Civil Liberties

Cops Must Destroy Illegal Surveillance Videos From Spa Visited by Robert Kraft

Authorities "shall destroy the videos unlawfully obtained through the surveillance of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa," a federal judge says.

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A federal court has ordered Florida law enforcement officials to destroy video footage allegedly featuring New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and other men getting hand jobs from women the state would go on to convict and seize assets from.

State prosecutors had argued against destruction of the 2019 video on the grounds that the footage might be relevant to an ongoing federal lawsuit brought by patrons who were not charged with criminal spa visits. That group of unnamed plaintiffs allege that "they were innocent Spa patrons and were recorded unclothed," State Attorney David Aronberg wrote in a December 30 motion. However, "the State believes it is simply a matter of time until the federal lawsuit will eventually be dismissed on the bases [sic] of absolute prosecutor immunity, qualified immunity, and the failure to state a claim," Aronberg added.

By now, multiple state judges have forbid prosecutors from using the footage that was secretly obtained from Orchids of Asia Day Spa—a massage business in Jupiter, Florida, that authorities shut down as part of a purported human trafficking sting.

Yet Kraft and other patrons were only ever accused of paying for sexual massages from adult women who were all licensed masseuses, legal immigrants, and willing employees of Orchids of Asia. Criminal cases against Kraft and other patrons were eventually dismissed, though the women they patronized were convicted on felony charges.

Still, State Attorney Aronberg sought permission to hold on to the unlawfully obtained video footage.

Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz II of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida has now ordered the destruction of the Orchids of Asia video footage. That action came about in response to a lawsuit filed by "John Doe, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated," against Aronberg, the town of Jupiter, the Jupiter Police Department, and detective Andrew Sharp, who applied for the warrant to install the surveillance cameras.

In his January 22 order, Ruiz granted John Doe's motion to compel destruction of the massage room video. Ruiz ruled that the defendants "shall destroy the videos unlawfully obtained through the surveillance of the Orchids of Asia Day Spa […] from January 18, 2019 to January 22, 2019, including any body camera footage obtained during associated traffic stops as well as any copies thereof."

The motion to compel destruction was unopposed, and Ruiz noted that the destruction is "pursuant to the terms of the parties' settlement agreement."

Last January, the parties discussed a settlement but decided to await the outcome of a state appeals court fight over the footage, according to a joint status report filed last September. The parties resumed settlement discussions after Florida's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in August 2020 "that total suppression of the video recordings was constitutionally warranted."

"The  Does  believe  that  a  settlement  is  possible  if  the  recordings  are destroyed  by  order  of  this  Court  or  the  state  court," the September 2020 status report noted," and there is some compensation to the Does for their suffering and the legal expenses incurred here."