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Mar 22, 2017 11:13 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

UPDATE: Former Poxabogue Golf Center Manager Acquitted; Says He's 'Glad The Truth Prevailed'

Steven Lee, right, with his attorney James O'Shea in Riverhead court on Thursday.  GREG WEHNER
Mar 24, 2017 8:16 AM

UPDATE: Thursday, 5:20 p.m.

Mr. Lee was acquitted of felony second-degree unlawful surveillance by a jury on Thursday afternoon, after almost a day and a half of deliberation.

“I feel great,” Mr. Lee said following the verdict. “After one and a half years, the truth came out. I’ll rebuild myself, and am thankful for the support of my wife and family.

“I’m just glad the truth prevailed,” he added.

Throughout the long deliberations, jury members sent a total of eight notes to Judge Toomey for guidance. On Thursday, two of those notes were asking for the re-reading of the charge, along with definitions of terms like imaging device, broadcast, sexual and other intimate parts and intent.

On Thursday afternoon, the jury was split down the middle, and told Judge Toomey they could not come to a unanimous decision based on the evidence and the facts that were presented. They also said that Juror Number 8 had a death in the family and would not be able to appear in court on Friday.

With the potential of a deadlock, Judge Toomey told jurors to continue to push for a verdict or risk a mistrial, requiring the case to be retried in front of another jury.

Jurors reached a verdict by 4:10 p.m., finding Mr. Lee not guilty of the one charge he faced.

“I want to thank Judge Toomey for giving Steve a fair trial and the jurors for their long deliberation,” Mr. O’Connell said after the verdict was read. “This was a potential tragedy … he lost his job, reputation and good name.

“Steve faced a potential conviction of a sex offence, that would have required him to register as a sex offender for 10 years,” he added.

UPDATE: Thursday, 4:15 p.m.

Mr. Lee was acquitted of the charge by the jury after nearly a day of deliberations on Thursday.

UPDATE: Wednesday, 5:35 p.m.

Jurors started deliberating about whether to find Mr. Lee guilty of second-degree unlawful surveillance on Wednesday at approximately 11:30 a.m., and were unsuccessful in coming up with a verdict, forcing them to continue the case on Thursday.

Throughout the afternoon, jurors sent Judge Toomey three notes seeking guidance, the latest coming at 3:30 p.m. In the latter, jurors asked Judge Toomey what would happen if they did not come up with a verdict by the end of the day, and if juror #11 did not come to court on Thursday.

Judge Toomey called the jury into the courtroom and told them they were all sworn jurors and they are required to come to court until a decision has been made. He then sent them out of the courtroom to continue with their deliberations.

Since a decision was not reached by 4:30 p.m., Judge Toomey decided to break until 9:45 a.m. on Thursday.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A Suffolk County jury began deliberations on Wednesday in a felony case involving the former manager of the Southampton Town-owned Poxabogue Golf Center in Sagaponack, who was arrested in 2015 after being accused of snapping an inappropriate photo that summer of a 16-year-old girl from behind what has been described as a “one-way window” in his office.

Attorneys for Steven Lee, 47, of Ronkonkoma argued in court that their client doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

“Something stupid, yes—something wrong, no,” said James O’Shea, an attorney with Southampton-based O’Shea Marcincuk & Bruyn LLP.

The trial began on Thursday, March 16, before Suffolk County Court Judge John J. Toomey Jr., and wrapped up on Tuesday, leaving it up to a jury to decide whether to convict him of second-degree unlawful surveillance, a felony.

Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney John Cortes described the case as being about an adult male who invaded the privacy of a child by taking a photograph that revealed her underwear, without her being aware the photograph was being taken.

“[Mr. Lee] took the photo through the comfort of his office window as she sat on a bench waiting for her parents, who were golfing that day,” Mr. Cortes told jury members. “[He] made the choice to take advantage of the girl without her even knowing.”

Mr. Cortes said the picture was taken with an Apple iPhone, where it was stored for nearly three months and shared with some of Mr. Lee’s employees. He said it showed her “genitalia,” though covered by her underwear and shorts.

The defense attorneys, on the other hand, downplayed Mr. Lee’s actions. In his opening statements, Mr. O’Shea compared Mr. Lee’s actions to taking a photo of teenage boys who wear their jeans below their waist, exposing their underwear. Both would be considered felony charges under such a strict interpretation of the law, according to Mr. O’Shea.

On Friday, John Haining, who worked as an assistant golf professional at Poxabogue Golf Course, said when he walked into Mr. Lee’s office on July 25, 2015, Mr. Lee was in his chair looking at his phone. Mr. Haining said Mr. Lee then looked at him and said, “Look what I saw,” and proceeded to show him a photo of what appeared to be a young girl casually sitting on the bench outside his office window, her legs apart and her underwear showing through her shorts. He also said Mr. Lee was laughing about the photo.

Mr. Haining said after he was shown the photo, he suggested that Mr. Lee delete the photo. Mr. Lee minimized the screen, and Mr. Haining said he saw that the photo was in a text message with a caption that said, “a view from my office.”

Instead of deleting the photo, testimony from two more of his employees suggested that he showed the photo to them as well.

Eric Schultzel, a golf instructor at Poxabogue Golf Center, testified on Monday that Mr. Lee showed him a zoomed-in version of the picture that same day. Mr. Schultzel said the picture was zoomed in so much that he could not make out anything other than the fact that the photo was a woman’s crotch.

During cross-examination, he admitted that Tuesday was the first time he used the word “zoomed.” In his closing statement, attorney Patrick O’Connell suggested to jurors that Mr. Schultzel was trying to “reach your emotion ... in the absence of evidence.”

At first, Mr. Schultzel said, he did not think much of the picture, until he went to work the next day, and a co-worker asked him if he was shown the picture, and was told the picture was of a minor. “I was a little appalled—confused,” he testified on Monday.

He said he contacted Southampton Town Management Services Administrator Russell Kratoville on July 30, 2015, because he thought he was Mr. Lee’s boss. Mr. Schultzel said he did not report the incident to Town Police until he got an email from Mr. Kratoville telling him to report it to police over a month later.

On September 9, Mr. Schultzel said, he received an email from Mr. Kratoville to provide a summary of the incident, or an affidavit, and to email it to him. Mr. Schultzel said Mr. Kratoville was going to speak with the chief of police, who would assign an investigator.

After getting some help writing the affidavit from a freelance writer, Mr. Schultzel sent the two-page letter to Mr. Kratoville on September 14, and on October 9 he gave a verbal statement to Town Police Officer Michael Poos.

Mr. Lee also showed the photo to Howard Matheson, who was employed at the golf center to do a variety of jobs, according to Mr. Matheson. “He stuck it in my face,” Mr. Matheson said in court on Thursday. “It was a little disturbing to me, because I’m a dad.” He added that Mr. Lee had said, “This might make my wife horny when I get home.”

Mr. Matheson said when he got home that day, he spoke to his family about what had happened. A few days later, Mr. Matheson said, he placed a call to then-Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, to notify her of what the manager of the town-owned golf course was doing. Though he did not speak with the supervisor, he briefly spoke with her secretary, but would not go into details with her.

None of the individuals to whom Mr. Lee showed the image reported the incident to police immediately. In his two-page affidavit, Mr. Schultzel gave two reasons for not reporting the incident: he didn’t know who to report it to, and that July, the time the photo was taken, is the busiest time of year.

According to Town Police Sergeant William Kiernan, who took the stand on Thursday, Mr. Lee was willing to come to police headquarters for questioning, although he was not told why. Sgt. Kiernan said he told Mr. Lee that a couple of coworkers had mentioned he had an inappropriate photo on his phone, and that Mr. Lee willingly handed over the phone.

With Mr. Lee, Sgt. Kiernan and another officer looked through the phone and came across the photo. Sgt. Kiernan said he asked Mr. Lee if that was the photo, and Mr. Lee said, “I don’t know—that was a joke.”

Sgt. Kiernan said that’s when he read Mr. Lee his Miranda rights, then took Mr. Lee’s phone to another room, where he took pictures of the phone with the photo, and processed it as evidence.

Mr. O’Shea asked if a search warrant was obtained before searching the phone, and Mr. Kiernan said one had not been obtained for that search, but a search warrant later was obtained for a comprehensive search of the phone.

“[Mr. Lee] was very surprised that that photo was something he could get in trouble for,” Sgt. Kiernan said. In Mr. Lee’s statement to the police, he said, “I took a picture kidding around … she wasn’t naked … I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Mr. O’Shea and Mr. O’Connell decided not to call Mr. Lee to the stand. “Jim and I are the coaches, Steve is the player—and we chose to bench him,” Mr. O’Connell said on Tuesday.

In Mr. Cortes’s closing arguments, he said just because it is an era of Facebook and other social media platforms, citizens should not lose a right to privacy.

Mr. Cortes said Mr. Lee chose to take the picture and chose who to share it with. He did not chose to share the image with the 16-year-old victim at the time. Instead, he kept it for at least three months for his own viewing pleasure, Mr. Cortes said.

“The image speaks for itself,” Mr. Cortes said. “This photo constitutes unlawful surveillance.”

Last week, Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota, said if Mr. Lee is found guilty, he faces a range of penalties, from no jail time, to probation, up to a maximum indeterminate sentence of between 16 months and four years of incarceration.

Judge Toomey was expected to give the jury the case on Wednesday morning, and a decision was expected later in the day.

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