Video Suspect Is Found Dead
No Formal Charges Were Filed, but Landlord Allegedly Spied on Vineyard Haven Tenant; an Apparent Suicide
By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer
A sordid Vineyard story turned tragic this week, when a local electrician who was under police investigation for allegedly videotaping a female tenant in her bathroom was found dead in his home on Wednesday night.
Richard T. Lehman, 50, lived on Franklin street in Vineyard Haven next door to a home he had rented out for many years.
The apparent cause of death was suicide, but Tisbury police would release no information yesterday pending the outcome of an investigation.
In a written statement, Mr. Lehman had admitted to police last month that he had installed a camera in the bathroom of his tenant so he could watch her taking a shower, police said.
The tenant, a single mother with two children aged 12 and 16, called police on June 26 after her son discovered the camera in a heating vent in the bathroom.
Mr. Lehman had not been arrested or charged with any crime, but police had searched his home and had confiscated a large amount of sophisticated electronic surveillance and media equipment. Much of the equipment had been turned over to the state police crime lab.
Tisbury police chief Ted Saulnier confirmed yesterday that police received a call at about 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday to respond to the Lehman residence.
Chief Saulnier at first refused all comment and told a Gazette reporter to file a written public records request to which he would respond within ten days.
After repeated questions, the chief confirmed that police had responded to the call, and that Mr. Lehman had been found dead. He said officer Robert Gianelli responded to the call, along with other officers, as well as EMTs, but the chief said he could not remember how many. He said state police Sgt. Neil Maciel also responded to the call.
The chief said the earlier criminal investigation of Mr. Lehman is still ongoing.
Mr. Lehman was a longtime Vineyard resident and established electrical contractor. He was the wiring inspector for the town of Aquinnah and the assistant wiring inspector for the town of Chilmark. He kept his business office in Vineyard Haven, where he also lived and operated a rental home. He was also well known in Aquinnah, where he had lived and owned property. A graveside service will be held there Saturday, August 7 at 11 a.m. at the Gay Head Cemetery.
Information about Mr. Lehman's alleged peeping activities began to trickle out last month after Tisbury police executed a series of search warrants in connection with the investigation.
If Mr. Lehman's written statement to the police was accurate, the alleged activities may have dated back for many years, and he may have had accomplices.
The woman tenant whose son found the camera in her bathroom filed a civil complaint in Dukes County Superior Court last week, claiming invasion of privacy and emotional distress.
The complaint was filed under a pseudonym.
The woman was one of a group of past tenants who had rented from Mr. Lehman, and who had engaged the services of an attorney to consider possible civil action.
The tenants are represented by Geoghan Coogan, a Vineyard Haven attorney, and Brian Mone, a partner with Mone, D'Ambrose & Hanyen, in Brockton.
Mr. Mone said yesterday that his clients intend to press the civil complaint against Mr. Lehman's estate.
"It doesn't change anything with respect to their civil remedies - obviously there is no criminal case any longer - but as for the civil side, the suicide of Mr. Lehman, while regrettable, will have no effect on the case. It's just that now they will be pursuing their rights against Mr. Lehman's estate and it is our intention to continue along those lines," Mr. Mone said.
Mr. Coogan, who is associated with Mr. Mone, expressed regret at the events of this week, and said he had spoken with a number of the clients and former tenants. "Everyone was shocked, real shocked. He had a family, he had kids, I think everyone is more concerned for them right now than anything else," Mr. Coogan said.
Mr. Lehman had long family ties on the Vineyard; he was previously married and had a daughter, and he also was the father of a young son born in May of this year.
Many who knew him through work and community life described him as something of a loner who often appeared troubled.
An obituary will appear in the Gazette next week.
Gazette staff reporter Alexis Tonti contributed to this story.