Our team spends a lot of time conducting threat assessment investigations regarding public and corporate figures. As we look deeper to determine if a person making a threat has the interest, motive or means to mount an attack, we sometimes discover the person has visited the home, office or hotel of their intended victim. If residential, office or hotel staff are well trained, they can be the best sources for this information. Their reports of suspicious, inappropriate or unusual activity can provide evidence of stalking – which represents an attack-related behavior.
Consider the Case of Broadcaster Erin Andrews
Fox Sports broadcaster and Dancing with the Stars co-host Erin Andrews has been making headlines again regarding her 2008 peephole incident. She is seeking $75 million in a new lawsuit from the incident that occurred during her stay at a Marriott Hotel in Nashville. Marriott staff informed another guest, Michael Barrett, that Andrews was staying in the hotel and also released her room number to him. Barrett then requested to stay in the room next to Andrews, used his cell phone to look through the hotel peephole and was able to film her walking around in the nude. Barrett invaded her privacy even further by posting the video to the Internet, which quickly went viral.
Andrews’ lawsuit against Barrett and the Nashville Marriott cited invasion of privacy, negligence, “severe and permanent emotional distress” and “embarrassment.” “You violated me and you violated all women,” said Andrews, speaking to Barrett at a trial in 2010. “You are a sexual predator, a sexual deviant and they should lock you up.” Barrett was later sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after admitting to stalking Andrews at three different hotel locations and filming her nude on two separate occasions.
While Andrews was the most high-profile of Barrett’s victims, according to court documents, there were 16 others. Michael Barrett, a 48-year-old insurance exec allegedly compiled birth dates and home addresses on Andrews and more than 30 other women, some of whom were TV sportscasters and stars, authorities said in a pre-sentencing memo to an LA judge.
Critical Lessons to Learn
If the allegation is true that Barrett obtained Andrews’ room number from hotel staff, then fundamental security awareness among employees was clearly lacking. Hotels have long learned sobering liability lessons on not ensuring the safety and security of their guests. In a 1976 court case, a jury ruled in favor of singer Connie Francis, who had sued a Howard Johnson hotel in New York for negligent security measures after an unknown man entered her room through an unsecured sliding glass door and assaulted her.
Unfortunately, today’s technological advances have greatly invaded our privacy as citizens and taken stalking to a whole new level of sophistication. “Reverse peephole viewers” are available for purchase that allow someone to surreptitiously look into a hotel room and insert a small filming device. To mitigate this problem, many hotel rooms now have peephole covers for guests so they can still safely answer the door without exposing the room through the peephole. If you’re ever in the situation where you are concerned about your privacy and your hotel does not have this feature, a piece of tape over the peephole is a good option.
Training is Imperative
In my opinion, Andrews’ incident could have been prevented had hotel staff been properly trained, especially in preventing targeted violence. It is absolutely critical that hotel staff are aware of what constitutes suspicious behaviors towards their guests. Understanding basic tenets of security and disseminating security awareness training to all hotel staff on a regular basis and as part of new employee orientation is essential. As with all facilities, staff members can be a security force multiplier if they promptly report suspicious behavior.
3 Key Questions Hotel Security Must Ask
Hotel security or law enforcement should pay particular attention to the potential targeted guest and attempt to determine the following:
- Is the subject known to the guest? If so, to what degree?
- Is the subject acquainted with the guest’s work and lifestyle patterns?
- Is guest information readily available from hotel staff?
If you would like to know more about establishing policies and procedures at your hospitality venues, please contact me.