Public Safety

Iowa City architect accused of covertly recording employee pumping breast milk plans to take a plea

He faces 22 charges of invasion of privacy

IOWA CITY — An Iowa City architect, charged with secretly recording an employee while she pumped breast milk 22 times over an eight-month period, plans to plead to the charge and avoid a trial.

The plea agreement has not been filed, and no details are available.

Robert Carlson, 67, who also is being sued for the recordings, is charged with 22 counts of invasion of privacy, aggravated misdemeanors. Each charge carries a penalty of two years in prison.

According to a case management status report filed Monday by Leon Spies of Iowa City, Carlson’s lawyer, the prosecution has made a plea offer and there wouldn’t be a trial.

Spies noted Carlson is waiting on the completion of an “expert report.”

Assistant Johnson County Attorney Rachel Zimmerman-Smith said she couldn’t comment on Spies’ report or any plea.

A criminal complaint shows Carlson told police he thought his employee, Jessica Clark, 32, of Ely, was “very beautiful and wanted to see what was underneath the (her) blouse or shirt.”

“The female victim did not consent to these recordings and had a reasonable expectation of privacy while in the room pumping breast milk,” the complaint states.

Clark sued Carlson and the Carlson Design Team in May 2018, alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Clark found the recording device Dec. 18, 2018, in the architectural firm’s conference room, where she had been pumping breast milk.

Police obtained a search warrant for the firm’s office and Carlson’s house. Police said they seized electronic devices as part of their search. Those devices contained 22 videos of separate incidents where Clark was pumping breast milk, police said.

Clark, who worked as an intern at the firm in the summers of 2008 and 2009, was hired full time in 2010, according to the lawsuit. She had her first child in 2015 and pumped breast milk at the office after returning from maternity leave.

She did the same thing following the birth of a daughter in January 2018, regularly reserving the conference room — the only room other than the bathroom that locked — to privately pump breast milk.

Clark started noticing Carlson would frequently use the conference room immediately before her scheduled time.

“When I went to pump that day, he had just gone in there to make a personal phone call,” Clark told The Gazette in June. “Then he left for a meeting.”

Clark went into the room, but she said she had a “ ‘spider sense’ feeling” that something wasn’t right.

After pumping, she searched the room, looking behind the TV, under chairs and behind wall art. Then she saw a tan portfolio on a chair next to where she sat and there appeared to be a pen sticking out.

“I knew immediately that it had to be a camera,” Clark said.

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She then found out what it was and how to use the device after she Googled “spy pen,” she said. Clark inserted it into a conference room tablet and the camera showed images of her pumping breast milk from minutes earlier, she said.

No plea hearing has been set at this time.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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