Connecticut’s Hammonasset State Park Privacy invasion

Very proud of my client Kim Smith who spoke publicly for the first time recently about a peeping incident three years ago at Hammonasset State Park. Kim and her two young daughters were showering undressed when she noticed someone watching her through a hole near the shower nozzle. Two state employees were later arrested for the crime. Kim felt compelled to open up about this occurrence after the latest privacy breach also at the park. Only July 5,2014 a hidden camera was found inside a bathhouse also at the campground where Kim and her daughters were violated. Kim is pushing for major policy changes to better protect people at state parks. She says what happened to her is not an isolated incident. She was very brave to share her story and warn everyone to pay attention while using State Park toilets and Shower facilities.

Here is one of the stories that aired on WFSB-TV, channel 3

 

 

Photo- Smith PResser

Kim Smith Statement:

I am Kim Smith. I am here today to tell my story, to break my silence, and tell the people of Connecticut what happened to me and my two young daughters while showering at Hammonasset State Park.

I am here now, three years after two park employees watched me shower with my two young daughters, because I can no longer be silent. My daughters and I were violated and victims of a crime. I was too embarrassed and humiliated to come forward and speak publicly about this at the time this happened. I did not want to expose myself or my children in the public eye because I wanted to protect them from this. But now, in light of recent developments at the park and the depositions I have read, I can no longer be quiet. The people of Connecticut need to know, when showering at a state park, proceed with caution.

On July 5, 2014, a camera was found inside the bathhouse at the campground at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison. A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental protection called this an isolated incident. This is what outrages me!

I am here today to tell you that is not an isolated incident. Just a fews weeks before this latest privacy breach at Hammonasset, my attorneys were deposing park managers. One testified under oath that no policies are in place to address privacy issues, peeping incidents and voyeurism at the state parks. I believe park managers lacked accountability and responsibility for what happened to me and things are still happening on their watch!

The park supervisor at the time, William Mattioli, testified that to his “knowledge” there have not been any policy changes or overall employee training at state parks in Connecticut regarding peeping incidents, how to better protect people at parks from voyeurism, and other privacy issues. You can find this testimony on page 94. We are releasing the transcript in its entirety. Also, on page 36 of his deposition, Mr. Mattioli testified that he doesn’t “specifically go looking for cameras” but he if “happened to see one,” he would “address it.”

I was hoping that since my incident three years ago also at a campground bathhouse at Hammonasset, that there would have been major policy changes at state parks, like limiting who has access to bathroom facilities and installing a security system to more closely monitor employees with access to bathhouses and bathrooms. I was hoping this would be the case. I learned during my fact-finding mission, I was wrong, and with this latest privacy breach, I see it is still happening today!

Here is what happened to me.

July 23, 2011, as I mentioned, we were camping at Hammonasset State Park. It was a hot day and my daughters and I just returned from the beach. I took them to shower at the bathhouse near our campsite–building number 3.

I got the girls into the stall, undressed them and myself and we started to shower. While we were showering, I noticed something strange through a hole at the shower faucet. There were shadows and movement and I noticed a light on that I did not notice when we started. I moved closer to look through the hole and that’s when I saw the outline of his face, his eyes staring back at me and his facial hair.

My heart sank and my stomach dropped to my toes. I quickly wrapped the girls in towels and we got out of there. I was shaking, mad, scared, humiliated, and of course, worried about my two young daughters who were three and six years-old at the time. I was trying to get out of the shower area to get our clothes on and came face to face with the man with the facial hair as he was coming out of the storage area that it is connected to the women’s bathroom. He was not alone. He was with another coworker. I was scared. I tried to rush us all into the bathroom stall to put our clothes on and then noticed the big hole around the toilet in the stall, my heart sank again. People need to know that there is a pipe chase behind the bathrooms and showers. This is where the employees gained access, through their storage facilities, to watch us shower though the holes that were allowed to be present for over a decade. To this day, this pipe chase area is not blocked off.

I wondered who would do such a thing? Watch women and children shower while undressed.

As I mentioned, it wasn’t just one man watching us but two–Ken Sabo and Brandon Marchant. The men actually worked for the park, that’s right, state employees who later confessed to the crime–and cut a plea deal with prosecutors. They were fired from their jobs, which is a start, but I believe park managers should have and could have done more to prevent this. And now, with another privacy breach in the news, I know not enough is being done to protect those in their most vulnerable state.

Sabo and Marchant were originally charged with breach of peace, since a camera wasn’t used. For the past three years, I have tried to pass new legislation that would make it voyeurism if someone peeped at children even if a camera wasn’t used. I have been unsuccessful on that front so far. But I will continue this fight to change the laws until something is done to protect our children. To protect all of us.

I have been trying to fight this quietly, but I can no longer do that anymore.

My case is before the state’s claims commissioner. I am trying to get answers as to how something like this could have happened to me and my daughters by two state employees at a state park. I honestly believe I was not the first person violated at that park. Who knows how many other unsuspecting women and children were watched unknowingly while showering or going to the bathroom.

Prior to leaving the park that awful day, something told me to take a look around. I walked to the bathrooms in our area and was horrified and disgusted to find that our bathhouse was not the only one with so many holes. A photographer by trade, I quickly grabbed my camera to document what I saw. I found many holes, near toilets, in shower stalls, everywhere, too many to count really. This was not an isolated problem. State workers saw these holes for nearly a decade and did nothing to fix them. In fact, one of the men who watched me in the shower claimed that workers knew where to go to watch women shower.

Despite these deplorable conditions which left my daughters and me vulnerable to the peeping incident which happened to us, Mr. Mattioli testified that both the head plumber (and maintenance supervisor) at Hammonasset were not disciplined for leaving all these holes in the women’s facilities. In fact, Mr. Mattioli testified that he doesn’t think the state should be held accountable for the actions of two employees, despite the fact that it was on his watch (and the state facility he managed) that these deplorable conditions were allowed and considered to be status quo.

Thomas Smith, the head of maintenance at the park, also testified that he had no formal training in maintenance. On page 55 of his deposition, Mr. Smith testified he never had any certification, licenses or continuing education provided by the state of Connecticut on how to better manage maintenance issues at state parks, yet, he was the person put in charge.

Since my incident, the holes in the walls have been fixed but this is not enough. It was only because I called police and filed a report that something finally changed.
I want to see new security measures in place like a digital swiping card which would keep track of employees whereabouts and who had access to what building and when. I would also like a door be put on the pipe chase area so that regular workers do not have access there.

What most people don’t realize is community service workers, who have been arrested for various things, also work at the park. Many of them work to clean the bathrooms and have access to maintenance keys to all bathhouses. This does not sit well with me.

After reading those depositions, I decided to release them to the public for no other reason than wanting the public to know. DEEP will probably tell you that I am doing this to further my case. That is the farthest thing from the truth. I am doing this to shed some light on an ongoing problem at state parks and to give people access to what I have learned. I did not want to come forward and publicize what happened to me, I have remained quiet for three years while fighting this fight. But now, with a hidden camera being found at a bathhouse at the same campsite, I see that this is still happening.

It has got to stop!

After reading those depositions of state park workers, I was angry, upset and confused because not one of them was willing to take responsibility for their facilities or their employees. They feel like they have no wrong doing here and they all stand by their word. I find it hard to believe that in the 10 plus years these holes were present and continued to grow, that no camper ever filed a complaint or wrote a comment card about them or that no worker ever mentioned the holes all over the bathrooms (and showers) at Hammonasset.

I want real change and real accountability to protect others. What happened to me is done, but I will use what I know to protect others in the future. To this day, this incident, this violation disturbs me. The moment I am in a situation where I need to use a public restroom, a changing room at the mall, or shower after using a public pool or gym, I remember what happened to me and my children. I panic. I search.

This is always in my mind.

Can I settle my injury case without a lawyer?

A: A person 18 years old and older can settle their own accident case.  Once a case is settled, though, it cannot be reopened — so it’s all the more important to get it right.   Many factors need to be taken into account in determining a fair, just and rasonable settlement.  Careful consideration must be given to the chance you will need future medical care and treatment, the degree to which you have a permanent injury and how it will affect your earning capacity, and your responsibility to pay back insurance money that has already been paid out for your medical treatment.  And these are just some of the concerns that need to be addressed.  You can see that an experienced lawyer can be very helpful.  At Glass, Lebovitz, Kasheta & Bren, we can help determine a fair figure for your case and work to obtain that amount from the insurance company for you. We will stand by your side throughout the process.  At Glass, Lebovitz, Kasheta & Bren, we have a long tradition of service to our clients.  We also have a long tradition of gettingresults.

My permanent injury benefits are being paid out weekly. Is there any way I can get them all at once?

A:   Yes, but it takes a Commissioner’s approval to “commute” (change the form of ) weekly benefits to a lump sum.

There are two things to consider when asking for a “commutation” of permanent injury benefits.  First, the Commissioner does not have to agree with the request, and wants to hear a good reason the worker needs the money all at once.  Still, even if the worker’s debts have piled up and creditors are calling, the Commissioner may not approve a commutation request if the worker still does not have a steady income or a job.  Second, commutation means the lump sum will be slightly smaller than the full weekly total.  This is because the insurance company is losing a little interest on its money by paying all at once instead of doling it out in pieces each week.  Of course, to the extent the worker’s lump sum is slightly smaller, the attorney’s fee is also reduced.

What can I do if my doctor clears me for “light duty” but my employer tells me to do work I know I’m not able to do, or that I’m not supposed to do?

A:   There are two things you can do to protect yourself:

a.  Make sure the problem doesn’t come up at all.  This is clearly the best thing to do.  How do you do it?  By making sure your doctor has a pretty good idea of the physical activities your job requires and is specific about the activities he wants you to avoid.

For example, a doctor’s restriction of “no heavy lifting” is meaningless.  What’s “heavy”?  You say something is too heavy and your boss insists it’s not.  If you lift it and you’re right, you injure yourself again.  If you lift it and don’t get hurt, or you don’t lift it at all, your boss will think you just don’t want to get back to work.  On the other hand, “no lifting more than 10 pounds” sets just the kind of restriction that can protect you.  How can you get your doctor to be specific?  Ask.  And if he’s reluctant, remind him that a specific restriction keeps him from being pestered later about what he really meant his restrictions to be.

b.  You have to stand up for yourself.  This is difficult, for sure.  You’re the employee and your boss has the power to let you go.  So if you are told to disregard your doctor’s order, be firm, but be polite.  (You can see why It really helps if your doctor has given you specific restrictions.)  In the end, you have to make sure the doctor’s orders are being followed, or you risk being hurt even further.

Most employers will be sure to give you light duty work that meets the doctor’s restrictions — after all, those restrictions are meant to keep you from getting hurt again.  But if your employer is pressing you to violate your doctor’s orders, it’s a good time to call your lawyer.  If you don’t have a lawyer, you may actually find help from your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance claim representative.  The insurance company wants to save money, and it saves the most when you get well, not worse.  The claim representative may actually call your employer to explain how following the doctor’s orders will save the employer money, too.

Can I be fired if I’m out because of a work injury?

A:   The simple answer is yes.  The law does not permit you to be fired simply because you file a workers’ compensation claim — and the penalties for an employer who does this are severe.  But while a contract (like those that are negotiated by a union) or a company handbook may force an employer to keep your position open, the law does not require your employer to hold a slot open for you when you are not physically able to work at your job.

Should this keep you from making a workers’ compensation claim?  Absolutely not. Experience tells us that an employer who thinks nothing of letting you go just because you cannot do your job as you heal from a work injury is often an employer who will try to avoid his legal obligations based on technicalities.  You don’t want to find yourself fired and without compensation benefits.

My boss tells me not to go through workers’ compensation because it will raise his premiums. He says he’ll take care of me. Should I believe him?

A:   Everyone should believe that miracles happen.  But by the time you’re old enough to be working for a living, you should have stopped believing in fairy tales.

The workers’ compensation law is there to protect you because there are employers who are willing to make promises like this but who do not deliver when the time comes to pay.

We know that employers who ask you not to go through their workers’ compensation insurance carrier will often hint about firing you if you make a claim.  Unfortunately, these are often the same employers who fire an injured worker who can’t get back to full duty right away.  And firing a worker just because he files a workers’ compensation claim is against the law.

Don’t let yourself get stuck with unpaid medical bills and no income.  Make a claim.  An employer who treats you honestly, as the law demands, is an employer who follows the law — and expects you to follow the law, too.

I’ve been hurt at work — now what do I do?

A: 1.   For gosh sakes, tell someone — a supervisor or your boss is best.  There are two good reasons for this:

a.  If you don’t report your injury it is almost sure to be denied by your employer.

You may know you were hurt, and if you don’t let too much time go by, you may actually remember the date and time you were hurt.  But an employer can’t check out an unreported injury.  And the co-worker you are so sure will back you up is never paying as much attention to you as you think.

For example, if your neighbor stopped by one day to tell you for the very first time that he’d been hurt on your property a few weeks before, and he asked you for a lot of money to pay for his medical bills and time out of work, would you just reach in your pocket and start paying?  No?  Neither will your employer when you don’t report the injury and show up asking for compensation benefits.

b.  You will want a doctor to examine you, but if you’re not on the way to the hospital, you may have to start with your employer’s doctor.

Many employers now use “managed care” programs for workers’ compensation — like an HMO plan only for workers hurt on the job.  As with many HMO plans, your employer’s workers’ compensation medical plan may require you to see a particular doctor before you can be seen by a specialist.  And though you should have a choice of treating doctors, your list of approved choices may be limited (unless you’re not on the way to the hospital for an emergency).  Sometimes, even your family doctor is not part of your employer’s workers’ compensation plan, even though you can see him through your health insurance plan.

By reporting your injury, you can know where to go for your first examination and not have to find out later that your bill won’t be paid, or that your employer will not pay attention to the opinion of the doctor you decided to see.

2.   And get to a doctor at his office, a clinic or the emergency room.  Only a doctor can examine you, order treatment, or prescribe medication to help you get better as quickly as possible.  And only a doctor can tell you and your employer whether you should stay out of work, return with restrictions, or go back to full duty.

For the reasons given in #1, you should always try to tell someone you’ve been hurt.  But if you can’t, never ignore your medical needs!!

My employer is at fault for my injury. Can I sue my employer?

A: Almost always, the answer is “no.”  Why?  Before we had workers’ compensation laws, the only way an injured worker could get paid was by going to court and proving his employer was at fault.  Injured workers were left without medical care, and their families were homeless and starving long before these lawsuits every came to trial.  Finally, the legislature decided action had to be taken to protect injured workers.  Workers’ compensation laws were passed to force employers to pay compensation benefits to every worker hurt on the job — whether the injury was a true accident (no one’s fault), or even when it was the worker’s own fault.  But in exchange for making an employer pay when it was not at fault, the legislature decided that the employer did not have to pay anything more than compensation benefits when the employer was at fault.

But:  Where an employer requires the employee to perform work that exposes him to a “substantial certainty” of severe injury or death, the employer’s actions can be said to be so outrageous that a lawsuit may be possible on top of workers’ compensation benefits.  This is a very difficult standard to meet.  For this reason, these lawsuits are rare and really depend on exactly what the employer did to cause the injury or death.

I don’t want to sue my employer. What should I do?

A: You don’t “sue” your employer to get workers’ compensation benefits.  When a worker is hurt on the job, paying compensation for medical bills, lost wages and permanent disability is not an employer’s choice — it’s required.  The Workers’ Compensation Commission compares these payments to “no fault” insurance.

What is “workers’ compensation”?

A: Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Act has been the law for almost a century.  It recognizes your value to the state economy, your town and your family.

The law protects all people who have been hurt while working, either from a sudden event, an injury that comes from repetitive actions, or an illness caused by the work you do.

Your employer must cover all related medical costs, pay a good portion of your lost wages, and make an additional payment if you suffer a permanent disability.

Unless you hurt the same part of your body again in a new accident, this protection from your employer (or his insurance company) lasts your whole life.  And if an injury takes a workers’ life, the law requires that a surviving spouse and dependent children receive the workers’ benefits.

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