NJ official is target of ‘prank’ while shopping — lashes out at crude YouTuber
🔵 Video prankster Frankie Lonigro has a YouTube page full of encounters at big-box retailers
🔵 A state official told Lonigro to "f--k off" in a recent video encounter
🔵 There's no expectation of privacy in a retail store. But when does it become harassment?
It might be fun to watch someone have an awkward and unsuspecting encounter with a video prankster. But it might be another story when you're on the receiving end of the joke.
James Carey, the executive director of the New Jersey Lottery and a school board member in Spring Lake Heights, became one of the unlucky targets of YouTube prankster Frankie Lonigro, who often trolls for subjects at retail stores in New Jersey.
The video channel, with 6,500 subscribers, includes Lonigro putting items in shopping carts, making fake farts around shoppers, smoking marijuana in stores, and blowing air horns in libraries.
Bad encounter at Target in NJ
One 10-minute video titled the "Fake Target Employee Prank" includes a prank at the Target store in Ocean Township. Wearing a red shirt and posing as an employee, Lonigro begins to hit on a customer, who turns out to be Carey.
"You're a really attractive dude," Lonigro says to the shopper, who looks annoyed and then pushes his shopping cart into Lonigro, telling him to "stay the f**k away from me."
"Be gentle with me," Lonigro says.
The video cuts to a Target manager telling Lonigro to leave the store.
'Shameless and unfair conduct'
Carey, who was appointed executive director of the lottery in July 2018, said the prank "unfortunately succeeded" in embarrassing him.
"I was harassed and touched inappropriately in the presence of my family when shopping in Target by an aspiring YouTube influencer," Carey said in a statement to New Jersey 101.5. "It is disappointing that social media at large continues to promote such shameless and unfair conduct by individuals who promote themselves at the expense of others."
Is there a free speech right to prank people?
Do video pranksters have the right to record in a store? The answer is not cut and dry.
Michael Paquette, a former South Brunswick police chief who is now the Criminal Justice Program Coordinator at Middlesex College, says pranksters don't have the right to record if the encounter turns into harassment.
"It's a little tricky in that in New Jersey, when you talk about recording a conversation — and this would fit the criteria — if one party is part of the conversation, they're allowed to record it or videotape it," Paquette said. "The counter to that is you can't harass people."
If someone follows shoppers around a store while recording or does something to provoke a reaction that would be harassment, Paquette said. The first thing for a shopper to do would be to speak with a manager.
"Inform them of what happened and why they were uncomfortable, what behavior the other person demonstrated towards them. And then hopefully the store would do the proper thing and tell that person they're not welcome in there to do that," Paquette said.
Paquette said a retail store is a private entity and they can make their own rules about recording and taking pictures.
"They can ask that person to leave or demand that they leave or even have signs that say 'you can't do that kind of recording,'" Paquette said.
Are video pranks considered harassment?
What about situations where a person feels harassed?
"Harassment is in the eye of the beholder," Paquette said. "I would say right now that if any behavior made you feel uncomfortable, you are at least on your way to harassment, if not at harassment. Call the police and let them make the decision. Let them talk to the person and maybe talk to them about what they were doing and what they should do and not do.
New Jersey law, however, does not criminalize the use of a recording device in areas where the public has access or there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Toms River attorney Robert Fuggi said there is no expectation of privacy in a store, even though it's private property.
"If I'm in my house and I'm unrobing and taking a shower and going into my bathroom and somebody is videoing me, I have an expectation of privacy," he said. "They don't preclude people from coming into Target unless you're disruptive or unless you're drunk or something to that effect."
A prankster recording video could be in violation of a store's solicitation policy because they post to social media platforms and seek visitors to those sites that could be earning money from.
Ocean Township police and Target did not respond to New Jersey 101.5's request for more information.