tampabay.com

Lafave's attorney tries to block photos

Detectives took intimate photographs of the ex-teacher accused of sex with a student.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX
Published September 14, 2005


TAMPA - Everybody knows about Debra Lafave. They know about her alleged trysts with a 14-year-old student. They even know what she was wearing that day in the portable classroom.

But few know about the graphic photos police took of the former Greco Middle School teacher. On Tuesday, Lafave's attorney filed a motion to block public access to six photos taken of her last year, saying officers violated Lafave's constitutional right to privacy when they shot close-ups of her genitals.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne S. Timmerman is scheduled to hear the motion next week.

"We don't believe that the search warrant issued by the judge authorized them to do this," said John Fitzgibbons, Lafave's attorney. "At this point, anybody could literally go into the State Attorney's Office, get copies of these photographs, put them on the Internet, and the world would have access to them."

There's been no shortage of public interest in Lafave's case since she was arrested in front of her former student's Temple Terrace home on June 21, 2004. The teenage boy told police he had sex with Lafave, 25, on three occasions.

Questioned by detectives a week before Lafave's arrest on charges of lewd and lascivious battery, the boy told them things about his teacher that only intimate contact would have revealed. He mentioned belly button rings and butterfly tattoos. Then he told them about Lafave's "V" shaped tan line along her waist and that she had shaved her pubic area in a "unique" pattern.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco issued a search warrant last year authorizing Temple Terrace investigators to collect evidence that would verify the victim's account. When detectives brought Lafave to the county jail, they told her they had a warrant to photograph her body, according to the motion filed Tuesday.

A nurse draped a sheet over Lafave and a female jailhouse deputy snapped four pictures of her hips, legs and back. Then they placed Lafave's feet in stirrups and took two close-up photos of her genitals that Fitzgibbons described as "pornographic."

When they tried to take pictures of Lafave's breasts, she refused, Fitzgibbons said.

"They didn't need to do it this way," he said. "It's just outrageous."

Under Florida's public records laws, any citizen can request access to the Lafave photos.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Sinacore pointed out that there have been other Hillsborough cases where alleged sex offenders' genitals were photographed.

"If it's necessary to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt to show graphic photographs, it's the state's job to produce the photographs and the jury's job to view them," Sinacore said.

Allison Taylor, executive director of the Council on Sex Offender Treatment, an independent Texas state agency that manages convicted sex offenders, said the practice may seem invasive but so is the practice of photographing victims' genitals to corroborate their accounts.

Taylor said she doubts the issue would get as much attention if Lafave were less attractive or if the accused offender was a man.

"If you turned the table and it was a good looking male and that was done to a little girl, the scenario is he would have been crucified," Taylor said.

Temple Terrace police spokeswoman Paula MacDonald declined to comment on the photos of Lafave, saying the case is now in the hands of the State Attorney's Office.

--Candace Rondeaux can be reached at 813 226-3337 or rondeaux@sptimes.com