of privacy -- or peeping -- a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, which was previously the case.
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But Robert Reams, the man whose family's story inspired the legislation, is not satisfied.
In August 2009, Reams, who lives near Omaha, took his family along on a business trip to Denver and rented a room in Sage Hospitality's TownePlace Suites near the Denver Tech Center. While Reams went to work, his wife and two daughters entertained themselves by shopping. At the end of the week, the family checked out and went home, none the wiser about what had been happening in the room next door.
Turns out that on Wednesday of that week, maintenance man Marcus Wiseman had patched a small hole in the wall -- about a quarter inch in diameter -- only to find the hole back again on Friday, after the Reams family had checked out. Weirded out, he called his manager, Jeremy Goodman. They got a knife and opened up the hole -- and saw a camera.
Initially, they thought it might be coming from the elevator shaft alongside the front of the room, but the hole was too far back -- it could only be coming from the room next door. And sure enough, when they hollowed out the hole, they could see wires going into the next room. Goodman called the police, and when the Arapahoe County sheriff's deputy arrived, they found a camera in that next room, hooked up to a surge protecter, a router, a computer and a DVD player, according to the police report.
David Fugate, the occupant of that room, was arrested a short time later.
The Reams didn't know about that arrest until Bob returned to Denver in October for another business trip, when his wife got a call from an organization called Victim's Rights. "You've got to call these people," she told him.
"What the Victim's Rights people said, in a nutshell, was that because the Arapahoe County District Attorney had allowed the perpetrator -- or I call him 'the pervert' -- to plead down to a misdemeanor of wiretapping or eavesdropping, it took all my rights as a victim away," says Reams.
And Reams, who had not been consulted about the deal, doesn't think a misdemeanor is punishment enough.
Neither does Joe Rice, who represents the district in which the incident took place. The problem, according to both Rice and Reams, was that existing law only came down on perpetrators if a recording took place -- and sheriff's deputies were never able to find evidence of a recording. Under the law that Rice introduced and was passed this session, "they could have charged the guy with a felony" just for the act of spying, no recordings needed, the legislator notes.
Even so, Reams takes issue with the sheriff's lack of recorded evidence. He doesn't think the department went far enough looking for it, and worries that Fugate might have streamed something live onto the Internet. "If they could prove a recording, it'd be a whole different thing, but the fact they can't is the biggest problem for us, because we don't know if it was done, and if it was done where it might show up," he says. "I'm worried for my kids, that five or ten years down the road, somebody's going to bring something out on the Internet or see something, and it'll just destroy them."
Because Fugate's already been convicted, he can't be tried again in connection with the same incident. And the very fact that he's free is upsetting to Reams. "I told my sheriff what's going on, because I travel quite a bit, I said, 'Just you guys, every now and then, just drive by the house.' Because I don't know what this guy might do; I don't know anything about him. And that makes me nervous."
Reams filed a civil suit against Fugate and won a summary judgment, but Fugate already has severe financial problems; Reams says his lawyers don't think they'll be able to get any money out of him.
But Reams isn't stopping there. He also thinks Sage Hospitality, the company that runs TownePlace Suites, needs to be held accountable for what he sees as negligence on its part, and he's filed suit against the hotel chain. Dick Waltz, whose firm represents Sage Hospitality in the suit, declined to comment for this story, citing ongoing litigation.
"Sage has made the decision they want to fight this all the way; they feel they have no liability, you know, because they say they're the victims too, here," says Reams. "But of course, the individual who did what he did to us had been in that room for five months. He'd been doing this for a while, obviously--but only admitted to it for a few days. But when the sheriff walked into his room to do the search, they immediately saw all his set-up. I mean, this elaborate camera setup with power supplies and so forth. I mean, if anybody had done a walk-though in this guy's room, they would have seen it very simply. I mean, right away they saw it."
The police report confirms that Fugage had d checked into the hotel in mid-April of 2009.
"So I'm suing them because, number one, I want some public accountability," explains Reams. "I want them to say they're sorry for this. To say they're sorry for not stepping up and checking this guy's room once in a while, for not providing a safe room, and also for my kids, because they need to be made whole again."
And ultimately, Reams says, his kids are why he's still angry: "I tell people, if it was just me, I could live with it. I'd get mad, but you know, it is what it is. But I had two daughters in that room--a fifteen-year-old and an eleven-year-old--and my wife in that room, and they're trying on school clothes and bathing suits and etcetera. We honestly had no idea what that guy did or did not do. And that's the biggest concern we have, that we just don't know what might come out of this."