A former custodian at Vancouver Public Schools pleaded guilty this month to 137 counts of voyeurism after investigators found videos he’d secretly recorded from inside a high-school staff bathroom as well as a girl’s locker room, according to court documents.
James Mattson, 38, of Vancouver, is in custody at Clark County Corrections, where he’s awaiting sentencing in the case. He was fired from Vancouver Public Schools – where he’d worked since 2007 – shortly after being arrested in early October.
The guilty pleas he entered Oct. 21 were not part of a deal with prosecutors.
Mattson’s live-in girlfriend was the first to discover the videos, which date back to 2013 and capture many yet-to-be-identified victims – mostly female staff at Skyview High School – who were recorded without their consent while using the bathroom and undressing, according to the probable-cause affidavit for Mattson’s arrest.
Mattson worked as a day-shift custodian at Alki Middle School but had access to several of the district’s buildings.
On Oct. 5, Mattson’s girlfriend told police she’d confronted him about photos she found on his computer at their home in Vancouver. During an interview with a deputy that day, the girlfriend said the pair had known each other “for a long time” and she had moved in with him two to three months before.
She told law enforcement she’d woken up that day after Mattson left for work. When she noticed his personal computer was unlocked, she sat down and rummaged through some files. That’s when she found a video that showed what was clearly an underage girl getting dressed in a locker room, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office wrote in court documents. The footage appeared to be from a hidden camera.
The girlfriend called Mattson and said, “Tell me that’s not Alki.”
She told investigators that during the phone call, Mattson admitted to planting the cameras but said it was to identify theft at the school.
She challenged him on this assertion, insisting it had to be sexual. She said he responded, “It’s not sexual – I don’t do anything with them – it’s about having them.”
Mattson told her, “I have a problem,” according to court documents.
Mattson’s girlfriend also found a large number of thumb drives, SD cards and mini- SD cards, a spy camera and a box of CDs in the garage, near Mattson’s tools and other equipment, court records state. She’d put one of the SD cards into her computer and found a photo of what appeared to be a naked woman getting dressed in a bathroom.
Detectives searched the residence and found 137 different videos recorded from a hidden camera in a Skyview High School staff bathroom. There were shelving units directly across from the toilets where a camera could be hidden inside, investigators said.
Only one video – the footage Mattson’s girlfriend found first – was from a student locker room. The camera for that video, investigators wrote, appeared to have been hidden inside a janitor’s closet – Mattson’s face could be seen on the footage as he set up the camera. Two children are getting undressed on the video but the footage shows no nudity, investigators wrote.
But the videos taken in the staff bathroom apparently did capture nudity, showing women undressing and using the bathroom, totally unaware of the hidden motion-sensor camera, which was set up at a level that “appeared to focus on the genital areas of victims,” investigators wrote in court documents. The victims’ faces were visible too.
The sheriff’s office searched all the bathrooms and locker rooms at Alki Middle School and Skyview High school. Investigators noticed that the video of the young girl found on Mattson’s computer appeared to be in the Skyview girl’s locker room.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office said it hasn’t begun attempting to identify the girls and women who were victimized. Detectives are continuing to collect evidence. They’re working with the Vancouver School District to notify victims, said public-information officer Chris Skidmore.
“We’re discussing the least impactful process of doing that and focusing on ways to not re-victimize them in any way,” Skidmore told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Washington law defines voyeurism as a class C felony with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but Clark County prosecuting attorney Tony Golik is expected to seek a harsher sentence, citing aggravating circumstances.
A review hearing is scheduled for Dec. 20, when Mattson’s sentencing date will likely be scheduled. Golik declined to comment on the pending case but confirmed that no pre-offer was made with Mattson before he pleaded guilty. Mattson’s bail was originally set at $500,000 with conditions, but he did not post it.
Matton’s lawyer, Erin McAleer, declined to comment prior to sentencing, citing attorney-client confidentiality.
Mattson’s father, Don Mattson, was a custodial crew leader at Vancouver Public Schools for 20 years. He retired in July. Don Mattson said he had no comment when reached by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The school district also declined to comment to The Oregonian/OregonLive, but in an email from the Vancouver Public Schools sent to parents Oct. 19, superintendent Jeff Snell said the district is supporting the sheriff’s office investigation and working on a “prevention” plan to keep such hidden-camera recordings from happening again.
In a video sent to parents, Snell said:
“We recognize the concern we all have about privacy and are saddened, frustrated and angry that a former employee’s actions have violated rights to privacy and the trust you place in us.”
— Savannah Eadens; firstname.lastname@example.org; 503-221-6651; @savannaheadens