Public Safety

Judge to allow evidence showing hidden cameras, porn internet searches at Iowa City architect's trial

He is charged with secretly recording employee pumping breast milk

Robert Carlson
Robert Carlson

IOWA CITY — A judge has ruled that evidence of computer and phone searches of pornography and research information on voyeurism and hidden cameras is relevant and will be allowed at trial for an Iowa City architect charged with secretly recording an employee pumping breast milk.

Sixth Judicial Associate District Judge Deborah Minot, in her ruling Monday, said prosecutors can present this evidence against Robert Charles Carlson, 68, who is charged with 22 counts of invasion of privacy, which are aggravated misdemeanors, at trial to show motive, intent and planning.

Prosecutors must prove Carlson had motive and intent because this is a specific-intent crime — to sexually arouse or satisfy sexual desire, Minot said in the ruling. Carlson is accused of viewing and videotaping the employee’s exposed breasts while pumping breast milk, so evidence that he searched for and viewed pornographic images of women’s breasts is relevant, she said.

Leon Spies, Carlson’s attorney, argued in his motion that evidence of Carlson’s internet searches or website visits were not relevant. He also argued evidence of other crimes or acts isn’t admissible to prove character of a defendant or to show a tendency to commit wrongful acts.

Evidence that Carlson used multiple devices to access, record, store and view internet websites related to adult pornography over an extended number of years is relevant because the employee, Jessica Clark, of Ely, worked for his company for years and pumped breast milk in a conference room over a period of years, according to the ruling.

His research on voyeurism and hidden cameras also is relevant to show planning and that he intended to search for those things — it wasn’t a mistake or accident, Minot noted.

The probative value of the evidence outweighs any unfair prejudice, Minot concluded. Evidence that Carlson was interested in legal, adult online pornography is “no more prejudicial than other evidence” that will be admitted, such as the 22 videos that Carlson is accused of recording, Minot stated.

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The court will limit the potential prejudice of the materials at trial by holding the prosecution to its promises to give only a general description of the items and not show or describe details of any websites, images or videos, Minot said.

Last December, Carlson had plans to plead to the charges but he changed his mind. The trial was reset a few times, and is now set to start Nov. 3.

A criminal complaint showed Carlson told police he thought the employee, Clark, 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,” according to the complaint.

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. The suit has been settled, but there are no details in public court records of the settlement.

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 incidents where Clark was pumping breast milk, police said.

Clark, who worked at the firm since 2010, had her first child in 2015 and pumped breast milk at the office after returning from maternity leave, according to the lawsuit.

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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 restroom that locked — to privately pump breast milk.

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

She told The Gazette last year that she then searched the room and found a tan portfolio on a chair next to where she sat and there appeared to be a pen sticking out, and she knew it was a camera. Later, she searched for “spy pen” on the internet and found out how it was used.

Clark inserted it into a conference room tablet and the camera showed images of her pumping breast milk from minutes earlier, she said.

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

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