More Video Voyeurs Target Public Restrooms, Dressing Rooms

Many offenders are getting away with it or getting off easy.

ByDan Harris and Dan Lieberman
December 15, 2011, 6:56 PM

Dec. 15, 2011— -- Reports of video voyeurs hiding tiny high-tech, low-cost cameras in public places are rising across the country, and many offenders are getting away with it, or getting off easy.

In October, police said James Allen Risi was caught on surveillance video at a Wal-Mart in Holly Hill, Fla., seeming to place his cell phone camera under an unsuspecting woman's dress. Police said he did the same thing at a nearby Salvation Army thrift store just weeks earlier, aiming the lens underneath the door of a dressing room as a 10-year-old girl changed clothes.

In August, police said Jonathan Willink of Monroe, La., was caught on tape placing a tiny camera in a tanning room at the health club, "Anytime Fitness," and recorded four naked women.

The Yockey family from Norfolk, Va., was on a trip to Washington, D.C., when their 5-year-old daughter said she needed to use the bathroom. When they ducked into a local Starbucks, the little girl spotted a tiny camera under the sink and told her father.

"I was kind of like, you know, surely there's not a camera," Andy Yockey said. "I turn around and look, and sure enough there's a small camera right underneath the sink. Just nested right there on top of the drain pipe, pointing directly at the toilet. As soon as I walked around and I looked at it and saw the red light was on... I was angry."

Yockey then left the bathroom, told the next woman waiting in line about the voyeur camera, then stormed up to the store manager, who they asked to call the police. The manager tried to offer the Yockeys a free coffee, but the family said they were furious.

"When you're a mother, there's no way to put into words the protective feeling you have of your children," Lindsay Yockey said. "It's like a mother bear, and when somebody messes with your cub, you get very upset."

Starbucks, with thousands of stores all over the country, seems to be a popular target for voyeurs. "Nightline" found at least seven reported cases of hidden cameras discovered inside of Starbucks locations. In one case, a man named William Zafra Velasco pled guilty after videotaping 45 women and children at a Starbucks in Glendora, Calif.

In another, a man named Jonathan Mikio Kennedy pled guilty after being caught on his own camera in Paltz, N.Y.

The Yockeys are now suing Starbucks for $1 million, arguing that the company should have been aware of this problem and should have done more to stop it. When asked how it would be possible for Starbucks to consistently check their bathrooms for hidden cameras, Yockey said they could provide more employee training.

"When you go to the most public restrooms, they have a checklist of items that they have to check to clean off," Lindsay Yockey said. "Making sure the toilet paper is stocked and what not. I mean, maybe training employees to look in those places -- check air vents, check behind the toilet."

Starbucks has denied any wrongdoing in the lawsuit brought against them by the Yockeys and has said, "we monitor the seating areas and rest rooms in our stores on a regular basis to identify potential safety or security concerns."

Privacy expert John Verdi said companies such as Starbucks need to do much more to stop video voyeurs.

"Starbucks strictly controls the quality of the products that are being sold in their stores. They strictly control the types of furniture and the wall hangings and the music that are played in their stores," he said. "These stores do not typically contain rogue items that just come in and install themselves. But that's exactly what we're talking about with these cameras."

Verdi said the problem is only going to get worse as cameras get more sophisticated and less expensive. A camera small enough to fit inside a toilet paper roll, powered by a 9V battery and streamed live to the Internet, was found in a Starbucks in Oregon.

"There is no question that this is boom time for surveillance generally, and voyeurs are simply adopting the technology that governments, companies and the military have developed and that it has become increasingly available," Verdi said.

The other problem is when video voyeurs are caught they are often not severely punished. In many states, voyeurism is only a misdemeanor -- meaning the perpetrator will serve less than a year in jail for the crime. Even if voyeurs are caught videotaping children, they are often not prosecuted for child pornography or added to the sex offender registry.

The person who shot the video of the Yockey's 5-year-old daughter in the Washington, D.C. Starbucks bathroom has not been caught. Her parents said she will not get over this disturbing experience for a long time.

"She's very aware of what happened," Andy Yockey said. "Even now well go to restaurants and she'll ask, 'daddy is it safe?'"

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events