COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A Columbus restaurant owner is facing 23 felony charges pertaining to hidden cameras in his business and his residence.
Dennis Cleveland Thompson was arrested Thursday and appeared in Recorder’s Court Friday morning to answer to the charges of sexual exploitation of a minor, unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance, and knowingly using/installing a device to observe, record underneath or through an individual’s clothing.
Recorder’s Court Judge Julius Hunter ordered Thompson held in the Muscogee County Jail without bound on six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and 11 counts of unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance charges. Hunter did set a $5,000 bond on each of the six knowingly using/installing a device to observe, record underneath or through an individual’s clothing charges.
Hunter called those the “weaker of the charges.”
WRBL was the only news outlet in the courtroom for an initial hearing that lasted more than an hour.
Thompson is co-owner of the Animal Farm, a popular downtown restaurant. The restaurant’s name was never mentioned in the court hearing, it was simply called “the restaurant”. The Animal Farm in a post to its social media Friday afternoon said that Thompson was no longer associated with the restaurant.
Thompson’s attorney, Mark Post, argued for reasonable bail and said his client was innocent of all charges.
“My client did not intentionally record anything,” Post told the court “In that sense, he’s a victim.”
That is not the story that Columbus Police Detective Natalie Smith told the court.
Smith told the court the investigation was ongoing and additional charges are expected when police have chance to search all of the electronic devices that was confiscated.
“There are likely victims that don’t know they are victims,” the detective testified.
Columbus Police were alerted on Sept. 1 of potential criminal activity by Thompson. His co-owner became suspicious when he saw a questionable link on Thompson’s laptop computer.
Police investigators subsequently found two cameras — one in each of the restaurant’s two unisex bathrooms. Additionally, the detective told the court images gathered as evidence suggested cameras had also been placed in a guest bedroom and bathroom of Thompson’s home, where he is accused of videoing a visitor.
An SD card was found in one of the bathroom cameras, according to court testimony. It showed multiple customers and employees in compromised positions. The cameras were aimed at the toilets, the detective said.
Multiple images and videos were found on a Gmail account with the name of “Chef Landon Thompson.” Professionally, Thompson is known as “Landon.” That account was linked to a Google Pay account in Thompson’s name, the detective told the court.
A minor victim read a statement to the court expressing outrage and concern over Thompson’s alleged behavior.