The peeping went on for six years, according to William David Brown, who pleaded guilty last week to three misdemeanor counts of electronic peeping.
The Huntington Beach, Calif., man used an elaborate hidden camera system, and his neighbors sued him earlier this week, alleging invasion of privacy and emotional distress.
According to the lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court, Brown, 36, installed the video cameras in the eaves of his home and attic, his child's playhouse and in a tree in order to tape neighbors living in adjacent houses.
Attorney Eric Traut, counsel for the plaintiffs, said Brown used strategically placed high-powered cameras to tape women in homes adjacent to his in areas where they had an expectation of privacy. Plaintiffs Meagan Rogers, 24, and Yvonne Goodwin, 35, were taped nude or semi-nude, Traut said.
Brown spliced the footage of his neighbors into videos, which he labeled with such names as "My Little Czech Girl" and "My A-List Girl," distributing some of the images over the Internet, the suit said.
"He stole my privacy; it’s grotesque," Goodwin said, adding she is angry that Brown’s crimes aren’t considered felonies. “I want the laws changed. This should be a felony. These things should not be allowed to happen.
According to the lawsuit, the most recent videotaping was discovered during November 2004 after Rogers became suspicious of a box that would appear and disappear from atop a playhouse built by Brown, whose house was directly behind Rogers' home. On Nov. 17, she mentioned to her brother, who was visiting, that the box atop the play home had reappeared after a period of absence.
When her brother shined a flashlight into the box, he noticed a video camera with a small red light that was activated, indicating it was in operation – and "positioned directly at Meagan's bedroom window," according to court documents.
Police served a search warrant on Jan. 1, 2005, and as they removed the boxes of videotapes and computer equipment from Brown's home, he "began to cry, fell to the floor into the fetal position, and begged the officers not to take the tapes because they 'meant everything to him,"' the suit states.
Traut also said that Brown used a powerful lens to obtain videotape from up the dress of plaintiff Jeanette Womble, 37, as she crossed and uncrossed her legs in a yard. Robert Figee Jr., Goodwin’s 59-year-old fiancé, was also taped and is named as the fourth plaintiff in the suit.
Some of the cameras were connected by underground wires that provided live feeds to the video editing system in Brown's house. Traut added that he believes Brown spliced scenes from the video-tapping into X-rated tapes.
Brown was arrested by Huntington Beach police in January 2005 and pleaded guilty last month to three misdemeanor counts in connection with the covert taping, Traut said. Brown was sentenced by Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris to 210 days in jail, with the order that he serve 120 days. The additional 90 days were stayed pending completion of three years of formal probation.
Brown was ordered to report for jail on March 17 and must attend a court-ordered counseling program for sex offenders.
Plantiffs are also suing Brown’s mother, Lois Havens, the owner of the home in which Brown, his wife and 7-year-old daughter live.
Brown's criminal attorney, Bruce Karey, has not commented on the criminal case, but did say he does not know who would represent Brown in the civil lawsuit.
According to the complaint filed, Brown's wife notified police about her husband's taping activities five years ago. According to Traut, police admonished Brown to cease the activity. At that time, the penal code section to which Brown pleaded guilty was not on the books.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified general, special and exemplary damages on several alleged causes of action, including intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, intrusion and violation of rights to privacy.