A Palm Beach County judge soon will rule on whether to ban the “sneak and peek” video generated during Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s January 2019 visits to a Jupiter, Florida day spa from evidence to be introduced during the trial of his case. In time, a federal judge in Florida will enter judgment, possibly after the return of a massive jury verdict, regarding whether and to what extent this practice violated the privacy rights of individuals whose massages resulted in no sexual activity of any kind.
Last month, an unnamed plaintiff (operating under the standard “John Doe” moniker) filed a class action against the Town of Jupiter Police Department, Detective Andrew Sharp, and district attorney David Aronberg. The plaintiff allegedly visited the Orchids of Asia facility on January 19, 2019, and the class action spans the five days of video surveillance, from January 18 through January 22. The class, which allegedly encompasses at least 31 persons, includes all people who were “videotaped without their knowledge or consent while receiving a lawful massage, and have not been charged with any crime for their patronage of the Spa during the referenced time period.”
The complaint alleges that the police department had obtained “overwhelming evidence that certain masseuses were engaging in low-level prostitution” well before commencing the “sneak and peek” operation, making video surveillance of all customers (including those getting massages without sexual activity) unnecessary. The complaint also alleges that the video generated by the surveillance operation has become, essentially, leverage in the broader effort to obtain plea deals from persons charged with soliciting prostitution, with the potential public release of the videos exacerbating the violation of the privacy rights of persons who received massages and nothing more.
In other words, this lawsuit contends that the effort to end alleged prostitution at the Orchids of Asia day spa went way too far, resulting in video surveillance of individuals who did nothing other than secure a massage. Now, those videos may end up being publicly released, especially since Florida law has sweeping requirements for public disclosure of material generated by police officers in the performance of their duties.
It’s an important angle to what has become a hotly contested criminal case. Kraft’s efforts to expose the failure of the police to follow proper practices has shed light on the potential privacy violations endured by those who were doing nothing that could remotely be characterized as a violation of the law. If the “sneak and peek” operation hadn’t ensnared a defendant with the resources and motivation to fight, these surveillance practices of private citizens may have continued without the kind of scrutiny they are now receiving.
Basically, the police thought they’d landed a big fish in Kraft. As this fight continues, it’s becoming more and more clear that the cops may need a bigger boat.