Police in Augusta, Maine say they are powerless to stop a sex offender from taking candid photographs of minors and posting them online.
The department has received hundreds of complaints about a Flickr account that contains hundreds of images of children taken without consent. The pictures show minors, sometimes with their parents, in public places like grocery stores.
“I totally felt very violated,” said Joey Toothaker, who discovered dozens of images of his 12-year-old daughter on the site, taken at an Augusta Hannaford. The photos contain the caption “cute girl.”
“She’s not a cute girl, she’s 12 years old,” he said.
Toothaker posted the screen shots on social media, and his post has been shared nearly two thousand times. He, and dozens of other parents, have contacted the Augusta Police Department with their concerns.
“We haven’t really encountered this before,” said Lt. Kevin Lully. He said the department has consulted the district attorney and determined no crime has been committed.
“The constitution spells it out in black and white for us,” he said. “If you’re in a public place, there’s no expectation of privacy.”
Lt. Lully said the sex offender is no longer on probation. He suggests people contact social media sites if they would like to see the photos taken down.
Because he has not been charged with a crime, necn is not naming the sex offender behind the photographs. His entry on the Maine Sex Offender Registry shows three previous convictions for gross sexual assault.
When contacted Thursday morning, the man said he was sorry for posting the photos, and said he was part of an online community that awarded points for posting candid images.
“I regret every single time I’ve done it,” he said, adding that he has received death threats. When asked if he has taken down the images, he said “every one that I have access to.”
Lawmakers in Augusta say they are disturbed that there is no legal action that can be taken against the man.
Rep. Matt Pouliot, who represents Augusta, has submitted legislation modeled after a law in Georgia that requires sex offenders obtain permission from a parent or guardian before photographing a minor. The penalty for a violation would be a misdemeanor.
“This becomes a slippery slope when we start taking about people’s First Amendment rights, but clearly this has shone a light on an issue that needs to be resolved,” Rep. Pouliot said.