August 27, 2004

Landlord Plants Camera in Tenants' Bathroom

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An Ithaca landlord was arrested yesterday and charged with four counts of unlawful surveillance in the second degree for setting up elaborate video surveillance of at least four female Cornell students in the bathroom of their apartment on University Avenue.

David A. Church, 44, is the owner of 404-406 University Avenue and other Ithaca rental properties and a resident of 307 College Avenue, above the Collegetown Hill Drug Store. The crime, a Class E felony, is punishable by a term of up to one to four years in state prison under a stricter state law that went into effect last year. In addition, a video voyeur would be subject to presumptive registration with the state’s Sex Offender Registry.

A female student contacted the Ithaca Police Department two days ago after discovering a pinhole camera in the bathroom of the apartment she lived in with three other female residents. A police investigation of the property yesterday and a search warrant issued on two other Church properties led to the discovery of “two pinhole cameras and numerous video recordings.”

Friends of the victims said that the University had relocated them. The victims, members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), were residing in a house at 404 University Avenue. In the adjoining unit of the house, 406 University Avenue, male residents were preparing to move out last night at 8 p.m.

“In my 11 years as a vice president, I’ve never faced an issue like this,” said Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services.

The victims’ friends said that University officials handled the response to the incident well. The victims’ names and contact information have been removed from Cornell’s electronic directory and the University has pledged to help the students with “emergency housing, finances and legal issues, as well as to provide psychological support,” according to a Cornell News Service press release.

“Our first priority at the University is to support students who are affected by this case,” said President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77.

There have long been concerns about the quality of Ithaca’s student rental housing.

“Over the past couple of years, Cornell and the city have been discussing the need to establish a system with renting [for information]. … There’s been already, it seems to me, a fair amount of discussion. … We will get to the business of making sure this never happens again,” said Thomas W. Bruce, vice president for communications and media relations.

Reeder Gates, a pharmacist at Collegetown Hill Drug Store who has known Church since “he was an adolescent,” said that the police had questioned him in the case. Talking to The Sun, Gates said, “I have no direct knowledge of what happened.”

“At this time, I have no relationship with David Church as we speak [right now],” he added.

An individual on East Yates Street, where Church owns property, who said he has known the accused for 15 years, declared that David Church’s arrest has been “a long time waiting to happen.” Asking not to be named, he added that “[Church has] been nothing but trouble.”

A resident in the area, Meg Elliott ’94, said that this incident was “another reason to be paranoid. It is weird when you find out someone is betraying your trust. On the other hand, this is a good neighborhood to live in.”

The accused, Church, is also a snowplow driver for a number of downtown Ithaca commercial locations. An employee of Fastrac Market, one of Church’s plowing customers, said, “He might not be plowing our driveway this winter.”

Archived article by Pete Norlander and Chris Mitchell