Chappaquiddick residents requested immediate action be taken by Edgartown Police Department and the town’s select board to order the removal of five cameras said to be illegally recording residents as they get their mail.
The cameras, which were allegedly placed “directly behind” a group of mailboxes on Chappaquiddick Road known as the Enos lots, reportedly are “located at knee height behind the mailboxes, aimed upward in what is referred to as an ‘up-skirt’ view,” according to a petition sent to the select board. As claimed by the letter, the cameras had been placed by owners of a nearby residence, and “have been recording every resident’s movements around the mailboxes, and recording everything said.”
Though the issue came to light at Monday’s Edgartown select board meeting, the dispute over the cameras has been festering since November, according to police reports.
The notice to the select board was written by Robert Fynbo. Fynbo owns property where a 115-foot cell tower was erected after vigorous opposition by neighbors Dana and Robert Strayton that included legal challenges.
The group of mailboxes, which have been in place for 80 years, according to the letter of complaint, are located on town property. The 12 residents of the Enos lots signed the request, in hopes of “ending this ongoing harassment of Chappy residents.”
In response to the petition, select board member Arthur Smadbeck said, “These cameras don’t belong on town property, no permission was ever asked or granted. I think it’s very appropriate for us to ask to have the cameras removed.”
Chief McNamee confirmed that the owner of the cameras, Robert Strayton, faces a show-cause hearing on a criminal charge of illegal wiretapping. According to Massachusetts’s wiretapping law, also known as the “two-party consent” law, voice recording without permission is generally considered a felony. The cameras that were installed include audio recordings, McNamee told The Times.
“There is a lot of acrimony among those neighbors over the tower,” Chief McNamee told The Times. “I don’t know what prompted Mr. Strayton to put up the cameras on the property.”
According to a police report, the Straytons installed the cameras after a cinder block they placed to keep water from running off Chappaquiddick Road onto their property kept getting removed. They allege that Fynbo was responsible for moving it.
Responding to a request to comment on the charge, Strayton confirmed he is facing a hearing on the wiretapping charge, but denies the cameras were intentionally “shooting upwards in questionable angle,” as stated by the petition. He states he had initially placed the cameras there in order to prevent what he says has been an “ongoing campaign” of constant “vandalism” and “harassment.”
“At what point do I have a right to protect my property, my family, and their health, safety, and well-being? The most passive way that I could do that would be to install security cameras,” said Strayton. He also vehemently asserts that the cameras and the mailboxes are located on his property, although Town Highway Superintendent Allen DeBettencourt confirmed the property belongs to the town.
Fynbo did not respond to a message left at his office seeking further comment.
Chief McNamee said he has reached out to Strayton to have the cameras removed from town property, but if he doesn’t respond, the highway department will be dispatched to take them down.
Additionally, Enos lot resident Donna Kelly faces a charge in connection with allegedly damaging one of the cameras. Initially, police suspected Fynbo of damaging the camera, based on comments from the Straytons, but video footage always showed Fynbo wearing sneakers when he went to the mailboxes.
According to a police report, Kelly confirmed owning Merrell hiking boots, which were visible in the footage before the camera was removed. “[Kelly] stated she had not damaged the camera. However, she did remove it from the tree on the day in question, and she had placed it on the ground by the tree,” the report states. “She further stated how frustrated she was with the Straytons, and did not think it was right she was being recorded going to and from her mailbox.”
In other business, the Edgartown select board echoed the concerns of the West Tisbury select board on Monday, and voted to send a request to the Dukes County Commission for an Islandwide forum. The main purpose would be to try to palliate unease stemming from the communication, or lack thereof, among Island representatives regarding the bill filed by state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, which seeks to add a chief operating officer (COO) to the Steamship Authority administration, in addition to establishing term limits on all SSA board members.
“It’s come to a lot of people’s attention that the general public really hasn’t had a forum to listen to what the legislation is about,” said select board member Arthur Smadback. “Some of the other towns have requested that the county have an informational hearing about this, and I think it would be appropriate for Edgartown to have its voice [be heard].”