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How 'fat shaming' on Snapchat turned into a criminal investigation

Last week, Playboy model Dani Mathers took a photo of a nude woman in a locker room shower at an LA Fitness gym and posted it on Snapchat with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either.”

Mathers immediately faced the wrath of critics on social media who accused her of fat shaming, violating the woman’s privacy and worse. Mathers apologized, but that has done little to quell the storm.

The Los Angeles Police Department has launched a criminal investigation into the matter and is looking for the woman whom Mathers photographed.

Legal experts said that in the era of social media and smartphones, prosecutors are increasingly grappling with cases in which people have aspects of their personal life unwittingly exposed on social media.

“The person appears to have an expectation of privacy in the gym shower,” said Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor who represented several clients in voyeurism criminal cases.

LAPD Capt. Andrew Neiman said the department received a report of an “illegal distribution" of the image last week from LA Fitness.

On Friday, LA Fitness responded to Mathers’ action by permanently revoking her membership at all of its health clubs.

“Her behavior is appalling and puts every member at risk of losing their privacy,” said Jill Greuling, the company’s executive vice president of operations. The company would not say at which gym the incident occurred.

“Our written rules are very clear: Cellphone usage and photography are prohibited in the locker rooms,” Greuling said. “This is not only our rule, but common decency.”

Mathers issued an apology on Snapchat and she apparently deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

“That was absolutely wrong and not what I meant to do,” she said. “I know that body-shaming is wrong. That is not the type of person I am.”

She said the photo was meant to be sent as a private message but was posted publicly.

State law prohibits recording and photographing someone in a private setting in which they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such a crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

Although Mathers’ attorney might argue she didn’t mean to post the photo publicly, Gorin said her comments could be used to show her motive for taking the photo in the first place.

Prominent defense attorney Lou Shapiro noted that images posted on Snapchat are temporary and are automatically deleted after 24 hours. Still, he said, “a judge could take a dim view of the action and really want to see her punished.”

For now, detectives on the LAPD’s West Los Angeles station are piecing together the facts.

As of Monday, they were still looking for the woman photographed in the locker room.

“Without a victim, we can’t go forward,” LAPD spokeswoman Officer Jenny Houser said.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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