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. Security companies that install these cameras in Virginia know this is illegal and can have their licenses revoked by the VIrginia DCJS [Department of Criminal Justice Services]. The problem with some DIY camera systems bought on the store shelf is private business owners don ‘t have to pass a test on state and federal privacy laws.

    It is the same standard as putting security cameras in dressing rooms of retail stores to prevent shoplifting – it’s illegal to use cameras like that without a warrant from a judge for each individual recording.

    As with any law, a judge or jury would also consider the “spirit” (intent) of the law along with the “letter” of the law violated – to determine jail time and fines for the violator.

  2. he could have avoided this. by hiring a teen or senior to work in the bathroom. that way if either caught anyone defacing or vandalizing the property they could have pointed the culprit out. before they have a chance to leave the place. the cops could have been called. and charges filed..

  3. I don’t see how recording people leaving and entering the restroom is a crime as long as the camera view angle includes no part of the urinal or stall areas. However, this is terrible customer relations. I would never eat in this place, so let the marketplace take care of this loon. If he merely wants to record people leaving and entering the restroom, why not just put the camera outside the restroom?

  4. 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.” – Mark E

    Stand your ground bathroom.

    Alice’s Zimmerman’s Restaurant. You can get anything you want at Alice’s Zimmy’s Restaurant … except privacy.

  5. OT but kinda’ tangential, check out the image for a great bit of propaganda, or truth masquerading as propaganda:

    U.S. Launches Rocket Emblazoned with Menacing Octopus Into Space


    [Anybody else remember seeing a Disney propaganda cartoon from WWII wherein Nazism begins as a black blot on Germany and expands outward and forms itself into a great black octopus covering Europe, Russia, North Africa? An American Bald Eagle challenges it (The music was masterfully done.) a great battle ensues with lightening and cymbals crashing and eventually the eagle prevails and the octopus is killed. I saw it a couple of decades ago and it was stunning. I’m not happy with the NRO patch, not at all.]

  6. traveling,

    Who among us would have ever guessed decades ago we’d have to consider this issue, no one I’d say.

    We’d all thought hell no to putting cameras in the bathrooms yet here we are in idiocy. lol

  7. Much baloney here. If the cameras are properly placed as the owner indicates, he certainly has a right to defend his property.He’s obviously mad at being stopped & that does not help his PR but I tend to see the authorities in the wrong here.

  8. Having had thousands of dollars worth of commercial property destroyed by vandals over the years I can understand why the owner is attempting to secure his property & customer’s safety.

    But I also understand the privacy concerns.

    And what if property owner decide to sell the footage pay for view on the internet?

    Yet when we consider Ronnie Raygun helped force most American to pee in a cup for the govt in front of a Gman.

    Now the govt has greatly expanded it’s prev & is claiming it can do anal probes & draw blood on the highways whenever they wish.

    The govt goes off the rails looney by molesting lil kids, grandma/pa everyday at airports across the USA & everyday the govt is rolling the rape of the citizens out onto the streets everywhere.

    Where should I park my concerns on this guy managing his biz vs the govt’s actions?

  9. Max,
    That was exactly my reaction before I got halfway through the story. Sounds like it.

  10. …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.”

    … Sovereign citizen member?

  11. Easiest way to be a peeping tom…
    … Be a restauranteur that installs cams in the restrooms.

  12. yep … pete called it … a warning sign on the front door and on the menu … “Video Monitored Restrooms “

  13. if he can get away with just a warning sign it should be on the front door of the restaurant. i wouldn’t want to sit and eat and then find out before leaving i had to submit this (pardon the pun) sh!t.

  14. This guy could very well find himself without a business come 2014.

    On the other hand, it is Virginia and maybe business will boom.

    This is one crazy country – filled with a lot of crazy motherf**kers. This restaurant owner seems to be one of them. Reminds me of a lot of the 1,000 commenters over at Charlie Pierce’s the other day when LTC Bateman had the nerve to write a column about the need for gun control.

    I did have some consolation with regard to the crazy motherf**kers, though. Makes the bunch here seem like a meeting of the DAR – even when we are talking about food stamps.

  15. Customers should be told loud and clear. Hopefully they will vote for their privacy by refusing to patronize this idiot.

  16. Like they say, all depends on whats on the tapes….as for the POLICE deciding what is right, lets take a look at THEIR cameras…

    How many times have people been stripped on camera with other officers watching?

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