In an unusual plea bargain, a Camano Island man recently pleaded guilty to one crime but admits the evidence in the case supports a different charge.
Brandon J. Falk, a Stanwood chiropractor, appeared in Island County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon and pleaded guilty to criminal mistreatment in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor. He was originally charged with a very different crime, voyeurism in the first degree, a felony sex offense, for allegedly video recording an 11-year-old girl while she was changing in a bathroom in June 2022.
In court, the victim and her family members offered lengthy and emotional comment about the impact of the crime. The girl described how the crime stole her childhood and sense of innocence, leaving her depressed and unable to get out of bed some days.
“I can’t just simply be a kid anymore,” she said. “I have been suddenly brought into this disgusting adult world when I was only 11 years old.”
Judge Christon Skinner followed the prosecutor’s recommendation and sentenced Falk to 90 days in jail with 83 days suspended. The judge also ordered him to receive a psychosexual evaluation and complete any recommended treatment.
In his statement of defendant on plea of guilt, Falk maintained his innocence but states that he wished to take advantage of the terms of the prosecutor’s offer and avoid harsher consequences if convicted at trial. He admits that there exists a factual basis supporting the original charge of voyeurism.
In court, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Safstrom explained that he agreed to the plea deal because the case had evidentiary problems, especially since the video was missing from the phone after it passed through several hands. In addition, avoiding a trial would spare children from having to testify.
Safstrom emphasized that nobody denies that the video in question was made and that it captured the young girl undressing in a bathroom of a friend’s home. The only question is of intent.
Falk’s attorney, Lance Haster of Tacoma, agreed, saying the trial would revolve around whether the recording was an accidental or intentional act. He said his client was about to take a shower, got interrupted and left the phone behind. The recording function somehow got tripped inadvertently, he said.
Falk allegedly set the phone behind shampoo bottles with the camera facing into the bathroom, according to the investigation by a detective with the Island County Sheriff’s Office.
Under a felony voyeurism charge, the prosecution would have to prove that Falk knowingly filmed the girl for the purpose of “arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person” while the victim was in a place where she had a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
By contrast, a person is guilty of criminal mistreatment in the fourth degree if he is entrusted with the physical custody of a child and, with criminal negligence, creates an imminent and substantial risk of bodily injury to a child by withholding any of the basic necessities of life; or, with criminal negligence, causes bodily injury or extreme emotional distress manifested by more than transient physical symptoms to a child by withholding the basic necessities of life.
Haster pointed out that the case has severe consequences for Falk. He is being investigated by the state Department of Health, the agency that oversees chiropractic licenses.