Secret video of staff found

Man is accused of taping employees in school bathroom

March 14, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A former maintenance technician at a special education school in North Laurel was accused Tuesday night of videotaping fellow employees while they used the bathroom.

Wade Carl Hoffarth, 37, of the 200 block of Beacon Mews Court in Westminster was charged with seven counts of video surveillance. Howard County police believe he made tapes between April and November 2001 at the Phillips School on Whiskey Bottom Road.

Hoffarth is the second person in Howard County to be charged under a 2 1/2 -year-old Maryland law that prohibits visual surveillance in a private place.

The law allows for the existence of a private place, such as a bathroom, in an otherwise public place, such as a school.

Hoffarth surrendered at the Southern District police station about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and was released on personal recognizance.

He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Howard police began investigating Hoffarth after a Phillips staff member found a videotape last week depicting a bird's-eye-view of five women and two men using a locked staff bathroom over an undetermined period at the school, police said.

The bathroom was inaccessible to the school's 155 students, police said. Phillips has a staff of about 100, according to a school official.

Hoffarth was identified as a suspect because the beginning of the videotape shows him adjusting the camera and checking its position, according to the charging document.

School director Gavin Behrens identified Hoffarth after watching the videotape, the charging document states. Four of the people videotaped also were identified, according to the document. None gave consent to be taped, police said.

Howard detectives found space in the ceiling of the bathroom that could have housed video surveillance equipment, the charging document states.

Hoffarth worked at Phillips for "a couple of years," Behrens said. He left the school in November to take a better-paying job, the charging document states.

"We are deeply concerned and saddened by this whole thing," Behrens said yesterday. "We're doing the best we can to take care of the staff. They are, understandably, a little shaken."

The first unlawful video surveillance case in Howard County involved Edward George Campion III, an Elkridge man convicted of videotaping his female tenants in their bedrooms and bathrooms.

Campion was sentenced in July to six months in jail and three years' probation.

If convicted, Hoffarth could be fined $1,000 and jailed for six months for each of the seven misdemeanor counts.

His case is scheduled for May 29 in District Court.

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