Charles Gregory Vergin on May 18, 2018 during his preliminary appearance in the Whatcom County Superior Court, where he initially pleaded not guilty. // Photo by Julia Berkman
by Zoe Buchli
Charles Vergin, 57, pleaded guilty to a charge of voyeurism in the second degree on Wednesday, March 13, at the Whatcom County Courthouse.
In May 2018, Vergin was arrested at Wilson Library after a student reported he was taking photos of female students in the library. Voyeurism in the second degree, according to Washington State Law, is when a person takes pictures or videos of another person’s intimate area with an intent to distribute.
Vergin had previously pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on May 25, 2018, before prosecutors had reviewed footage yielded by a search warrant.
Whatcom County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Richardson said the warrant covered Vergin’s electronic devices, including a digital camera and a computer.
“This is a bit different than any voyeurism case that I’ve ever seen,” Richardson said. “It would seem that Mr. Vergin’s interest was not upskirt photographs or photographs that were revealing like you see in most voyeurism cases.”
The photos and videos found on Vergin’s electronic devices were of women who were always clothed, Richardson said, with most of the photos being of young women in jeans; Vergin’s collection included pictures and videos of their shoes.
“We still think these women had a reasonable expectation of privacy and to be free from surveillance … at the university,” he said. “At the same time, this was not that kind of intrusive surveillance.”
Vergin declined to comment when Whatcom County Presiding Judge Deborra Garrett asked if he wanted to say anything.
Bellingham criminal defense attorney Michael Brodsky said he also looked through all of the photos and that all of the women were clothed, and he found no images of undergarments or that include faces.
Brodsky said the voyeurism in the second degree statute requires an intent to distribute, and that there is no evidence Vergin intended to distribute these photos and videos.
“[I think that] Vergin is unlikely to repeat this behavior and understands now that what maybe he felt was harmless was not, in fact, harmless, and that he will change his behavior appropriately and not have to be in front of this court again,” Brodsky said.
According to a university police list of people trespassed from Western’s campus, Vergin was barred from campus on May 17, 2018, and his trespass status remains active. Vergin has received a suspended sentence and will not be serving more time unless he breaks his no contact order from the university, Richardson said.
Garrett said the court and police take the no contact orders very seriously.
“Mr. Vergin, you made a mistake here; it was an invasion of privacy. It certainly could have been worse,” Garrett said when she approved the plea. “But still, it was an invasion of privacy. It was a mistake. And you’re here acknowledging the mistake and I hope you can pay the consequences and then go in a better direction. You’ll have a better life if you do.”