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‘I was afraid to see him’: Women speak out after former Carroll fitness center owner’s ‘peeping Tom’ conviction

Sometime in early 2019, Sara Demetrakis began hearing an odd, rattling sound in the bathroom of the sports club in Hampstead where she worked.

What she first perceived as a coincidence turned into a reliable pattern: She would leave her office for a bathroom break, pass by the desk of the owner of the Four Seasons Sports Complex, hear noises from the corner closet while in the stall and then return to find that the owner had vacated his desk.

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Weeks passed before she decided to confide in her co-worker, Katie Lienau, who then realized she, too, had been hearing the same sounds.

Then in May 2019, they confirmed their worst fears.

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On March 1, Gregg Newman, former owner of the sports club, was found guilty on one count of misdemeanor visual surveillance, referred to in Maryland Judiciary Case Search as the “peeping Tom” statute. Newman was sentenced to 30 days in jail, all of which was suspended, and three years of probation.

Demetrakis and Lienau are two of three women who have come forward to speak out about the lasting impacts of being spied upon in various states of undress that include health conditions, financial duress and emotional trauma. While Newman had previously been charged with the same crime nearly two decades ago, he had been able to continue his life and work at the sports complex.

Now, Demetrakis says she is speaking out so the community can know what exactly happened.

“I think it’s important to get this out because people just don’t know what happened and the employees never told anyone what happened,” Demetrakis said.

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According to court documents, Newman had been watching two of his female employees use the restroom without their knowledge.

Facts that were read at the plea hearing from the Carroll County State Attorney’s Office reveal that Newman had been watching the women through a removed ceiling tile above the facility, an opening he was able to access via a ladder in an adjoining room. Demetrakis and Lienau jointly filed a civil lawsuit in October 2019; it was dismissed in July 2020. Criminal charges were filed against Newman after the investigation was completed in April 2020.

The two co-workers weren’t the first to accuse Newman of similar behavior. Kimberly O’Banion, a camp counselor at the center who was 18 at the time, alleges that she saw Newman’s face in the ceiling while changing in a restroom stall at the fitness center nearly two decades ago.

In an interview for this story, O’Banion said criminal charges were filed and that, by her recollection, Newman received probation before judgment.

A representative from the Office of the State’s Attorney for Carroll County said the office could not comment on whether there had been a criminal case against Newman in 2002. No record of this case exists in electronic records available through Maryland Judiciary Case Search, and there aren’t any public documents available through the court system.

According to the Maryland Courts website, probation before judgment is a “fairly common disposition.” Cases adjudicated in this manner, with some exceptions such as driving while intoxicated, are eligible for expungement if the probationary period is successfully completed and no other charges against the person are filed within three years. If expungement is granted, information about the case is removed from court and law enforcement records, as if it never existed.

According to Carroll County Circuit Court listings in the July 31, 2005, edition of the Carroll County Times, Gregory Newman, 2710 Hampstead-Mexico Road, Hampstead (the address of Four Seasons), who had been “charged with ‘being a peeping Tom,’ ” received probation before judgment, one year of probation and was ordered to pay $55 by Judge Marc G. Rasinsky on April 21, 2005. It is unclear if this pertains to the incident O’Banion referred to.

Newman’s attorney, Samantha Smith, did not respond to several requests left with staff at her office for comment.

Attempts to reach Newman were also unsuccessful. Multiple voicemail messages left seeking comment at a phone number found for him online were not returned.

The popular fitness club was sold to Coppermine in 2019. The incidents occurred under previous ownership. Alex Jacobs, the owner of Coppermine Four Seasons, said Newman had not been on the premises of the facility since the sports club was acquired in 2019 and that Coppermine had no affiliation with Newman.

“We follow best practices with all of our 12 locations,” Jacobs said when asked if the sports club had taken steps to prevent a similar situation from occurring on the premise again.

Jacobs said that while he heard rumors of the allegations, he did not know the details or that charges had been filed.

‘Reputation was ruined’

In fact, few individuals in the community seemed to know the truth of Demetrakis’ and Lienau’s abrupt departure, they said.

Both women said they are still struggling with the effects of Newman’s voyeurism years after the events transpired.

Lienau said the incident has left her suffering from frequent panic attacks and describes herself in the immediate aftermath as having become paranoid, scared and anxious.

Where she was once a working mother as the director of the club’s early learning center, her family has now become a single-income household. Where she previously had been an active member of the Carroll County community, she now rarely leaves her house. For a while, she even avoided her local Walmart for fear of seeing the man who had violated her privacy at a place she described as a “second home.”

The victim statement Lienau read in court paints a picture of betrayal that goes far beyond being a longtime employee of the club. She and her husband, who had worked as the general manager of the sports club for over a decade, had a friendship with Newman and his wife that included dinners, trips to Deep Creek Lake and collaborations on home projects. Newman and his wife had even attended their wedding as guests.

“My husband and myself trusted him, and he shattered that in so many ways,” she said in her statement to the court. “My husband is not here with me today, not because he doesn’t support me, but because he doesn’t trust himself or his anger enough to be here.”

Misinformation surrounded the departure of both women from the sports club, they said. While Demetrakis was able to secure employment afterward, Lienau said the incident tarnished her professional reputation as a child care provider. Parents were told that she left abruptly after being informed the child care center in the club would be closing.

“People assumed that I didn’t like that decision, and I stormed out. My professional reputation was ruined, and people thought the worst of me and how I handled myself,” Lienau said. “Meanwhile I felt responsible for leaving parents without stable child care and staff without jobs, and so many unanswered questions.”

Along with anxiety, Lienau felt guilt. “I care about what people think of me and lay awake at night hoping that people could understand what I had to do,” she said.

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Worst fears realized

Lienau had been director of the center’s day care for six years when she and Demetrakis decided to investigate the area to determine if their fears were valid.

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Demetrakis inspected the closet on a day that Newman did not come to work and what she saw confirmed her fears — against the wall of the closet was a ladder that led to a ceiling where a tile was out of place, according to facts read into the record provided by the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Lienau said all the evidence culminated when one day “everything clicked.” During one particular visit to the restroom, she heard the closet door shut followed by the sound of keys jingling. Instead of using the restroom, she washed her hands, fixed her ponytail and left.

It was that day that Lienau told her husband, who was aware of Newman’s alleged incident from the early 2000s. He confronted Newman that same week. Newman denied the incidents and the following Monday both Lienau and Demetrakis quit. The same week they filed a police report and later filed a lawsuit.

It was then that Lienau had her first panic attack and the start of many for Demetrakis.

“The panic attacks were endless,” Demetrakis said. “I’m still currently going to therapy, and I physically wasn’t able to even go in public because I was afraid to see him and got started on anxiety medicine because I had panic attacks every single time I’d be out in public.”

Both Demetrakis and Lienau participated in the criminal case against Newman. Six charges were filed in April 2020 after an investigation by Maryland State Police was completed. Five of the charges were not prosecuted.

Newman pleaded not guilty with an agreed-to statement of facts to the misdemeanor visual surveillance charge, which effectively acts as a guilty plea, on March 1. He received a suspended 30-day sentence. The maximum sentence for the “peeping Tom” offense is a 30-day sentence and a $1,000 fine.

Demetrakis, who had been an employee at Four Seasons for four years, said she couldn’t understand why she had been targeted.

“It caused depression,” she told the court in her victim statement. “There were times I would be in my room alone, just crying. Thinking to myself, ‘Will I ever feel normal again?’ ”

Like Lienau, Demetrakis felt guilty about leaving abruptly.

“It’s hard hearing things when people don’t know why I left,” Demetrakis said. “I would never just leave abruptly without explanation if what happened didn’t happen.”

“Wasn’t really taken that seriously”

O’Banion, who said she caught Newman watching her change at Four Seasons in 2002 when she worked there as a camp counselor, said she isn’t surprised the former owner was not held accountable.

“It was kind of the running joke that when you heard something, like ‘Oh, that’s just Gregg up in the ceiling.’ I don’t think I was the first victim,” O’Banion said.

Like Demetrakis, she said she had begun hearing sounds come from the corner but assumed the noises were coming from the nearby men’s locker room.

But one day as she was changing into a swimsuit, she looked up to see Newman’s face looking down at her from the ceiling tile. She was completely naked.

She immediately covered herself, got dressed and went to the front desk to see if Newman, who was something of a handyman, was fixing the ceiling tiles. When the secretary informed her that Newman was not, O’Banion had the secretary call Newman and then nervously confronted him in front of other employees.

O’Banion said when she told Newman she saw him in the ceiling, he denied the incident had happened. Afterward, police came with a search warrant, O’Banion said, and she participated in filing charges against Newman, which she said resulted in a misdemeanor charge for which he received probation before judgment.

Though other employees were aware of the incident, O’Banion said it was downplayed.

“I just felt like it wasn’t really taken that seriously,” she said

Co-workers and acquaintances, she said, told her, “He didn’t hurt you; he didn’t touch you. You should be fine.”

O’Banion said she has difficulty using public restrooms since the incident.

“I remember there was one time that I had to go to the restroom in public somewhere, and one of the ceiling tiles was missing, and my heart started beating fast and I ran out of the restroom, was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to go in there,’ ” she said.

Mathew Luzuriaga, attorney for Demetrakis and Lienau, said he is pleased the state’s attorney’s office took on “this important and challenging case which could have easily gone unnoticed.”

Accountability for the “peeping Tom” misdemeanor varies across the country. While in some states a person found guilty might be required to register as a sex offender, that is not the case in Maryland. Being found guilty of visual surveillance that was prurient — among the charges against Newman not prosecuted — would have required registering.

Of the relatively minor penalty for the crime, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Ashley Pamer said that because the evidence was circumstantial, the state’s attorney’s office decided to pursue the most appropriate charge.

“I think that statute was created long before we were here and it may be an antiquated penalty,” Pamer said. “Hopefully, sometime in front of the legislature, now that times are changing, maybe we can increase that penalty.”

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