Undercover video surveillance footage used by Dunwoody police to charge and arrest more than 50 people in an alleged prostitution ring bust has been thrown out of court by a DeKalb judge.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gail Flake ruled June 26 the police illegally obtained the video footage of men and women having sex after secretly installing several cameras in a private apartment in 2016.
Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan said his department worked closely with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office to obtain the warrant. Many defendants in the case have already pleaded out their cases, he said, and now he will work with the DA to determine how to move forward on the remaining cases.
“The decision to apply for a search warrant was a mutual one designed to help investigators dismantle a large commercial sex organization,” Grogan said. “We certainly respect Judge Flake’s ruling in this case. We will be working closely with the District Attorney’s Office to evaluate the remaining cases.”
DeKalb DA Sherry Boston issued a statement saying her office is now evaluating its options. “We respect the court’s decision and are currently evaluating our options regarding the appropriate course of action. The case remains open and pending,” Boston said.
Last year, Dunwoody police announced they busted up an alleged sex trafficking clubs resulting in the arrest of more than 50 people. Police said they received an anonymous tip about a commercial sex organization that led to a months-long investigation. That investigation identified two organizations, Atlanta Gold Club Escorts and Lipstick and Shoe Escorts.
One of the alleged escort services was operating out of an apartment complex across the street from the former Dunwoody City Hall and the Police Department location at Perimeter Center East. The other alleged escort service was operating out of another Dunwoody apartment complex.
The defendants were charged with keeping a place of prostitution, pimping and violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Christopher Quinn, 46, was among the more than 50 people arrested in the prostitution ring bust and is charged with pandering and violation of the RICO Act. He resigned his post.
In her ruling, Judge Flake said the warrant Dunwoody Police received was a wiretap warrant and not a “sneak and peek” warrant. Sneak and peek warrants are not currently allowed under Georgia law, Flake noted.
Sneak and peek warrants, or delayed notice warrants, allow law enforcement to enter a location without the owner’s or occupant’s knowledge to search the premises. Such warrants became more popular following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as part of the fight against terrorism. Traditional search warrants are handed to the occupant as officers conduct a search.
A wiretap warrant allows law enforcement officers to intercept wire or oral transmissions from a location and follows strict guidelines, including requiring a judge’s signature and description of how long such surveillance will occur.
There was no mention of a “sneak and peek” warrant in the application or affidavit or order authorizing video surveillance, Flake stated. The only way to get such a warrant in Georgia is if the DA makes a written application and it is approved by a judge. Flake ruled none of these rules were followed.
Flake also rejected the DA’s argument that a “private place” could be one where someone is an overnight guest and the people being recorded did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
State law “clearly states that it is illegal, through the use of any device, without the consent of all persons observed, to observe or record the activities of another which occur in a private place and out of public view,” according to Flake’s ruling.
Under the state’s definition of a private place, it would not be illegal to secretly record people in dressing rooms, locker rooms, bathrooms and other places where there might be a reasonable expectation of privacy, Flake added.
Multiple cameras were installed in the apartment at 5101 Abercorn Ave. by Dunwoody Det. Caleb Gilbert on Nov. 28, 2016. The ruling notes that while the warrant to install the cameras makes claims about the investigation of a sex trafficking organization, Gilbert admitted on cross examination that he did not have evidence that a sex trafficking organization existed when he applied for the warrant.