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Photos of girls lead to arrest

Author(s): K1MBERLY VETTER Date: June 14, 2007 Section: Metro

A physical education teacher al a Catholic elementary school in Lafayette was arrested Wednesday lor taking pictures of girls in bikinis at Blue Bayou Water Park. Duane Christopher Champagne, 41, was reported to water park management Tuesday afternoon by the mother of one of the girls he photographed, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriffs Office official said.

After the mother's complaint, detectives with the Sheriffs Office found about 50 images of bikini-clad girls between the ages of 10 and 13 stored in Champagne's camera and cell phone, said Fred Raiford, a Sheriffs Office spokesman.

The photographs, which were taken as he was walking near the poo!, focused on the girls' breasts and buttocks, Raiford said. Fifteen of the photographs were of the same girl and four were of a 10-year-old girl.

Detectives and forensic examiners with the Louisiana Department of Justice also found 13,000 images of girls stored in Champagne's home computer, which he willingly let them search, Raiford said. A sampling of the photos shows that most of them are of girls in bathing suits, he said.

Champagne, who teaches physical education at Sts. Leo-Seton Catholic School and lives at 1517 Anse Broussard Highway, Breaux Bridge, told detectives he targeted the girls "because they are cute," Raiford said. Champagne was booked into Parish Prison on one count of video voyeurism.

Monsignor Richard Greene, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, said Champagne's school computer was examined Wednesday and no inappropriate items were found.

The diocese is unaware of any prior allegations of impropriety regarding Champagne, who has fulfilled the diocese's required course on Safe Environment Training for the Protection of Children and Young People, Greene said.

Champagne has "up to this time given no reason to call into question any problems in this area," Greene said. But further action will be taken if needed.

"School officials will strictly enforce the morality provisions of Mr. Champagne's contract and the requirements of the Diocesan Safe Environment Program," Greene said.

If convicted, Champagne could face a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years in jail, according to Louisiana law.

Defense attorney Tommy D'Amico, who is not representing Champagne, said while it's ultimately up to a judge or a jury to decide, he doesn't consider what Champagne did to be video voyeurism.

"I think it's a pretty weak case," said D'Amico, who handled a video voyeurism case last year. "You can't determine the purpose of the photos."

Defined by state law, video voyeurism is the use a recording device to observe someone without their consent for a "lewd or lascivious purpose." What is considered lewd or lascivious is not spelled out.

"I think you would be hard-pressed to find a lewd or lascivious purpose in this case," D'Amico said.

A case D'Amico worked last year, however, involved a man who took "upskirt" photographs of female LSU students at a Highland Road bar.

"Putting a camera under dresses is different," D'Amico said, adding he considered going to court.

But because the man was on probation for an unrelated violation, he pleaded guilty to video voyeurism, which is a felony, and was sentenced to jail for three years.

Video voyeurism was made illegal in 1999 in response to an incident in Monroe, where a man secretly taped a woman in her home for more than two years.

Copyright (c) 2007 Capital City Press, Baton Rouge, La.

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