HOUSTON -- Two local lawmakers are looking at introducing new legislation after seeing 11 News’ story about an ex-convict accused of hiding in a women’s restroom stall with an audio-recording device.
According to a southwest Houston woman, who only wished to be identified as “Tracey,” a man watched as she and her daughter used the restroom at the Café Express in Meyerland on Sunday morning.
Police said the man, identified as Lincoln Moreno, was hiding in a stall next to the mother and her daughter and had a briefcase with him.
“He had electrical tape, duct tape, a sock with a pacifier, a plastic bag, a recording device of some sort,” said Tracey.
Moreno is facing a charge of criminal trespass, a crime that he has been convicted of 18 times before.
Criminal trespass carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail. He’s not charged with a more serious crime because that would require aggressive action involving touching or exposure.
“There’s an extreme flaw in our system. I think everyone in our community feels there is a flaw in our system and I don’t feel that myself, or someone else, can single-handily change the system because it is a huge flaw," said Tracey. “I would like changes in the system and hopefully, eventually, changes in the legislature.”
After hearing of the circumstances in this case, State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, wants to do just that.
“What I’d like to do is add to the law that exists. A penalty for peeping in a restroom that is greater than criminal trespass and also defines it as a sex crime,” said Coleman.
Coleman said he would like to make the crime a state-jail felony, which would carry a maximum punishment of two years behind bars.
“This is something that has to happen because women and children are preyed on too often,” he said.
The state representative introduced similar legislation a few years ago after an 11 News investigation highlighted the issue of cameras in bathrooms. Since that story aired, there is now a law on the books known as “improper photography.” It’s a state-jail felony.
“And it’s the very same thing, except one is in person and one is by video. It seems to me that the ‘in person’ and the video ought to at least be the same penalty,” said Coleman. “We have to have a penalty that fits the crime and the penalty does not fit the crime if someone has had 18 convictions.”
State Sen. John Whitmire, (D-Houston) also wants to tackle the issue. His office is now working with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to see if a harsher charge can be filed against Moreno, and to determine whether Moreno needs mental help.
Whitmire also plans to look at introducing legislation that fixes what his office calls a unique situation.
Coleman said he plans to introduce a bill in January.
Meanwhile, not everyone is in favor of a new law.
“Who is going to be exposed to this charge,” asked Houston defense attorney Patrick McCann, a past president of the Harris County
Criminal Lawyers Association. “The problem is, people want to create a new law to address a problem, but when you draft something like this it can easily start intruding onto innocent conduct.”
McCann says sometimes this type of legislation can be overly broad. He calls this a knee-jerk reaction and says it would be hard to prove that someone was looking at someone in a sexual manner.
Moreno is set to appear in court on Thursday.