FULTON, NY – Fulton police departmentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s arrest of a Fulton man accused of using a video camera to secretly record young women in his bathroom marks the first time that an Oswego County resident is being charged under StephanieÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Law.
Michael A. Engel, 40, of Hill Top Drive, Fulton, was arrested this week and charged with five class-E felony counts of second-degree unlawful surveillance, among other crimes. Police say Engel is accused of installing a surveillance camera inside a bathroom exhaust vent to record several women, primarily in their teens, in various stages of undress without their knowledge orÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â consent.
According to Fulton Police Lieutenant Jeff Kinney, the investigation is a first for the department and was prompted by information brought to police that resulted in a search warrant of EngelÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s home. Kinney said EngelÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s camera was discovered during the execution of the warrant.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œThe camera was wired to a camcorder-type device that was located in his bedroom,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Kinney said.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œTo the best of my knowledge, this is our first prosecution (for unlawful surveillance) in this county,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Chief Assistant District Attorney Donald Todd said. Todd pointed out, however, that the law making unlawful surveillance a crime is relatively new.
Signed into law June 23, 2003, StephanieÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Law prohibits unlawful surveillance, which is defined as:
- (1) the installation of ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œan imagining deviceÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â with no legitimate purpose other than surreptitiously viewing or recording another person in a bedroom, bathroom, changing room, or other specified room;
- (2) for the purposes of sexual arousal or gratification, the use or installation of an imagining device that surreptitiously views a person dressing or undressing when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy;
- (3) the use or installation of an imagining device to surreptitiously view under the clothing of a person (commonly known as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œup skirtingÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â); or
- (4) for amusement, entertainment or profit, or to abuse or degrade the victim, the use or installation of an imaging device to surreptitiously record another person dressing or undressing when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
The law is named for Long Island resident Stephanie Fuller, who was videotaped by her landlord, William Schultz, without her consent or knowledge. Schultz put a small video camera in the smoke-detector that faced FullerÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s bed. A line led from the camera into Schultz’s apartment, where he both viewed and recorded the images.
SchultzÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s actions were revealed when FullerÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s boyfriend noticed suspicious wires coming out of the smoke-detector. The couple called the police and Schultz was arrested. He later pleaded guilty to a charge of trespassing and was sentenced to three years probation, community service and fines.
With StephanieÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Law on the books, however, unlawful surveillance is now a felony and carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Oswego County Sheriff Reuel Todd said that while unlawful surveillance is likely not difficult to prove once police have video evidence tied to the suspect, finding that evidence in the first place could be more difficult.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œYou really have to have someone making a complaint with enough proof to go to the authorities,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œCould this crime be going on in a lot of places that we donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know about? Sure it could.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Sheriff Todd noted that as surveillance technology advances, cameras have become smaller and easier to conceal.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhen they are used for legitimate purposes, such as for law enforcement, they are a wonderful tool,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œBut when they are used by someone for illegal purposes, they are hard to detect.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
The sheriff pointed out that there are important elements of the law that dictate whether a crime is being committed. Surveillance cameras in convenience stores, for example, are located in a public place without an expectation of privacy.
Asked about devices such as ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œnanny camerasÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â that have been marketed for parents who are interested in monitoring caregivers, Todd said there are several considerations.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt really depends on where a camera is placed,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt if is placed in a living room or in a babyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s room, they are not areas where people are likely to disrobe. But if it is in a bathroom, it is different. People have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a bathroom.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Kinney said that the department continues to work the investigation into EngelÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s activities with the assistance of the sheriffÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At this time, he said police believe the illegal activities all took place at his home.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have information that it took place anywhere else,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â he said. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œBut we are doing forensics on the computer as part of the investigation.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe are anticipating more charges from the computer forensics,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â Kinney added. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhether this case will be handled by federal prosecutors or the district attorneyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s office, I donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t know at this point.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Engel has been released on bail is slated to return to Fulton City Court Oct. 22.
Anyone with information has been urged to call the City of Fulton Police Department at (315) 598-4504 or the Fulton Police Department Tips line at (315) 593-8477.