‘Creepy’ camera irks Platte City family

A Platte City woman says the police inappropriately aimed a camouflaged video camera at her backyard and bedroom window.

Stephanie Santos says the incident was creepy.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it violated her constitutional rights.

Platte City’s police chief, Carl Mitchell, says he can’t discuss possible litigation, but the city administrator later apologized.

Santos and her family, including two young children, live in a duplex on Wallingford Drive. Her father, who owns the duplex, lives in the adjacent unit. Last Thursday he noticed the video camera mounted in a tree and trained on his daughter’s yard and windows.

Santos called police Friday. She says a policewoman acknowledged that the camera belonged to the police department. Santos said the officer told her that police were monitoring people coming through the woods, which she said did not make sense.

“There’s nowhere to go,” Santos said. “You can’t cut through.”

Santos also said the police claimed the camera was on city property, but Santos said the land is privately owned.

She and her father, Steve Nash, suspect the police wanted to catch him feeding cats that the city believes are feral, which they said has been an ongoing issue between him and the city. Nash said he earlier was charged with the city offense of feeding feral cats and was placed on probation.

Nash said he addressed the Platte City Board of Aldermen recently, protesting what he called government bullying.

Shortly after she spoke with the police officer on Friday, Santos said, a person in civilian clothes came and removed the camera without identifying himself. She called the ACLU.

Doug Bonney, chief counsel and legal director for the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri, sent a letter to Mitchell on Monday contending the camera was a violation of Santos’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable governmental intrusions and surveillance. He noted that Santos’ backyard is where her “children play and her family gathers for the enjoyment of their everyday domestic life.”

Santos said she addressed a Board of Aldermen subcommittee Monday night.

City Administrator D.J. Gehrt said later that the city is looking into the matter but that the camera should not have been placed on private property.

“Obviously, we apologized to Ms. Santos for the concern it caused her,” Gehrt said. “We’re going to look into exactly what we were accomplishing and what happened and see what lessons are learned.”

Santos said the incident was disturbing to her family.

“It was very scary and very creepy,” she said. “Finding out it was the police department didn’t make that creepy feeling go away.”