SEABROOK – Three staff members from Charles H. Flowers High School are suing Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) after finding a secret camera in their office according to their attorney.
Flowers Principal Gorman Brown, former Resident Principal Mar-C Holland and Secretary Donna Bussey are part of a lawsuit claiming their privacy rights were violated. The camera, which was discovered on April 13, was posted inside the principal’s suite, in the corner of the office disguised as a smoke detector.
“There are some constitutional violations that we are certain were broken,” Attorney Erick Tyrone of The Tyrone Law Group said. “We believe that everyone is entitled to their privacy, especially in areas where there is an expectation of privacy like a principal’s office so if there was a camera that was hidden without proper documentation or purpose for the surveillance, that would be a breach of the constitutional rights of the employee as they have a right to their own privacy, even in a public building.”
Local outlet Fox 5 reported on Oct. 16 that the school officials found the camera after attempting to locate video footage from a car accident. There could be up to a year’s worth of video stored in surveillance and no explanation was given by PGCPS officials as to why it was installed, Tyrone said.
There are concerns as to what the device recorded. The suite includes a bathroom with a shower, mainly used by Bussey and the principal. However, members of the Flowers Pom and Dance Team, coached by Bussey, would occasionally change clothes in the office because both girls and boys locker rooms were in use during gamedays, according to Tyrone.
“There is no real place to change where the coach of the Pom Team can keep an eye on all the students,” Tyrone said. “So because the secretary was the coach, she used the office to allow the girls to change their clothes to prepare for the game and keep an eye on everyone while making sure that they were safe.”
When the cameras were first discovered in April, Police Chief Henry P. Stawinski said in a press conference that it was unlikely that it was installed to film children but instead used to gather information.
“It is entirely unclear at this point as to what the goal of gathering that information was, but I want to reassure parents and the community that it wasn’t in public place or a locker room or a bathroom where young people might have images captured of them,” said Stawinski.
Both PGCPS and Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) said the investigation is still ongoing and there is no update at this time. School officials had no comment at this time about the lawsuit.
Interim CEO Monica Goldson did not comment on the situation but said that she communicated with principals about cameras in their buildings when she first started working in August. As of now, the only camera currently inside a room is in the county’s warehouse where “millions of dollars’ worth of equipment” are stored, Goldson said.
“When I first came onto the job, what I did do was require that every school building principal give me a list of cameras housed in their building so they know exactly where they are and all those cameras are in general, open areas,” Goldson said. “The principals know their locations and we asked that they make sure that the cameras are working and functioning so that there is no issue about where they are located.”
Tyrone confirmed that representatives from PGCPS and PGPD have been in contact with him since the lawsuit was filed. All three faculty members are still emotionally and mentally distressed about the situation as they feel their privacy was invaded.
“They want someone to be held accountable for the decisions that were made so they can be secured that when they go back to work that this is not going to happen again,” said Tyrone.“…Everyone is a bit shaken up about having some third party spying on them for an undisclosed period of time and having their actions monitored. That is a concern of theirs and I think right now, the overall message is that they make sure the narrative stays constant that there was a violation of their rights as citizens of the country.”