NBPD frustrated with upskirting loophole in Texas law (Updated)

SB 1317 has days left to pass in order to criminalize improper photography

NEW BRAUNFELS, TexasUPDATE: Senate Bill 1317 is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for signing after it cleared the Texas House and Senate, the office of Sen. Jose Menendez said Saturday. 

Original story

New Braunfels police Detective Richard Groff's job is to arrest people who commit crimes against children. But in February he received a call that, ultimately, he could do nothing about.

A mother claimed a man took graphic photos of her young daughter in public.

"He had placed his camera phone up her skirt and possibly took a photograph or videotape," Groff said.

The man told police the incident was a misunderstanding, but he shared past details, according to Groff.

"He voluntarily told me that he had done upskirting photography in the past by putting cameras in briefcases and walking around malls," said Groff.

KSAT 12 cannot name the man accused or where the incident allegedly took place because no criminal charges have been filed -- and currently under Texas law, they cannot be.

"To think that its someone else's right to stick a camera up a little girl's dress? That's just unacceptable," said Comal County District Attorney Jennifer Tharp, who helped draft legislation filed by Rep. Doug Miller, R-District 73, and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-District 25.

"It's one of the worst conversations as an investigator you can have with a victim," Groff said, as he became emotional recalling the call he made to the child's mother saying he could not continue to investigate. "The little girl was frantic and crying afterward and made her mom take her to Kohl's to buy pants."

Last year, the state law banning improper photography was ruled unconstitutional due, in part, to wording that stated the images must be captured for sexual gratification.

Any hope for change in the current law lies in Austin.

Out of the multiple bills filed this legislative session attempting to tighten restrictions on improper photography, only one remains active.

Senate Bill 1317 was authored by Sen. Jose Menendez, D-District 26.

"This is a legal tool with which now, instead of that police officer in New Braunfels saying to that person, 'I'm watching you,' he can arrest him under these charges, take him to the district attorney's office and something's going to happen," Menendez said.

SB 1317 passed in the Senate and the House, but must now return to the Senate after changes to the bill were made in the House.

The Senate must concur on the legislation by June 1 for it to head to Gov. Abbott's desk for his signature.

"These types of actions don't just stop at pictures in my opinion," Groff said. "It's a predatory action. And these guys need to be dealt with and thrown in jail."

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