COVER UP IN THE LOCKER ROOMLOOK! UP IN THE NORTH BOULDER REC CENTER CEILING! IT'S A JANITOR!
Rumors about a Peeping Tom had circulated among staff members at the North Boulder Recreation Center for years, and when a janitor was caught in the rafters above the locker rooms, employees thought the matter had finally come to a close. But no charges were filed, and the janitor returned to work following a brief suspension.
City officials tried to hush up the incident, according to employees at the rec center on North Broadway. And instead of applauding the efforts of cashier Caroline Schuler, who played a pivotal role in catching the janitor, Parks and Recreation managers are harassing her, say staff members. "They've made her life hell," says one former worker.
Schuler, cooperating with police, personally sprinkled purple "sneak-thief powder" in a crawl space above the ceiling of the locker rooms one day in December, and janitor Ed Godoy was spotted shortly afterward by police trying to wash the powder off his hands. Godoy claimed he was keeping an eye out for a suspected thief in the men's locker room, but he received a two-week suspension for his unauthorized presence in the rafters. Rec center officials have been careful not to accuse Godoy of being a Peeping Tom, and he has not been charged with any crime.
Late last week, however, after fielding a flurry of questions about the incident from reporters, city officials decided to transfer both Godoy and Schuler. "It was a mutual decision we made with the custodian," explains Chris Dropinsky, the city's director of parks and recreation. "When we sat down with him and discussed what the public perceptions were [regarding his presence at North Boulder], we thought this was best. We want our patrons to be comfortable." Dropinsky cites "heightened public interest" because of impending news coverage as a factor in the decision.
It hasn't been determined where Godoy will be working. Schuler is being transferred to the East Boulder rec center. That move, says Dropinsky, is "temporary" and "coincidental." Schuler says she thinks it's neither; she calls it further harassment.
The incident brought to light possibly two decades of voyeurism at the facility. One former janitor recalls that in the mid-1970s, it was common knowledge among custodians that anyone entering the ceiling could move tiles above the women's locker room and leer at patrons dressing and showering below. Some of his co-workers indulged in that opportunity, he says. And in the mid-1980s, a janitor was caught masturbating in the crawl space above the women's area. He resigned soon after.
In the most recent incident, Schuler was hailed as a hero by some of her co-workers but was reprimanded for discussing the episode and got poor marks from her boss in a job evaluation several weeks later. Now she's pursuing a grievance against the city for alleged harassment. "This whole thing is so morally wrong and so badly handled, and I'm going to fight it," Schuler says.
The janitor declines to talk about the incident. "The allegations will continue, no matter what I say," says the 48-year-old Godoy. "I do feel I've been treated unfairly by the people making accusations. I'd really rather not discuss it." (He also holds a full-time custodial job at the Williams Village dorm towers at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His boss, Ken Geary, says Godoy does a good job there.)
Schuler got actively involved in the episode after another employee noticed a hole about two and a half feet square high in the ceiling of the janitor's closet. The hole was easily reached with a ladder kept in the closet, which is adjacent to the locker rooms. "That got me thinking," says the employee, who declines to be identified by name.
Schuler, who had noticed what she terms odd disappearances of the janitor during his shift, took their suspicions to Linda Kotowski, director of the city's recreation division. Kotowski and Mike Patton, head of personnel for the city, inspected the closet and access hole and contacted Boulder police.
Early on the afternoon of December 15, Schuler says, a female detective arrived at the center with a jar of the anti-thief powder, a marker dye that can be used to detect intruders. The two entered the women's locker room and removed a ceiling panel above a row of lockers. When the detective was unable to climb up into the ceiling, Schuler hopped onto the lockers and spread the powder herself on the top of a common wall running between the locker rooms and around the entrance hole in the janitor's closet.
By seven that evening, Godoy was in police custody after being found at the sink in the men's locker room trying to wash the dye from his hands.
An inspection of the crawl space by police officer Tom Grange found that a number of ceiling tiles above the women's locker room had been moved to permit views of the area below. Another city employee who surveyed the rafter area says a plank had been positioned over the women's toilet and sink area. "You could lie up there all day on that," he says.
According to a police report, the janitor claimed that he was in the ceiling monitoring the movements of a possible thief in the men's locker room and that his behavior was "standard operating procedure" approved by rec center manager Al Quiller.
But Quiller told police that Godoy had not notified him of his activity in the ceiling--activity that was neither standard nor approved. When Quiller's response was relayed to Godoy, the janitor replied that he was acting "above and beyond the line of duty," according to the police report.
A panel appointed to review the incident recommended that Godoy be briefly suspended for his unauthorized trip to the rafters. No other action was taken. Some employees at the rec center say they remain upset with the way the city handled the incident. "Everyone here thinks the guy should have been fired," says one. "But the city swept it under the rug, put a gag order on us and hoped the whole thing would go away."
It didn't go away as quickly as the incident eight years ago in which Robin Lamoreux, then in charge of building maintenance for city recreational facilities, caught a janitor fondling himself in the crawl space above the women's area. He forced the man's resignation, Lamoreux says. Now he regrets letting the culprit go quietly. "He has no record, and today he could very well be working at another facility that has locker rooms," he says.
So when Lamoreux got a call from a staff person at the North Boulder Rec Center last November saying that another peeper might be at work, he advised the staffer to "go by the book" and get the police involved. That advice--strictly unofficial, because Lamoreux had left the department in 1992--may have been a mistake, he says now. "At least the way I did it," notes Lamoreux, "the guy was gone."
Godoy remained on the evening shift at North Boulder Rec, despite protests by some staffers that he was skulking around in the ceiling.
"There's no question that he was up in the ceiling that night," says personnel director Patton. "There's substantial question about what he was doing up there."
City parks manager Bob Peck, a member of the three-person panel that reviewed the incident, says, "There was not enough direct evidence to warrant termination." Peck acknowledges that the purple dye had been disturbed in areas providing views of the women's locker room, but he argues that the powder also would have been disturbed by a person monitoring the men's locker room. "It didn't prove he was up there looking into the women's locker room," says Peck. "He was not authorized to be up there and should not have been up there for any reason--that's the reason he was suspended."
Sergeant Joe Pelle of the detective division says he decided not to file charges against Godoy. "We know he was in the ceiling," says Pelle. "We know he was probably looking down there. But the difficulty was finding somebody who could say they didn't have their clothes on at the exact time he was up there." (According to state statute, there must be a victim on record for a peeping offense to occur.)
That irks Schuler, who says, "He was caught purple-handed. If they would have asked five minutes after it happened, they would have found people who were victims."
Pelle says that as far as he knows, police didn't seek out women who might have been in the locker room at the time, though a detective did check with the rec center in the days following the incident and found that nobody claiming to be a victim "had come forward."
But employees say patrons were never informed that there may have been a Peeping Tom. "The city wanted to cover the whole thing up," says a former employee. "They didn't want us talking about it."
Anyway, Pelle says, the police investigation of the incident was never directed toward filing criminal charges. "Our hope and our objective was to get the behavior to stop by ID-ing him and having it handled administratively through employment sanctions," Pelle says.
Boulder police chief Tom Kolby confirms that reasoning, saying, "There was confusion on the part of the officers as to whether they were assisting Parks and Recreation in a personnel matter or whether the expectation was that it would be a criminal matter."
Dropinsky denies there was any attempt to cover up the incident. She blames that impression on a misinterpretation by employees of management's attempt to stem the spread of erroneous information. "We found out later the message that employees had was not to talk to anybody about it," she explains. That misunderstanding was "clarified" at a March meeting between staff and management, says the department director.
But some of Godoy's fellow workers are irate. "Every staff member felt like he should have been fired," says one former worker. Three staffers say they quit because of the city's handling of the incident.
"The ethics of how it was handled really disturbed me," says one. "Caroline Schuler was the one who got punished. Al Quiller gave her marks on her evaluation that were unheard of--ones and twos out of a possible ten. Then a girl just out of college was hired as head cashier, and Caroline had been there for years."
Schuler was reprimanded by recreation director Kotowski in January for discussing the episode with fellow workers. "We advised our employees not to discuss the incident among themselves, because inaccurate information in the form of rumors was being passed along," Kotowski explains. "As supervisors, we have a duty to try to keep the workplace as free from rumors as possible, because rumors make the workplace unproductive."
Yet Schuler was in a restaurant, not a city building, when the discussion in question took place. "Yes, well, the reprimand was withdrawn a few days after it was issued," replies Kotowski. But her gag order on conversations about the incident remains in effect today. The idea, she says, is to have employees who need "information clarified" about the episode to come to her or Quiller, who are familiar with the findings of the review committee.
But the staff meeting held in March to clear the air was laughable, reports one employee. "They just blew off our questions," says the worker. "Mike Patton said the issue had been investigated and the conclusion was there was no conclusion. And Linda Kotowski was like, `I was on vacation when this happened. I'm not part of this. I'm not responsible.'"
Robin Lamoreux, now a self-employed home inspector, is angry. "I thought nothing could be more appalling to me than the act [of voyeurism] itself," he says. "But I'm even more appalled at the way upper-management people there--and two of the main ones are women--just want to sweep this thing under the rug."
Before the decision last week to transfer Godoy and Schuler, Dropinsky contended that the city had dealt with the matter effectively, adding, "Our number-one concern is the health and safety of our patrons. And we've taken steps to make the building safe and secure."
Lamoreux, for one, didn't buy it. Look at the hole in the janitor's closet, he said. "The City of Boulder's solution is a piece of plywood and four Phillips screws," he noted. "And I know that guy has a screwdriver.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.