Minding Your “P”s and “P”s: Richmond (Va) Restaurateur Defends “Right” To Video Customers In Bathrooms

By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

529ff6ae9aa5b.imageA restaurant owner in one of Richmond’s rural suburbs is defending his use of a surveillance camera in the men’s room. Owner of Calabash Seafood Restaurant and Club Midway, Dennis Smith, isn’t letting anybody tell him how to protect his property from would-be vandals. “I’ve been doing this for 34 years. I’m not concerned with the public’s opinion of how to run my business,” said the 55-year-old owner. “I know how to run it better than anybody. I don’t need them, the county, the government or anybody else telling me how to do it.”

It seems Smith was incensed over about $1,000.00 worth of vandalism he claims was recently perpetrated in his facilities. Determined to be pro-active, Smith, installed a camera in the men’s room ceiling that captures partakers as they enter the washroom but not he says as they use the urinals and toilets. According to Smith he has no interest in private parts. “I don’t want to see any nude pictures of people’s private parts. Absolutely not. I’ve got other better things to do. … I’m just trying to protect my property, ” he says.

Some customers have expressed concerns and complaints including one recently convicted of vandalizing the anti-vandalizing camera. Smith is unapologetic. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat here,” he tells all comers.

A criminal investigation is underway headed by Hanover County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond “Trip” Chalkley who has remained mum on the topic (Disclaimer: Trip is a friend of mine and our kids played baseball against each other for years). Virginia Code Ann.§ 18.2-386.1 prohibits intentionally videotaping a nude or otherwise exposed person, who hasn’t given consent, when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. It’s a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $2,500.00 fine. (If a child under 18 is the subject of the image the crime is a felony.)

Smith remains unfazed. “Well, whoopee,” he said. “It’s a misdemeanor. Are you kidding me? That would be a joke.” For now, folks in the Richmond area aren’t laughing. Smith has removed the camera pending an investigation but he’s not giving up. He claims no one’s privacy is compromised. “Everybody in that hallway can see you. So you’re going to tell me you expect privacy there?” Smith said. He vows to take his fight to the venerable halls of the Virginia Supreme Court and he might get his chance.

Hanover police officials confiscated the video equipment and are deciding whether to charge Smith with a crime. A lot of that will depend on the contents of the tapes. “We can’t ignore this type of stuff,” said Lt. Chris R. Whitley of the Hanover Sheriff’s Office.

However, Smith seemingly prefers to ignore the investigation. “If I have to, I’ll walk around here with an M-16 to protect my property if that’s what it’s going to take,” Smith said. Also Smith won’t rule out putting a similar camera in the women’s bathroom either. He’s keeping his options open. Smith does say he might place a warning sign outside the lavatories if the sheriff recommends it.

What do you think? Is Smith right to protect his bathroom from vandalism, or are there some rights that trump protecting personal property like the rights of your customers to privacy in their most private moments? Do you have a valid expectation of privacy in only part of the bathroom? What if a juvenile is involved? Kiddie porn?

For my part, I think Smith might be getting a lot of recommendations about these and other topics from folks down at the courthouse. And filming people in the bathroom at a restaurant? Yuck!

Source: Richmond Times Dispatch

~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger

35 thoughts on “Minding Your “P”s and “P”s: Richmond (Va) Restaurateur Defends “Right” To Video Customers In Bathrooms”

  1. Remember the Godfather movie with the gun in the bathroom behind the toilet. – I’m with the owner – too many crazy people out there. I’m from Chicago

  2. As a rental property owner it would be great to be able to tape… But you’re stuck with what the court will award in damages…. Even if they are collect able…..they are sometimes hard to reach….

    I see this from a personal perspective as well as business…. I think the courts have already ruled you can’t video a dressing room….to stop shoplifting…. Even with notice….l but here….. If they serve food they probably have to provide a bathroom…. For customers…. I see genes point… This seems a little over the edge….

  3. Re: Pam Hinter “I don’t see what all the fuss is about [4th Amendment rights]”

    What about other constitutional rights? Why not distegard the 19th Amendment [women’s voting rights] or the 2nd Amendment [right to bear arms] or the 13th Amendment [abolishing slavery].

    The Bill of Rights/US Constitution is a package deal – we follow all of it or none of it! The 4th Amendment is part of the package along with all our other rights.

  4. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. The govt watches our every move as we pass through the city. Aren’t the city hall bathrooms equipped with CCTVs?

    Here’s what I’d do… take down the privacy walls surrounding the commodes and urinals… that would change behavior…

  5. Retailers, fast food joints, red lights, banks, ATMs, convenience stores, gas stations, daycares, office parks, etc., have security cameras, so why not the last refuge? It’s a disturbing world where everyone is guilty until proven innocent. A less violent method of oversight than an M-16, or a less intrusive method than filming everyone in the loo is to alarm everything in the bathroom. If something is damaged, then the alarm sounds. Or maybe a net falls and the perp is captured! Silly, but not as invasive and disturbing as bathroom cameras….

    The latest incarnation of the USA has me ready to say, check please…..

  6. Have you ever cleaned a public restroom? Let alone had to maintain it? I’m all for it, presuming the camera doesn’t record use of toilets and urinals. Raymond “Trip” Chalkley should prosecute these “police” for theft, aiding and abetting vandalism, and making terroristic threats under color of law.

  7. Key entry from the checkout clerk at the register is all that is needed. However, Mr. Smith might just check with the NSA and the Federal Authorities. They likely have all the urinals covered!

  8. If you spent the night in a private home of a friend or relative – and they recorded video of you in the friend or relatives bathroom – the police could arrest and jail that private owner that video-taped his guests.

    You don’t lose your privacy rights in private areas owned by other people. The police in the Richmond, VA area have arrested people in the past for doing this – although the intent may have been different.

    Why is this restaurant owner any different?

  9. If the cameras are truly only capturing who enters, my question is why wouldn’t/couldn’t a camera outside the bathrooms accomplish the same goal? Seems like poor logic on the owner’s part.

  10. Robin, You’re right, just hire an attendant. This is his business and he knows how to run it he says. I imagine this has the potential to run it right into the ground.

  11. 1. Inspect the bathrooms hourly for vandalism. Takes no more than a couple of minutes. 2. Place a camera outside the bathrooms, aimed at the doors to film anyone entering and leaving.This should provide all the evidence needed to catch vandals.

Comments are closed.