Concordia lockerroom video sealedWhen members of the Concordia College women’s basketball team found a video camera in their shower room in December, they thought it might be a joke.
By: Dave Olson, The Forum, Worthington Daily Globe
When members of the Concordia College women’s basketball team found a video camera in their shower room in December, they thought it might be a joke.
Then they hit the “play” button and saw images of one of the school’s custodians adjusting the camera, a man they knew well.
“My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. My body ached with the thought he had seen us,” one of the players said Thursday at a sentencing hearing for Steven Sopko.
The former Concordia janitor pleaded guilty earlier this year in Clay County District Court to seven counts of interfering with privacy, admitting he secretly placed a camera in a campus shower room that captured nude images of seven basketball players.
The player who discovered the camera told Judge Galen Vaa that before the incident, she considered Concordia her home.
Afterward, she said she was no longer as trusting of the faces around her.
“Now, I think twice before going down to the locker room,” said the woman. The Forum chose not to print the names of the women because of the nature of the crime.
The counts Sopko pled guilty to are not considered sex crimes under Minnesota law, but prosecutor Brian Melton said they are not typical gross misdemeanors.
“These are despicable and deplorable acts,” said Melton, who after the sentencing added that lawmakers might consider making interfering with privacy a crime that would require offenders to register as sex offenders.
In North Dakota, a similar offense, surreptitious intrusion, can require offender registration.
In Sopko’s case, Vaa sentenced him to 350 days in jail, with nearly three additional years stayed on condition he complete two years of probation and pay fines and fees totaling more than $1,000.
Sopko didn’t make a statement at his sentencing.
His attorney, Gregory Joseph, spoke instead, describing Sopko as a good father who worked 80 hours a week to provide for his four children. He is expecting a fifth child soon.
Joseph said Sopko was a community volunteer before the incident and continues to be, having recently completed 800 hours with Habitat for Humanity.
“This is not a monster,” Joseph said. “This is a person who made a very bad decision.”
Joseph asked Vaa to allow his client 80 hours of work release. Melton said release should be limited to 40 hours.
The judge authorized up to 60 hours of work release.
Vaa, who sealed the video recording, told the seven victims he watched the recording reluctantly after he considered asking a female court worker to watch it for him.
He said it was necessary to view it so he could rule on a defense motion that sought to dismiss six of the seven charges on the premise that one, not seven, crimes were committed when the camera was placed in a vent.
“It was repugnant to me to think I had to view this,” said Vaa, who added that the camera was placed carefully and intentionally to capture the maximum number of shower users.
One of the players said she cannot go into a locker room or a fitting room without feeling anxiety.
Another woman said her heart stopped when she saw the camera.
“It almost felt as though we had been raped,” she said. “It was unbelievably invasive.”