DUNWOODY, Ga. — A DeKalb County judge ruled Wednesday that hours of undercover surveillance video showing accused prostitutes having sex with men was obtained illegally by Dunwoody police and prosecutors.
At a hearing two weeks ago, an undercover Dunwoody detective told Superior Court Judge Gail Flake the case against Sam and Darliene Crenshaw, alleged owners of two escort services operating out of apartments around Perimeter Mall, dozens of employees and customers, was so complex it required a kind of undercover surveillance never before allowed in Georgia.
“This was an effort to disrupt ... and decommission ... a sex trade operation,” he testified at the time.
The detective told Flake detectives placed four cameras inside of the bedroom of one apartment that captured hours of illicit sexual activity and helped police identify customers.
The detective said his department sought permission to obtain a so-called “sneak and peek” warrant, but that since it had never been done before in Georgia, they modeled their warrant language after warrants out of Florida.
In her ruling, Flake ruled that “sneak and peek” warrants aren’t recognized by Georgia law, and that what police conducted was actually a “wiretap,” which is governed by very stringent guidelines for approval.
In this case, Flake noted that then-District Attorney Robert James did not sign the warrant application as required by law.
“It is illegal, through the use of any device, without consent of all persons involved, to observe or record the activities of another which occur in a private place and out of public view,” Flake ruled. “The apartment, and particularly the bedrooms of the apartment, were private places because there was a reasonable expectation of privacy against being secretly monitored and recorded.”
Attorney Noah H. Pines, who represents three of the accused customers in the case, sent Channel 2's Mike Petchenik a statement about the judge's ruling:
“The law is clear-when you are a police officer and want to use secret video surveillance you must start with the approval of the District Attorney. That didn’t happen in this case, which means that the Dunwoody Police Department violated the law when they used hidden video cameras to capture men and women having sex inside of an apartment.
"I am shocked that the District Attorney’s Office fought us on this issue when there was no question that the District Attorney never approved of the use of the video surveillance. Regardless, in no uncertain terms, the Judge’s Order suppressing the video evidence makes it clear that the video evidence was obtained unlawfully and therefore it is not admissible.”
Legal analyst Esther Panitch told Petchenik the upshot of the decision could mean dozens of dismissed cases.
“Sneak-and-peek isn’t recognized in Georgia so she (the judge) said essentially if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s a duck. In this case, it’s a bad warrant.”
Panitch said it’s unconstitutional to assume that someone doesn’t have an expectation of privacy, even during the commission of a crime.
“The DA really has a long road to go now that this evidence has been excluded,” Panitch said. “The process worked. The Constitution was upheld by Judge Flake, in her view.”
The DeKalb Count District Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday afternoon:
“We have received and reviewed the Judge’s order related to this matter. We respect the Court’s decision and are currently evaluating our options regarding the appropriate course of action. The case remains open and pending.”
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