A Montgomery County Circuit Court jury has found a Chevy Chase man liable for more than $1 million in damages for using a hidden camera to spy on a former tenant and her then-boyfriend.
The jury verdict against Dennis Van Dusen, reached at the end of a four-day trial, includes $400,000 in punitive damages.
Van Dusen, 64, pleaded guilty in April to three counts of visual surveillance with prurient intent for spying on multiple tenants. He was sentenced in July to five years’ probation and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.
Jessica Prywes, one of Van Dusen’s tenants, filed the civil suit in December 2012 along with Keith Woodhams Jr.
“They feel justice was finally done,” said Donna E. McBride, the plaintiffs’ lawyer. “They feel he’s finally paying for what he did to them.”
Due H. Tran, Van Dusen’s lawyer and a Falls Church, Va., solo practitioner, said Friday he could not comment on the possibility of an appeal. He reiterated what he said in his opening statement last Monday, that the question in the case was not liability but the amount of damages. The lawsuit sought $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
Prywes moved into the house on Jan. 1, 2012 and changed rooms that May, according to the complaint. That October, she and Woodhams noticed a pinhole in the smoke detector directly above her bed, took the smoke detector apart, discovered the camera and called police.
A police search of Van Dusen’s computers and hard drives found sexually explicit images of many tenants, including Prywes, who has since moved to California.
McBride, of Miller, Miller & Canby Chtd. in Rockville, said jurors she interviewed following the trial were “very emotional,” some in tears.
“I think they were disgusted by him,” McBride said of Van Dusen. “I think they found his behavior vile.”
McBride told jurors during the trial that experts described Van Dusen’s office space as a “NASA control room” in its technological sophistication, and that he edited some explicit videos together and stored them in a hard drive on his computer labeled “Keep.”
Montgomery County detectives testified they reviewed 155 videos from Van Dusen’s hard drives. Van Dusen, in a videotaped deposition played during the trial, said he did not know how many videos he had but strongly denied ever seeing Prywes and Woodhams being physically intimate. Police do not believe he shared the videos online.
Tran told jurors Van Dusen took on tenants because he needed help paying the mortgage and that the smoke-detector camera worked automatically because of a motion detector.
The jury of three men and three women deliberated for two hours Wednesday afternoon before returning with its verdict, which awarded Prywes more than $340,000 and Woodhams more than $301,000 in compensatory damages, according to McBride.
After additional testimony Thursday, the jury awarded punitive damages of $300,000 to Prywes and $100,000 to Woodhams.
Van Dusen has multiple master’s degrees from Harvard University and graduated from the University of the District of Columbia’s law school in 2009, according to a transcript posted on his personal website. The Maryland Court of Appeals admitted Van Dusen to the state bar Oct. 5, 2012, despite receiving an unfavorable report from the Character Committee that covers Montgomery County.
A separate civil lawsuit against Van Dusen filed by another tenant is scheduled for trial at the end of February.
Separately, Van Dusen on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against a third former tenant for defamation of character, slander and infliction of emotional distress for allegedly speaking about her experience on “Inside Edition.” He is representing himself in that case, according to court records.
PRYWES, ET AL V. VAN DUSEN
Montgomery County Circuit Court
Joseph A. Dugan Jr.
Plaintiffs’ verdict for $1,042,704.17: $642,704.17 in compensatory damages, $400,000 in punitive damages
Incident: January 2012 to October 2012
Suit filed: Dec. 7, 2012
Verdict: Jan. 29, 2014 (compensatory damages)- Jan. 30, 2014 (punitive damages)
Donna E. McBride of Miller, Miller & Canby Chtd. in Rockville
Due H. Tran, Falls Church, Va., solo practitioner
Invasion of privacy