Business owner faces charges over camera in women’s restroom

Published 11:20 am Monday, April 12, 2010

The owner of Home Solutions Midwest in Albert Lea faces charges for allegedly peeping into a women’s restroom with a remote video camera.

Paul Duane Field, who turns 62 next week and who is active in the Albert Lea business community, faces a felony charge for harassment, a gross misdemeanor charge for harassment and a gross misdemeanor charge for invasion of privacy. The charges were filed late Friday in Freeborn County District Court.

Reached Monday, Field declined to comment, except for a referral to his lawyer, Allen Eskens of Mankato.

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Eskens made a statement Monday afternoon: “There is more to a case like this than what meets the eye. Mr. Field will be vigorously challenging the allegations, but the proper place for that challenge is in the court of law.”

A woman employed at Home Solutions Midwest, 603 S. First Ave., found on the morning of March 9 pornographic pictures on her computer, according to a statement of probable cause from Albert Lea Police Department detective Frank Kohl in the court filing. Because of a conflict between Field and an employee of the Freeborn County Attorney’s Office, the charges were filed by the Mower County Attorney’s Office.

The statement says she also found a picture of herself in a swimsuit and a photo from her online Facebook account. She told police her computer acted as the server for the computer network, meaning Field could access it remotely.

The woman took photos of the pornography on her computer, the statement says.

Later the same morning, she went into the women’s restroom. On the way, she noticed Field leave a meeting and walk past the restroom door to a closet adjacent to the restroom, the statement says. This made her suspicious.

She “began to look for holes in the walls or ceiling, because she had previously found a hole in the ceiling several years earlier and had taped it over,” according to the statement. The woman “also said that she had been in the bathroom years earlier and someone stuck a mirror under the door.”

While looking around the restroom, she thought she saw something in the ceiling vent. She took a photograph with her digital camera, the statement says.

She gave the photos to Kohl. He enlarged the image and determined a camera was inside the ceiling vent. Kohl contacted the woman, and they went to the women’s restroom at Home Solutions. He examined the vent and found a small video camera, the statement says.

“Kohl had some knowledge of such cameras and knew that the camera transmitted to a remote location and that the receiver needed to be in fairly close proximity,” the statement says.

The detective’s report says he found the receiver in Field’s office, inside an entertainment center, and connected to a television.

“When the television was turned on, it displayed images received from the remote video camera in the ceiling vent of the women’s bathroom,” the statement says.

A search warrant was executed on March 12. Field told Kohl he knew about the camera and had placed it in the restroom a month earlier. However, he said he had not recorded anything with it.

Field has been summoned to appear May 26 in Freeborn County District Court.

The felony harassment charge specifically is for stalking, following, monitoring or pursuing “another through technological or other means” and because of the victim’s “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age or national origin.”

It carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The harassment gross misdemeanor charge is for following, monitoring or pursuing “another through technological or other means” alone.

The privacy gross misdemeanor charge is surreptitiously installing or using “any device for observing, photographing, broadcasting or recording events in a place where a reasonable person would have an expectation of privacy and has exposed, or is likely to expose, their intimate parts or the clothing covering the immediate area of their intimate parts.”

Gross misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $3,000 fine.

The president of Home Solutions Midwest, Steve Field, released a statement Monday afternoon on behalf of the business: “We are taking the charges very seriously, and we are disappointed to hear the allegations. As a company we have been doing an investigation, which is not yet complete. Thus far though, it looks to be a very narrow and confined situation that does not affect the public or other employees.

“The relationships that we have with our employees are of the utmost importance to us, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that we continue to have happy, well trained, and professional staff.

“Home Solutions Midwest’s goal is to fully investigate and resolve the issue, and then move on to continue to be a significant employer, an active community partner, and a locally owned business whose primary objective is customer satisfaction.”

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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