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Pinellas County sergeant demoted over hidden camera investigation

In August, a woman reported she found a hidden camera in her bedroom’s air conditioning vent.

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office demoted a sergeant after investigators say he mishandled evidence at a video voyeurism crime scene.

In August, a woman reported she found a hidden camera in her bedroom’s air conditioning vent.

10 Investigates got a hold of an internal memo dated Dec. 5 saying Sergeant Eugene Paniccia took one photo of the camera in the air condition unit before potentially contaminating the evidence by touching it without gloves.

The memo says he put the evidence on the woman’s bed and then left without anyone there to keep an eye on it.

The sheriff’s office claims the woman’s roommate, who was suspected of putting the camera in her vent, was able to come in unnoticed and take the camera.

The report also said Paniccia’s body camera was in sleep mode through most of his shift.

The sheriff’s office demoted him from sergeant to deputy.

Our interview requests with the sheriff and now-Deputy Paniccia were declined.

All year, 10 Investigates have been reporting on the rising problem of hidden cameras recording unsuspecting people in during their most private moments.

Emily Ashman knows what it’s like to have her privacy invaded.

“There were 18 videos of me. And then, like, screenshots and snapshots,” Ashman told us in February. “I was completely nude.”

Ashman was recorded by her teacher Mark Ackett at Bloomingdale Senior High, a Hillsborough County public school in Valrico.

Images from the State Attorney’s Office show Ackett’s cameras hidden in cardboard boxes with holes cut out.

One staff member and 125 students were recorded.

Ackett was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“Now, it’s something I think about anywhere I go. So, it can happen. And it’ll happen in a circumstance where you least expect it,” Ashman said.

In 2017, vacationers found hidden cameras disguised as smoke detectors in a Longboat Key condo they rented on Airbnb.

10 Investigates has also learned about several hidden cameras found in bathrooms, including in a Clearwater gym, a Pinellas Park office building, and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa.

On Valentine’s Day in 2021, a customer at a Lakeland Circle K found an iPhone in an envelope hidden under the sink while she was in the restroom.  

So, how do you spot a hidden camera?

We put six hidden cameras in a kitchen and asked Matt Aubin to walk us through how to find them without any special equipment.

“As I’m walking in, I see that hook over there – which, these are actually really commonly used to have cameras in them,” Aubin said, finding a camera disguised inside a white plastic hook on a door right away.

“Another thing I often look for are unused electronics,” he said, finding another hidden camera plugged into a nearby outlet. “This standard AC/DC adapter has a camera lens right here. It really also has no business being here without a cord or something that’s connected to it.”

Then, Aubin zeroed in on a camera disguised as a digital clock.

“I’ve also noticed we’ve got two basically clock radios in here. This one appears to have a camera right here in the middle of it,” he said. “This makes five clocks in this kitchen. You already have three of them built in. Unless you’re just super obsessed with time for some reason, you don’t need that many. So, it causes suspicion to go looking for those.”

The second digital clock was also a hidden camera.

So was the adapter that the second clock was plugged into.

“Right in the middle, if you just look and see [the lens] above that,” Aubin said.

Then he turned his sights to a camera disguised as a smoke detector, similar to the one found in a Longboat Key condo rental in 2017.

“It does appear to have a camera lens within it,” said Aubin, pulling it off the wall. “When you open it up, it doesn’t have the typical components of a smoke detector within it. When you look at it, it’s actually got spots for SD cards and other memory. Well, you typically aren’t going to need a USB-C charger or an SD card in a normal smoke detector… Most people have changed smoke detector batteries before, so you know what you’re looking at if you look inside one, as to whether something looks a little bit off… Any smoke detector that I’ve seen has a test button on it. This one doesn’t… And it’s not a name brand.”

Aubin recommends unplugging and removing anything you’re not sure about.

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