Police & prosecutors concerned by growing cases of voyeurism

by: Amy Clancy Updated:

Allen Han-Kit Zse showed little emotion as the felony charges against him were read aloud in King County Superior Court on a late October morning.

The 25-year old is charged with recording eight videos of undressed women and girls at Hartman Pool on Northeast 104th Street in Redmond, where Zse worked as head lifeguard until his arrest in early September.

Zse is just one of many local men in the Pacific Northwest recently arrested and charged with felony voyeurism.

Former TSA agent Nicholas James Fernandez is charged with shooting up-skirt video of a woman at Sea-Tac airport.  The 29-year old Tukwila man was fired from his job at the airport after the allegations came to light in July.

Wei-Chen Lin of Seattle was sentenced on October 26th to just nine months of work release and twelve months of community supervision for recording video of men using the restroom at Cascadia College in Bothell in May.  Even though it was Lin’s third conviction for voyeurism, the registered sex offender received no jail time.

In all of those cases, according to investigators, the suspects used cellphones to record the illegal images.

Another defendant even built a wooden stand to steady his smartphone.

Mario Morales-Herrera was charged with shooting video of a 10-year old girl and a 40-year old woman inside the women’s restroom of the Des Moines Public Library in 2014.  Traci Pigg was the first to notice the home-made device Morales-Herrera installed between the bathroom stalls.  “There were actually kids I knew in there that did not have parents,” Pigg told KIRO 7 shortly after Morales-Herrera’s arrest.  “It makes me sick to my stomach to think they might have used that bathroom when he was sitting in the next stall over.”

On the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Leonard Raymundo was charged with shooting “86 video images of 93 different unidentified females.”  Investigators told KIRO 7, Raymundo used a camera smaller than a thumb drive.

According to those who arrest and prosecute these crimes, voyeurism is on the rise because nearly everyone carries a recording device everywhere they go.

Captain Mike Edwards oversees the Seattle Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children unit.  He also supervises more than 100 similar units as part of a state-wide taskforce to combat mostly child pornography.  According to Edwards, voyeurism and child pornography are growing exponentially because technology is making images so easy to not only shoot, but to share instantly worldwide.

Voyeurs no longer have “to take a cellphone and place it, or set it someplace and have it record, then retrieve the device,” Edwards told KIRO 7.  Criminals “can livestream now with a number of apps that are out there.”

Edwards said voyeurs can target their victims anywhere, without anyone noticing.

And the fallout can last a lifetime.

If those images are shared on-line “it’s almost impossible to ever get it off again.  So this is a crime that victimizes for years and years and years.”

Criminal cases of voyeurism have also been uncovered in women's restrooms at the University of Washington.

On Sound Transit escalators.

One of the most disturbing recent cases allegedly happened at Sea-Tac Airport this past April.

Thirty-four year old Joshua Gitlin of Ashville, North Carolina is charged with holding a cellphone over a men’s room stall to record video of an 8-year old boy using the bathroom.

According to documents filed in King County Superior Court, the boy's father -- who was also in the restroom at the time --- saw "his son's image" on Gitlin's phone.

That father "demanded the phone" and held Gitlin until police arrived.

The boy was traveling through Sea-Tac with his family and lives out of state, but his mother told KIRO 7 during a recent phone interview that both of her sons are now afraid to use restrooms outside their home.  While her sons live in fear, she said her husband still feels guilty he didn’t beat the man charged with recording nude images of his young boy.

However, had that father harmed Gitlin, he could have been charged with a crime, according to Captain Edwards.  He “absolutely did the right thing” by letting Port of Seattle Police officers deal with the suspect.

While it's Edwards' job to catch the alleged voyeurs, it's Cecelia Gregson's job to prosecute them.

As a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in King County, Gregson has filed and prosecuted countless criminal cases against voyeurs and child pornographers.

She believes Washington State's current laws are not keeping up with technology.

“There’s nothing static about this area of law.  It’s incredibly dynamic,” Gregson told KIRO 7.  “You have a new internet service provider on the map every day.”

Gregson believes harsher sentencing penalties might help curb voyeurism.  She often sees the same suspects re-offend because many don’t spend even a single day in jail.  According to Gregson, voyeurism should be changed from a class C to class B felony, so those convicted would be sentenced to prison for 3-to-10-years.  When those convicted felons are released from prison, they would then be on community supervision by the Washington State Department of Corrections for an additional three years. 

As the law now stands, a convicted voyeur with no criminal history typically spends zero to 90-days in the county jail and there is no community supervision upon release.

Gregson and Edwards agreed to discuss the growing problem of voyeurism with KIRO 7 to raise awareness because, once a case gets to them, they say it’s far too late to save victims from life-long harm.

Both have seen victims range from young children to adults; female and male.  In addition to stricter sentences, Gregson and Edwards believe all people -- especially parents -- should pay closer attention in public restrooms and locker rooms, look for anything strange or out of place.  Is there a cellphone, or any electronic device, unattended?  If so --- speak up.

Or take action, like that father at Sea-Tac Airport.

“I’m hyper-aware when my kids are in places that they’re publicly changing, or using the bathroom,” Gregson said about taking her work with her wherever her family goes.  “I’m always looking to see if someone has a phone out and, why would you have a phone out in a bathroom when people are urinating?  That seems quite odd.  What’s really going on?”

“I’ve been in restrooms where guys are just talking on their cellphones,” Edwards said about a practice that makes even him nervous.  “Put the phone down.  Look around, see what’s going on,” he advised, because you don’t really know if that person “talking” on the phone is really using it to record something.  “We’re finding these devices everywhere.  They’re showing up in those areas where, if people would take some time and look around, check out their environment, somebody might have noticed something sooner.”

“This is not a law enforcement problem.  This is not a prosecutorial problem,” Edwards said.  “This is a society problem, so all of us are involved.  We all need to be engaged.”

The suspect in the Sea-Tac bathroom case lives in North Carolina.

His alleged victim's mother is concerned that Joshua Gitlin might not return to Seattle to face trial.

Gitlin appeared in court Tuesday and dodged our cameras.  His hearing was continued to December 13th.

So KIRO 7 will be watching.

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