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Peeping Tom video lands two students in district court

Pair taped intimate encounter from an adjacent dormitory

The case against David Siemiesz (left) and David Cunha was postponed until after Wentworth completes its investigation. The case against David Siemiesz (left) and David Cunha was postponed until after Wentworth completes its investigation. (GEORGE RIZER/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 12, 2008

The two women were alone in a Mission Hill dormitory room that September night.

But as Rosanne Strott and Emily Niland lay in bed together, at least two men were videotaping them from a Wentworth Institute of Technology dormitory across the alley.

The women learned about the videotape of their intimate encounter seven months later, when a friend told them it had been uploaded on a computer network site for Wentworth students. Before long, the videotape had been seen by many others, including students at other universities.

"I never felt so violated without anybody touching me before," said Strott, a 19-year-old sophomore at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design whose dorm room faced the Wentworth building.

The indignity, the women said, was compounded last week by a Roxbury District Court assistant clerk, who said he would wait for Wentworth to finish its investigation before deciding whether to issue a criminal complaint against David Cunha and David Siemiesz, the two Wentworth juniors whom Boston police have identified as the men who videotaped the encounter.

Strott and Niland, also a sophomore at the art college, said they had hoped to see the case go to the next level and be heard in open court.

"All I want is for them to live up to what they did," Niland said. "You can't violate people's privacy like that and expect to get away with it."

Boston police had sought a misdemeanor complaint with the court, charging the men with videotaping a person who is nude or partially nude without knowledge or consent. The charge carries a punishment of up to 2 1/2 years in a county house of correction. Wentworth University officials said the school's investigation should be concluded within two weeks.

While Peeping Toms have long been a problem, the case underscores how in the YouTube age, those who scheme to violate others' privacy can do even more harm by using the Internet to broadcast what they capture.

"You could always take a picture of something that you're seeing from your own dorm room or house," said Orin Kerr, professor of law at George Washington University, who teaches courses on computer crime. "What's different today is that after getting that picture or video, it can be distributed online so easily the public impact is a lot greater than it would have been 10 years or 20 years ago."

The assistant clerk who presided at last week's closed-door hearing, Robert Lynch, declined to comment on the case, but said that no one raised any objections. The students are due back in court in September.

David Frank, a former prosecutor who now writes for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, said court clerks often hold off on issuing a criminal complaint against college students with no criminal record who are being investigated by the university for misdemeanors like underage drinking or holding loud parties.

"The facts as alleged here on their face certainly sound more serious than those you might see in an underage drinking case or other misdemeanor cases," Frank said. "The bottom line is that it's not [the victims'] call. The job here is for the court to determine whether a complaint should be issued."

Cunha could not be reached for comment. Siemiesz said he never meant for the video to end up online.

"We in no way meant to embarrass them," he said. "We didn't understand the severity of the situation when we were taping it."

But he said the women should have drawn their shades and turned off their lights. "This all would have never happened if their windows were closed," Siemiesz said.

The men, who have no prior criminal record, were not charged with distributing the videotape, because the computer site, a file-sharing network known as DC++, was accessible only to Wentworth students and not the general public, police said.

But police believe the men committed a crime, said Elaine Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Boston Police Department.

"The victims had every reason for an expectation of privacy, and that was clearly violated," Driscoll said.

Siemiesz said there was no plan that night to tape the women, whom he does not know personally.

Siemiesz, who lived in a three-bedroom suite with Cunha on Huntington Avenue at the time, said he was sleeping when Cunha yelled at him and his roommate to come into his room. Soon, close to 10 men were gathered in the room, watching. Siemiesz said someone told him to get his video camera. He said that he was apprehensive, but that he wanted to fit in.

"I don't want to be seen as the loser who doesn't want to have any fun," he said. Siemiesz said he does not know how the tape ended up online.

One of the men who was in the room, Matt Usenia, 20, an architecture major, said the videotape was online the next day.

"As soon as it got on, we tried to take it off, but too many people had downloaded it," Usenia said. "I feel extremely bad about it."

Strott said a Wentworth student downloaded the video for her. As she watched, she said, she could hear the men remarking on her body and chanting antigay slurs.

She told Wentworth administrators about the video in April; the next day, the network was taken down.

A few weeks later, she said, a Boston University student recognized her from the video and told her: "That's so cool. You're so famous now."

Strott recalled thinking, "No, I'm emotionally damaged."

At the hearing, Siemiesz and Cunha gave the women a signed letter of apology, but Niland said she was not satisfied with the gesture.

"They're making all these excuses and these phony apologies that I don't really buy," Niland said. "If they hadn't been caught, they wouldn't have felt bad about it at all."

Asked to describe how he felt as he taped the women, Siemiesz said, "I felt like it was kind of wrong."

But he said the buildings are so close together that it was difficult for people not to see into one another's windows.

"I didn't feel like a creep," he said. "I didn't feel like a Peeping Tom. I felt like this type of thing happens a lot."

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.

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