An Elk River man is being investigated in connection with several cameras that were hidden inside dressing rooms at the Mall of America and Maplewood Mall.
Criminal charges haven't been filed against the 41-year-old suspect, but details of the investigation were revealed in a search warrant affidavit filed Tuesday in Hennepin County District Court.
Authorities contend that the man targeted stores frequented by teenage girls over several months this year. He was arrested in September and released.
The Star Tribune generally does not name suspects who have not been charged.
"On two occasions, the suspect mounted a fake shelf to the fitting room walls at waist height, and mounted the cameras under the shelves so they would not be seen unless someone purposely bent over to look under the shelves," the warrant said regarding the Mall of America cases. "These boxes were constructed so that at first glance they appeared to be only electrical junction boxes."
Officials at the Mall of America (MOA) and Maplewood Mall did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Bloomington police investigated the MOA cases, reporting that four GoPro cameras were hidden in the fitting rooms of Hollister and Forever 21 stores between March and September. They learned of a similar case at the Hollister store at the Maplewood Mall.
"[The suspect] thinks he has done this approximately 10 times in the MOA and other malls around the metro," the warrant said. "He admitted that some of the people he watched dress and undress were possibly children, but he couldn't always tell."
Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Mike Hartley said the department has not identified anyone in the recordings.
The department began receiving complaints about the possibility of cameras in the spring, he said. He would not speculate on whether the activity could have predated those reports.
"This is obviously a lot more elaborate," Hartley said. "Even one [incident] is alarming, but 10 shows that he was able to get away with this and do so in a way that he was comfortable going back and doing it time and time again."
The search warrant affidavit gives this account of the investigation at the Mall of America: The cameras found at the mall, two in each store, were accidentally discovered by employees, who were unsure how long they had been there.
On Sept. 28, a Forever 21 manager saw a man entering a fitting room and recognized him. She had reported seeing him use a fitting room in July and had found a hidden camera after he left.
The manager called police. The suspect was arrested, and a hidden camera was reportedly found in a fitting room two rooms down from his location.
"We learned that he placed that camera in the fitting room and he went into another fitting room to sit and watch/record customers dressing and undressing on his phone," the warrant said.
Police said they also found the suspect's vehicle in a nearby parking lot and found a camera with a telephoto lens.
The suspect told police he lives with his girlfriend and their children from previous relationships, including two juveniles. He admitted to secretly recording his girlfriend and the woman's underage daughter while they were naked, the warrant said.
He also admitted to hiding cameras in the MOA and other metro malls, police said.
"He did it for 'the thrill,' " according to the warrant. His family thought he went to work on days he was at the mall watching victims through his secret cameras."
The suspect told police he constructed the fake electrical boxes at home, and that he had "several hundred" photos and videos of people on his laptop that could "possibly" feature children, the warrant said.
Hartley said police believe the suspect watched people undress in real time from locations near the dressing rooms and that he likely retrieved the cameras soon afterward.
Maplewood Police Cmdr. Dave Kvam said his agency learned of the Maplewood case after Bloomington police sent out a bulletin about their investigation, which referenced Maplewood Mall.
Maplewood police contacted the mall and learned that a Hollister employee had confronted a suspicious man in January who appeared to be removing a camera from a fitting room.
The man fled, but staff recovered a camera mount from the scene, Kvam said, He said the event wasn't initially reported to police.
The case will take time to investigate given the time required to retrieve and review evidence from an iPhone, cameras and laptop, Hartley said.
Bloomington police are asking anyone with information or who believe they may have been victimized to call 952-563-4900.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib