Crime

SLO County handyman caught years after secretly filming a woman in her home

More than five years after a local handyman worked on their home, an Atascadero couple discovered he had secretly filmed under the wife’s clothes using a concealed camera.

He was convicted of a misdemeanor in August and now is being sued by the victim.

The lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court alleges that Eric L. Owens, owner of local general contracting company Handy Home SLO, invaded the couple’s privacy to gratify his “prurient interests.”

The complaint was filed Wednesday on behalf of Tanya and Robert Degnan of Atascadero following Owens’ no contest plea last month to a misdemeanor charge of use of a device to see through clothing for arousal.

Several calls and emails to Owens’ business for comment have not been returned.

According to its website, Handy Home SLO was established in 2010 and performs repairs, maintenance and remodeling construction services.

The complaint filed Wednesday states that the Degnans hired Owens in May 2013 for various home repairs. Unknown to the couple at the time, Owens “secretly filmed and photographed (Tanya Degnan), with the intent of transferring, storing and keeping such images for his own inappropriate personal use” while working on their house.

One wife alerts another

The couple learned of the incident in November 2018, when Tanya Degnan received a phone call from Owens’ wife stating that she discovered photographs “of an intrusive and revealing nature” of Degnan on Owens’ computer.

“(The photographs) caused (the Degnans) experience shock, horror, trauma, and distress as a result of such an unwarranted invasion of their privacy,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, (Tanya Degnan) continues to be re-traumatized and relives such shock, horror, and distress every time she encounters defendant Owens in the community.”

The couple has incurred and will continue to incur expenses for psychological treatment therapy and counseling, the complaint states.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in damages exceeding $25,000.

Owens does not have an attorney listed for him in court records, and he’s not yet filed a response to the complaint, which Brian Kreowski, the Degnan’s attorney, said was served to him late Thursday.

Misdemeanor crime

Owens had been charged by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office with the single misdemeanor on April 29, and he pleaded no contest at a hearing Aug. 19.

Owens received a 30-day suspended sentence and three years of formal probation. He is required to stay at least 50 yards away from the couple and pay a $280 fine.

His case comes to light days after a former Cal Poly professor was sentenced for using a cell phone to covertly record a colleague in a faculty mail room.

Like Owens, Jason Alan Williams pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor charge and served no jail time. The judge in Williams’ case, however, sentenced the San Luis Obispo resident to five years of probation with strict search terms for his electronic devices.

His victim, Kendra Williams (no relation), has since spoken out about what she says was the university police and Cal Poly administration’s mishandling of the criminal and Title IX investigation, which she says limited what the county prosecutors could charge Williams with.

Kreowski agreed that California law should be updated to allow for heftier sentences in electronic peeping cases.

“It’s a highly offensive act, and it’s a violation that should not go unpunished,” Kreowski said Friday, calling the result of Owens’ sentence a slap on the wrist. “The punishment needs to fit the crime.”

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Matt Fountain is The San Luis Obispo Tribune’s courts and investigations reporter. A San Diego native, Fountain graduated from Cal Poly’s journalism department in 2009 and cut his teeth at the San Luis Obispo New Times before joining The Tribune as a crime and breaking news reporter in 2014.
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