Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Vancouver Public Schools janitor sentenced in largest voyeurism case in state history

Judge hands down 10-year sentence to James D. Mattson

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
Published:

A former Vancouver Public Schools custodian was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for secretly recording people in women’s staff restrooms at Skyview High School for nearly a decade.

The exceptional sentence — in what the case’s lead detective called “the largest voyeurism case in the history of Washington” — was twice the normal maximum sentence for a conviction of voyeurism, a class C felony.

James D. Mattson, 38, of Vancouver pleaded guilty to 137 counts of first-degree voyeurism during his October arraignment hearing in Clark County Superior Court. The sex offenses occurred between Feb. 13, 2013, and Oct. 10, 2022.

The prosecution previously said most of the images investigators found showed people using women’s staff restrooms at the high school. There was also at least one video recording of a girl dressing in a Skyview locker room.

Authorities have identified 55 victims among the 137 voyeurism counts. Many other victims remain unidentified, according to Senior Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Vu.

In fact, the recordings that make up the 137 counts, which were from the initial review of Mattson’s electronic devices, are “just the tip of the iceberg,” the case’s lead detective, Justin Messman of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, said in a written statement to the court.

Vu previously said investigators had seized multiple computers, two cellphones, 20 thumb drives, 25 SD cards and 14 mini SD cards from Mattson’s Hazel Dell house.

Messman’s statement said the FBI is continuing to search a number of devices — including computer towers and hard drives — that contain more recordings, including suspected sexually explicit material of minors.

Messman said the initial 137 voyeurism counts are a “misrepresentation of the magnitude of Mr. Mattson’s crimes.”

Mattson, who was a custodian at Alki Middle School, had access to all Vancouver Public Schools facilities. The school district previously said it had searched all district buildings after Mattson’s arrest and did not find any cameras.

Dozens of victims speak

Dozens of people, in person and virtually, attended the hearing, which lasted about 3½ hours to allow victims to address the court.

Twenty-five women — the majority who are either current or former Skyview employees — spoke of the impact the case has had on them. For many, the victimization surfaced past trauma.

Some said it changed the way they view others and the world. They spoke of their hurt, anger, shock, disgust and feeling of betrayal.

They noted how Mattson had violated their privacy and his position of trust, in a setting meant to be safe for students and staff.

Several also commented on how a staff restroom is one of the few places they can seek a moment of privacy during the school day. A number of victims said they feel uncomfortable using restrooms outside the home, and they now check for recording devices.

“This is all so heavy,” one victim said. “And the fact that none of us signed up for this is the most devastating part. We didn’t ask to be victims. We didn’t ask for our entire lives to be turned upside down. We didn’t ask for our dignity to be taken.”

Several victims said they are left with unanswered questions: What about the unidentified victims? What about minors who may have been recorded? Were their intimate moments distributed online? Who has seen the images?

One woman said Mattson’s “actions are less a signature of his character than they are a commentary on our society and the enduring culture that envelops it.”

“A society that continues to take and take and take from women without regard or permission. A society that continues to hold women under its oppressive thumb, while building altars to misogyny and mediocrity,” the woman continued. “James Mattson is who he is because our culture has allowed him to be so.”

She asked the judge to “strip every ounce of freedom” from Mattson that’s within his power, while acknowledging that no amount of prison time will “match the dehumanization he has thrust upon us, nor the freedom that he has collectively stolen from us.”

‘I’m deeply ashamed’

When Mattson addressed the court, he said the statements he heard Friday would stay with him forever.

“I’m deeply ashamed of what I’ve done, and I’m so sorry to everyone. I know this got out of control,” he said, adding that he tried to seek help but feared the consequences.

“I can guarantee this will never happen again. And I pray everyday for everyone that I’ve hurt and my family and the community I’ve let down. I can’t put into words how sorry I am. But I’m committed to doing the work that I need to do to never do this again,” he said.

Vu, the prosecutor, had recommended Mattson serve a 15-year prison sentence, based on the nature of the case, number of counts, number of victims, and proportionality to similar cases and how they’ve been sentenced with and without aggravating circumstances.

Mattson’s defense attorney, Erin McAleer, asked that his client receive a five-year sentence. He said Mattson is more than his crimes and should not receive a “punitive” and “excessive” sentence.

“Just as this moment doesn’t define them,” McAleer said, referring to the victims’ statements, “it doesn’t have to be a defining moment for Mr. Mattson.”

Judge David Gregerson said what he was struck by most was the “depth, breadth and time frame” of Mattson’s crimes. He also acknowledged the pain seen in the courtroom, before handing down the 10-year sentence. Additionally, Mattson will serve three years of community custody.

“It is difficult to appropriately express our heartfelt concern, frustration, and hurt for the individuals and our community who have to go through this horrible situation. We are grateful for the courage demonstrated by all those impacted by Mr. Mattson’s actions and remain angry that this former employee took advantage of his position, and the access it allowed, to commit these treacherous acts,” Vancouver Public Schools said in an emailed statement after Mattson’s sentencing.

“We will continue to implement random and periodic searches and other preventive measures in hopes this will never happen again. Our staff and students remain at the heart of everything we do.”

Investigation

According to court records, the criminal investigation began Oct. 5 after Mattson’s live-in girlfriend reported that she discovered a video on his computer of a girl changing clothes in a locker room. The video appeared to have been captured by a hidden camera, placed low to the floor and pointed upward at a high angle. Detectives said they later determined the video was taken at Skyview.

Deputies subsequently conducted searches at Alki and Skyview.

Mattson had worked for Vancouver Public Schools since April 5, 2007, when he started as a substitute custodian. He had been the building operator for Alki since the 2018-2019 school year and also served as Alki’s assistant flag football coach for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, according to the school district. The district officially fired him from his job Oct. 25.

While detectives were serving the search warrant at Mattson’s house, he called his girlfriend. She said he denied placing cameras in student restrooms, but he implied he placed them in staff restrooms, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Investigators noted in the probable cause affidavit there is an unsolved case from 2020, in which staff at Alki reported finding a toiletry kit in a staff restroom that had been modified to secrete a camera. Mattson was employed at Alki at that time.

On Oct. 10, Mattson’s girlfriend reported finding a stash of thumb drives and SD cards, along with a camera and a box of CDs, in the garage. She said she put one of the thumb drives into a computer and saw an image of a woman dressing in a public restroom. Investigators also determined that photo was taken in a staff restroom at Skyview, court records state.

Although Friday’s hearing concluded this criminal case, an injury law firm, Washington Law Center, is representing Mattson’s victims in a potential class-action lawsuit. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office also previously said it’s continuing to investigate.

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