The Monterey County District Attorney is investigating whether a manager in the county’s Resource Management Agency broke the law by taking surreptitious pictures of men’s clothed crotches and sending them out via text message.
When I say the Monterey County District Attorney, I mean it. Dean Flippo, the guy in charge, has taken this case on himself. Flippo and a lead investigator are trying to determine whether the crotch shots, taken without the subjects’ knowledge or consent during official meetings at various county buildings, constitute a crime.
Featured subjects include a Monterey County Sheriff’s Office official and a former Salinas fire chief. In one shot, the subject is just standing there. In another, a different subject is sitting at a conference table and the cellphone camera lens was aimed at his crotch from under the table.
In one of the text messages, the erstwhile photographer comments that a full frontal pic was impossible. In another, he writes, “There was a solid end panel on my end of the conf table. I will have opportunity tomorrow during round two of mtgs.”
I’m not using the guy’s name for a couple of reasons. First, he hasn’t been charged with anything and it’s not clear he will be. Second, the Weekly, along with almost every other news outlet in the county, received the pictures, text messages and other material (including dick pics the photographer purportedly took of his own dick while at the office), as part of what appears to be a long-simmering dispute involving his domestic partner and a third-party roommate that spilled over in spectacular fashion this month. The roommate sent the material out to the media, to as many Monterey County managers as he could find and to the Salinas Police Department and the DA’s office.
Nonconsensual crotch shots are skeezy, to be sure. The fact that the guy allegedly took the shots of professional colleagues at work likely means he’s going to be looking for a new job.
But is what he did an actual crime? Flippo is trying to figure that out. So-called “upskirt” photos – when someone secretly uses an electronic device to view under or through clothing without a person’s consent – are illegal in California, considered disorderly conduct under 2.1.2 Penal Code Section 647 (j)(2) that pegs upskirt photos as a misdemeanor. Convictions under that section of the law carry a sentence of up to a year in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. But the statute is also nebulous on whether shots of clothed crotches constitute a crime.
“Normally we wouldn’t even comment whether we were investigating or not, but that’s absurd due to the widespread distribution of this package to so many people. I think everyone at the county received it,” Flippo says. “My direction to my investigator is move as quickly as you can, but we gotta be fair. We have a burden of guilty without a reasonable doubt and if we can’t get there, then my instruction is to get out of there because we have other things to do.”
Flippo estimates the investigation will run through next week.
As Flippo runs the criminal investigation, the county apparently is running an administrative investigation. County spokeswoman Maia Carroll tells me that the employee in question is still being paid by the county, but refused to state if he was still on the job, which sounds to me like he’s been placed on paid administrative leave. The employee’s county phone line rang endlessly without being answered or going to voicemail, and emails to his work account and personal account went unanswered.
Among the issues the county is likely examining: whether the employee used county resources to send the pictures, and whether he used county-owned vehicles to carry on sexual activity, during work hours and after, with people he met on dating and hook-up apps.
“We’re not investigating anything involving consenting adults,” Flippo says. “I am very narrowly focused.”
I reached out to the roommate who sent the material to the media and asked what he hoped to accomplish.
“I’d like to see him go to jail,” he tells me. “Otherwise I think it’s befitting he should lose his job.”