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Hartford — The recent discovery of a small camera hidden inside a bathhouse at Hammonasset State Beach in Madison is not an isolated incident of voyeurism, said an East Hartford mother who was the victim of a similar incident at the same park three years ago.
During an emotional news conference, Kim Smith said Thursday she decided to come forward publicly after learning a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection spokesman described the July 5 discovery of the camera hidden in a towel hook as an isolated incident.
"In light of recent developments at the park and the depositions I have read, I can no longer be quiet," she said. "The people of Connecticut need to know, when showering at a state park, proceed with caution."
Smith's news conference came days before all admission and parking fees will be waived this weekend at all 107 parks as part of the system's centennial celebration.
In a written statement released Thursday, DEEP said its 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 agency said after "the unfortunate incident of July 2011" at Hammonasset, two seasonal park employees were fired and arrested. Also, the agency said it inspected all bathhouses and made repairs to prevent any further incidents.
DEEP said the recent case of the camera found in the towel hook is "the only other known case in recent memory where the privacy of park visitors may have been compromised."
Smith said her family was camping for the first time at Hammonasset on July 23, 2011, when she took her two daughters, 3 and 6 years old at the time, to shower in a bathhouse near their campsite. While they were showering in the stall, Smith said she noticed shadows and movement through a hole at the shower faucet. When she looked closer, Smith said she saw the outline of a man's face. His eyes were staring back at her.
"I was shaking, mad, scared, humiliated, and of course, worried about my two young daughters," said Smith, who later came face-to-face with the man as he came out of a storage area connected to the women's bathroom with another man.
Smith later took photos of a room that runs behind the showers, where staff have access to the pipes, and found holes in the wall. She also took photos of holes she discovered near toilets, shower stalls, and elsewhere throughout the park saying there were "too many to count really."
"This was not an isolated problem," she said. "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."
Smith said the holes have since been patched, but she wants other measures taken, such as limits on which employees have access to the rooms behind the showers.
"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," she said.
For the past three years, Smith has pushed for state legislation that would expand the state's voyeurism crime to include incidents where a child is being watched, but a camera isn't involved.
Smith, who is currently seeking permission to sue the state, said her lawyers recently deposed park managers who said there are no policies to address privacy issues.