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I-Team: Wackenhut Peeping Tom Victim Speaks

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Jim-DeFede-600x450 Jim DeFede
Jim DeFede joined CBS4 News in January 2006, providing reg...
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CORAL GABLES (CBS4) –After watching the movie “The Hangover” with her brother and his friends, the 17-year-old girl headed off to her room.

“She was undressing to get ready for bed, she had just taken her top off, she had taken off her shorts, and when she reached down to get her T-shirt, she saw a phone in her window and she screamed, grabbed something to cover herself and charged at the window, banged on it and yelled,” the teen’s mother said. “I heard that, it was loud and it was fear.”

For the first time since that August 15 incident the mother of the teenage girl is speaking out. In order to protect the identity of her daughter, CBS4 News has agreed not to use the family’s name.

“She was angry, she was hysterical because someone had completely violated her life, they were in her window that’s so frightening,” the mother said. “She just kept repeating the same things that she was naked, she was naked. She was totally mortified.”

The teen and her mother raced to the living room where her brother and his friends were still hanging out. When they discovered what happened the young men rushed outside to see if they could catch the Peeping Tom. All anyone spotted were the tail lights of a small SUV off in the distance.

“One of the boys said, `Should I get the security guard?'” the mother said. “And I said, `Yes, absolutely.’ Because they were just down the street.”

The family lives inside a gated community, agreeing to pay more than $3,500 a year in additional taxes for the added security provided by Wackenhut, now known as G4S.

“If somebody wants to do harm they are not going to come into a neighborhood that has security sitting outside and security driving around 24 hours,” She said. “You just feel safe in your home.”

When the family friend ran down to the guard house a block away, he saw the Wackenhut guard sweating and out of breath. The family friend told the guard that someone had been spying into the one of the bedrooms.

“He goes, `I know, I know, I know,'” the mother recounted. “He was totally out of breath and he said, `I was just chasing the guy, I have a complete description of him, I’m just writing it down, I’ll be there in a minute, I’m calling the police.'”

A few minutes later the Wackenhut guard showed up to the house and introduced himself. His name: Eric Michael Owens. He reassured the mother and the teenage girl that everything would be fine, that they were safe now. He even added the reassuring biographical detail that he was a former Marine.

“I patted him on the back and put my arm around him and said, `I’m so glad to have you here, especially to know you are an ex marine,'” The mother said. “`That makes me feel really good.'”

The mother asked Owens if he had called the police. Owens assured her he did, but warned they might not come out on something like this. He even tried to make it seem that the Peeping Tom may not have been peeping at all. He may have been trying to break into the cars parked in the driveway.

The teenage girl, however, made it clear there was a voyeur. She described the phone she saw pressed against her window – the new iPhone 4.

At one point Owens, 28, raised the possibility that perhaps one of the boys in the house may have been responsible, telling the mom, “You can’t trust anybody today.”

“It kind of just went over my head that he said that,” she offered, “but my son caught it, and when we came inside he said, `That’s weird that he said that mom. Did you ask to see his phone?’ and I said, `No, why would I ask a security guard to see his phone?’ It didn’t even cross my mind.”

Other issues made the mother suspicious. In describing the man he chased, Owens gave a nearly perfect description of himself. Besides describing his own height, weight and hair color, he also said the Peeping Tom was wearing a track suit with a pair of stripes running up the side of the leg. Wackenhut guards have two stripes down the side of their pants.

After about 30 minutes, the mother began to wonder why Coral Gables hadn’t responded. When she called to check she was told by dispatchers that there was no record of anyone having called to report a prowler or a voyeur.

When the police finally did arrive it didn’t take long for them to focus on Owens. They asked Owens what type of phone he carries. He said he has an I Phone, 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 he was telling 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’ cell phone, but they also discovered he had secretly recorded video of her while she slept ten days earlier. Confronted with this evidence Owens confessed, according to police.

“This was someone waiting outside our house, waiting for her, stalking her,” the mother said.

Owens was charged with burglary of an occupied dwelling and video voyeurism. His attorney, Christopher Pole, declined to comment on the criminal case which is scheduled for trial next year.

Amazingly, it was soon uncovered that Owens had been arrested twice and convicted once in California for being a Peeping Tom.

“They did a lousy job of screening this employee in particular,” said Melissa Visconti, an attorney with The Ferraro Law Group, which is representing the family.

Wackenhut issued a statement to the CBS4 I Team blaming “the peculiarities of California law” which list voyeurism under disorderly conduct. “Given all the information available to the local hiring manager at the time, the decision to employ Mr. Owens was reasonable,” the statement argued.

For the mother of the young victim, Wackenhut’s response is far from good enough. She notes with amazement that no one from Wackenhut ever came by the house to check to see if the family was okay or to apologize for what happened. Two weeks after the incident, Wackenhut’s president, Drew Levine, sent a rather sterile letter noting that, “Unfortunately, sometimes people do unexpected things that hurt others. We regret that Mr. Owens caused you harm.”

The letter, however, was addressed to the wrong person and the name of the street they live on was misspelled.

“I want this company to take responsibility for their negligence in this, for hiring someone who had a history of doing this and putting them in a neighborhood where we were meant to feel safe in,” the mother said.

“This is a classic case of putting the fox in the hen house,” added Jeffrey Sloman, the former U.S. Attorney in South Florida who, along with Visconti, is representing the family.

Sloman noted that Wackenhut advertises itself as the leader in background security investigations and yet here, in this case, they fail to adequately investigate the people they hire.

“In this case a public company which holds itself out to be the world’s leader in background investigative services,” Sloman said. “And then you find out they hire a previously convicted voyeur and place him in the very environment in which he thrives. It’s appalling.”

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