Four felony voyeurism charges were filed Tuesday against a former guard accused of using high-power security cameras on top of the U.S. Courthouse complex in downtown Spokane to peep inside bedrooms of a condominium and hotel.
Darin Earl Wanless used the government-owned rooftop cameras to watch women undress in the West 809 condominiums at Main and Lincoln and the Davenport Hotel, a block away from the courthouse at Sprague and Lincoln, court documents say.
The alleged crimes, involving two women, occurred May 31 at the condominium and June 1 at the Davenport Hotel, according to the documents.
Federal investigators, who were able to review recordings between May 15 and June 11, determined that Wanless made inappropriate use of the security cameras on 22 other occasions during that period, the documents say.
Immediately after another guard reported the conduct in early June, Wanless was fired by his employer, Secure Solutions LLC. The private company, based in Florida, has a contract to provide security guards at the U.S. Courthouse and adjoining post office.
The case was investigated by agents of the Federal Protective Service and reviewed by the U.S. attorney’s office. Under federal law, the alleged conduct is a misdemeanor. The U.S. attorney’s office forwarded the case to Spokane County, where voyeurism is a felony under state law.
Wanless has not been arrested. He will be told to voluntarily report to court for an arraignment in about two weeks, said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ed Hay.
The 32-year-old Cheney man could face up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted, said Hay, supervisor of the Special Assault Unit, which is handling the prosecution.
The case is believed to be the first of its kind in which U.S. government-owned security cameras on a federal building were used for a criminal purpose with sexual motivations, authorities say.
Wanless is accused in the first count of using the security cameras May 31 to watch a woman undress “for the purpose of arousing and gratifying” his sexual desires. The woman was in the West 809 condominiums, where she had a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” according to the charging documents.
In the second count, involving the same victim, Wanless is accused of using the government cameras to “view, photograph or film the intimate areas of another person” without her knowledge or consent and under circumstances where she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Counts three and four are worded like the first two charges but involve another woman who was staying in a seventh-floor room at the Davenport Hotel on June 1.
The women’s names are included in the charging document, but their ages aren’t given. The Spokesman-Review does not generally publish identities of sex crime victims.
The case is expected to lead to a review of who has access to security cameras in the federal building complex and what safeguards are in place.
The roof-top cameras – including four on each corner of the post office – are controlled from the adjoining U.S. Courthouse. Images from the security cameras are recorded for review.
The digital cameras, bought with Department of Homeland Security funds, are so powerful that they can be used to count ice cubes in a tumbler in an adjoining building, a senior law enforcement official said in June when the conduct was first made public.
A second private security guard, Tony Harbolt, was working with Wanless late in the evening May 31 and saw him focus the camera on a bedroom in a second-floor condominium, the court document say.
Harbolt saw Wanless “zoom the camera on a female as she reached for her waistband and began to remove her pants,” according to the documents.
Harbolt turned his head away to “avoid witnessing the event,” the documents say. But seconds later heard Wanless exclaim, “We’ve got boobies!”
Moments later, a third guard, Jeremy Farrington, stopped by the control room where “Wanless stated that he had just seen a girl take off her clothes.”
“Wanless then zoomed the security camera in on a window of the nearby condominium to show Farrington where he had witnessed the event,” the documents allege.
Farrington had previously warned Wanless not to use the cameras for such purposes and reminded him that footage could be reviewed.
Farrington told investigators that “he had often seen Wanless use the cameras to try to see women in nearby buildings.” The documents say Farrington recalled Wanless saying, “I just saw more boobies at the Davenport.”
Tom McArthur, communications director for the hotel, said it was unfortunate for the guest and the hotel.
“Neither of us expected a technology-enabled voyeur and, I think, we both were violated here,” he said.
The Davenport Hotel provides two sets of curtains on every guest room window – sheer and solid fabric. “I suppose this incident reminds us all to be more aware of our exposure and take steps to control our privacy wherever we are,” McArthur said.