CLEARWATER, Fla. – When a high-ranking woman at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium spotted a security camera in a room where visiting workers changed clothes, it should have prompted a swift investigation and an apology to the women who were “accidentally and unintentionally” recorded, but instead it was hushed up for six months, an internal investigation found.
The law firm that conducted this investigation decided it wasn’t necessary to request a criminal investigation, board of directors chairman Paul Auslander said, and none of the women who were recorded has filed a complaint, but Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter said he's assigning officers to evaluate the case, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.
Two aquarium executives watched the video before deleting it, but they were just trying to figure out what to do with the recording, the law firm determined, according to Auslander.
“It was a huge, colossal mistake, but it wasn’t boys being boys,” Auslander said. “I’m sickened that this happened and it’s not going to happen ever again.”
The situation began when chief veterinarian Shelly Marquardt informed operations director Chris Dalton about the camera on Dec. 28. Dalton said that when he returned to work on Jan. 4, he spotted Mike Hurst, vice president of operations and zoological care, watching a video of the women in his office. Hurst told him he had already showed it to CEO Frank Dame, and tried to get him to watch it, too, Dalton said.
Dalton said he declined, and then Hurst said that “if I ever told anyone about Frank (Dame) and him watching the videos, then he would fire me,” according to the June 14 email he sent to the chairman of the board.
“I didn’t have anyone I felt I could go to,” Dalton said in an interview. “I had this burden on me for six months."
Only when Dalton got another job outside Florida did he alert Auslander, who hired the law firm to investigate. It interviewed 15 current and former employees and did a forensics analysis of computers, phones and iPads of five employees before concluding that the recording was not intentional and the viewing was a case of Hurst and Dame wondering what they should do, the newspaper reported.
The forensics analysis also found that the video was not copied before it was deleted, Auslander added.
Hurst resigned on July 31 while on paid leave amid the investigation, and the organization is evaluating whether discipline for other employees is necessary, he said.
The room where the women changed clothes was described as a utility room near the dolphin tank. Auslander said they're trying to determine why a camera was there in the first place. Hurst, who had worked there for 11 years, was in charge of the camera program, which is “one of the reasons Mike Hurst is not there anymore,” Auslander said.
Hurst did not respond to attempts to reach him and Dame deferred comment to Auslander; a representative of the workers who were recorded also declined to comment, the newspaper reported.
The aquarium is nearing completion of an $80 million expansion at its facility, which includes new dolphin pools, new guest space and expanded education and hospital facilities.