Video Voyeurism: No clear cut law it's a crime

Video Voyeurism: No clear cut law it's a crime »Play Video
Michele Stofiel (right) and her daughter, Sami, say a man held a phone underneath Sami's dress at a Christmas bazaar at the Portland Expo Center the weekend after Thanksgiving.

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A seemingly clear cut case of video voyeurism that left a teenager feeling violated after witnesses accused a man of snapping pictures under her dress, is anything but open and shut.
 
The suspect was arrested but the district attorney didn't pursue charges.

Turns out, Oregon laws are partially to blame. The On Your Side Investigators found there's no statute specifically tailored to video voyeurism. Therefore, prosecutors can have a more difficult time matching alleged crimes with corresponding charges.

The gap in voyeurism laws came as a complete shock to the victim, 17-year-old Sami Stofiel, and her mom, Michele.

"I felt like they were letting my daughter down and saying, 'What he did to you was not important enough to charge him with a crime," Michele said. "That was not OK with me."

The weekend after Thanksgiving, the Stofiel's went shopping at the Christmas bazaar - billed as America's largest - inside the Portland Expo Center. More than 800 vendors and exhibitors set up booths offering everything from jewelry to holiday cards to rubber stamps. Michele says they were at a candle booth when the candle vendor noticed a man holding a phone underneath Sami's dress.

"The lady was like, 'Oh, he was taking pictures,' and I was shocked cause I didn't even know what happened until she told me," Sami said.

Michele continued, "I thought he was taking pictures of the ingredients of her candles or a picture of her display. I was really unsure of what was going on because it happened so fast. He kind of got behind my daughter and I and (the vendor) said 'I saw what you did'. I kind of turned - he was still standing next to me - and then he took off running."

Even before they fully registered what had happened, Michele said she began yelling out for someone to stop the man. Several people nearby rushed after the suspect, who was later identified as 29-year-old Travis Bruce. 

"It was chaos. It was so just - so many people got involved and that's what was really heartwarming for me," Michele said. "They didn't even know this crazy woman who was screaming, 'Stop that man! Stop that man!'"

Someone finally caught up with Bruce, but at that point, Michele says, Bruce pulled a gun. She says the good Samaritan pulled a gun too and detained Bruce until police arrived. No shots were fired.

Bruce was arrested and booked for disorderly conduct but, according to the Stofiel's, the case was dismissed at arraignment a few days later because the Multnomah County district attorney's office felt the charge did not fit the crime.

"That was a tough day for me because I wanted to be able to tell my daughter that what he did was not OK and that he was going to pay the consequences for that. And when I got that phone call saying, 'No, we're not going to be pursuing charges,’ that was tough," Michele said.

For help, Michele contacted a law firm, Short Law Group, in Portland.

"In Oregon, the way that our laws are worded, this may not be a crime and we need to change that," Michele said. "It became my mission to make sure this didn't go away and we could change that."

Short Law Group, located on Southwest 69th Ave. in Portland, focuses largely on criminal defense, but associate attorney Shawn Kollie said their team of lawyers got involved when they were confident they could find another law on the books to prosecute Bruce. Kollie says Oregon's laws on cellphones and video voyeurism are behind the times.

"The legal system is very slow to adapt or to move forward or to catch up where technology is at," he said.

The On Your Side Investigators found, unlike dozens of other states, Oregon doesn't have any laws that are narrowly tailored to a case like Sami's.

"When you speak about video voyeurism, that's something where - really the only law or punishment we can get into typically is the invasion of privacy," Kollie said.

According to Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 163.7oo (1) (b) (A), a person commits an Invasion of personal privacy if:

  • (a)(A) The person knowingly makes or records a photograph, motion picture, videotape or other visual recording of another person in a state of nudity without the consent of the person being recorded; and
  • (B) At the time the visual recording is made or recorded the person being recorded is in a place and circumstances where the person has a reasonable expectation of personal privacy; or
  • (b)(A) For the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of the person, the person is in a location to observe another person in a state of nudity without the consent of the other person; and
  • (B) The other person is in a place and circumstances where the person has a reasonable expectation of personal privacy.

Kollie admits that law is still not a perfect fit since Sami was in a public place and wearing clothing, but he recommended it to the DA in the hopes that the charges would stick.

According to the family, even the DA has doubts. Michele says a deputy district attorney told her that Attempted Invasion of Personal Privacy is probably the only charge on the books that fits the crime.

On Monday the On Your side investigators confirmed that the district attorney's office does plan on charging Bruce with one count of attempted invasion of personal privacy. Bruce does not have a criminal record.

Right now, this crime is a misdemeanor. KATU found people across Oregon are actively working to make this crime a felony. There's a Facebook page devoted it to with more than 2,000 members.

There's also a city council member, Jacob Daniels in Creswell, Ore. who's supporting efforts to strengthen the laws. According to media outlets in Lane County, he's already drafted a letter to a state lawmaker, encouraging new legislation.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the name of the law firm.