By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
A 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