Courts

Coral Gables woman wins $1.3 million judgment against Wackenhut in voyeur case

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A Coral Gables woman has won $1.3 million in damages from the giant security company G4S, formerly known as Wackenhut, after a Miami jury found that one of its guards psychologically harmed her when he videotaped her while she was undressing.

The woman, who was 17 at the time of the incident in her family’s Old Cutler Bay home, claims she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The former Wackenhut security guard, who was accused of using an iPhone to take videos of her naked on an August night in 2010, had been convicted of a similar voyeur crime in California. But in its security check of Eric Michael Owens, then 28, Wackenhut failed to catch his criminal record as a convicted Peeping Tom.

The Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury on Thursday found the prominent security company, now owned by London-based G4S, negligent for hiring and retaining Owens, holding the firm responsible for her injuries.

The six-person jury, however, did not award punitive damages to the woman, who is now in college.

“We’re extremely pleased with the verdict,” said the woman’s Miami attorney, Jeffrey Sloman, of the Ferraro Law Firm. The woman was also represented by Ferraro lawyer Chris Gottfried.

G4S attorney, Jeffrey Foreman of Miami, could not be reached for comment. The company issued a statement, saying it “is disappointed in the verdict and considering its legal options.”

According to Coral Gables police, Owens pretended he had been looking for a suspect in the victim’s gated Old Cutler Bay community when they first asked him questions about the incident. The victim said the voyeur had placed his iPhone against her bedroom window.

Police asked Owens what type of phone he carried. He said he had an iPhone, but he told detectives he had left it with his girlfriend and didn’t have it with him that night.

But at the same time that he told this to detectives, another security guard was telling police that she had indeed seen Owens with his iPhone earlier that evening. Police spread out to look for places where Owens might have hidden the phone and eventually they found it stashed at a construction site a few houses away.

Police not only found images of the teenager naked on Owens’ iPhone, but they also discovered he had secretly recorded video of her while she slept 10 days earlier. Confronted with this evidence, Owens confessed, according to police.

Owens was charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling and video voyeurism. He pleaded guilty to two counts of video voyeurism in 2012.

At trial, Sloman, the victim’s attorney, argued that Wackenhut not only was negligent but also tried to cover up the Peeping Tom incident.

“It’s about taking responsibility,” Sloman told the jurors during closing arguments, after a 1 1/2-week trial. “It’s about covering up what they did.”

Miami Herald news partner, CBS4, contributed to this report.

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