“I was scared and I was nervous,” said Kim Smith of East Hartford, who fought tears Thursday morning, describing publicly for the first time the terror she endured one day at Hammonasset State Park in July 2011, when she discovered that two park workers were spying on her and her 3- and 6-year-old daughters while the three showered in a park bath house.
She explained that at first she noticed movement of light and shadow through the hole around one of the stall fixtures.
“I leaned in forward to try, to see what it was, and then I saw an outline of a face, and I saw eyes and facial hair, looking at me,” she said Thursday, speaking at her lawyer’s office in Hartford. The peeping toms, it turned out, two men who worked at the Park, watching through holes from the plumbing space opposite the shower wall.
Smith said she’d decided now was the time to speak because of how the DEEP responded to the discovery July 5 of this year, of a camera disguised as a towel hook, also inside a Hammonasset bath house.
“A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection called this an isolated incident,” she said, adding later that the most recent incident was by no means isolated. Smith also pointed out, alluding to a signed statement from one of her offenders to police, “In fact, one of the men who watched me in the shower claimed that workers knew where to go to watch women shower”.
That written statement came from Kenneth Sabo of Guilford, who was 27 at the time. Sabo wrote that a former park worker had told him “that if you go behind the shower/bathroom stalls you could look through holes near the piping and see naked women sometimes”.
Because of ongoing legal proceedings – Smith is currently seeking permission from the state Claims Commissioner to sue the state – the DEEP declined to speak on-camera about Smith’s case or comments. However, in a recent deposition, William Mattioli, who managed Hammonasset State Park in 2011, acknowledge that in addition to other concerns, park staff is sometimes augmented by people performing community service for breaking the law.
Smith claimed that “many of them work to clean the bathrooms and have access to maintenance keys to all the bath houses”.
The DEEP’s written response statement is as follows:
"Connecticut’s state parks system attracts more than eight million visitors a year to 107 locations that contain dozens of bath house and hundreds of restrooms.
"Our staff works hard every day to protect the safety, well-being and privacy of visitors to our parks and all those who make use of facilities there. We take this issue very seriously.
"The unfortunate incident of July 2011 at Hammonasset Beach State Park resulted in a timely and thorough investigation and the dismissal and arrest of two seasonal park employees. We also took steps to inspect all of our bathhouses and make repairs needed to prevent any further incidents of this type.
"The only other known case in recent memory where the privacy of park visitors may have been compromised involved the placement of a camera disguised as a coat hook earlier this summer in a bath house, also at Hammonasset. That case is under active investigation by law enforcement authorities.
"Once again, we responded immediately to a report of this camera, inspected the bath house and found and removed the camera. We also quickly took steps at Hammonasset to alert park visitors to the situation.
"In the wake of that incident our park staff has been instructed to inspect bathrooms and bath houses regularly and thoroughly and to be on the lookout for items that may have been placed inside that could contain a camera.
"We have also circulated to them information and photos of the types of small video cameras now readily available for purchase. Our park staff is also working to determine if there are any additional steps we can take to address the emerging and challenging issue of preventing electronic snooping at our parks. We certainly welcome all ideas and suggestions that could help accomplish that."