After she anxiously walked up to the witness stand, Nathan A. Russell’s grandmother admitted she didn’t like talking in front of people.
“Are you OK?” Judge Kristine Drettwan asked her.
“I guess,” she replied Monday in Walworth County Court.
Russell’s grandmother said it has been hard to watch her grandson’s court case go on over the last two years.
The charge against him doesn’t accurately represent who he is, she said. He is a “people person” and selfless, willing to take calls in the middle of the night to help anyone, she said.
But she can’t count all the job opportunities Russell has lost because of this case. And that affects her, too, because they live together.
Russell’s grandmother, who spent most of the hearing with her head in her hands, depends on her grandson.
“I was working quite a bit over the last few months just to make sure I can pay the bills because he had no income,” she said. “I’m now retired, so now I’m stuck because I depend on him financially, physically, emotionally.”
Russell has said he put a camera in the bathroom at his workplace in January 2018 because had money problems and was involved with a “rough group,” according to court documents. He also has said he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.
But Judge Kristine Drettwan said what Russell did—filming not just himself but also a co-worker—was an “incredible invasion of privacy” and said he needed to serve jail time as punishment.
She sentenced him to three years of probation with 120 days of jail with work-release privileges. He has until April 3 to start that sentence.
Drettwan found Russell, 27, of 838 Clover St., Lake Geneva, guilty at a Dec. 5 court trial of capturing an intimate representation without consent.
She said she appreciated that Russell did not opt for a jury trial because the victim was “clearly mortified” that he had been filmed.
The employee told police he noticed a phone under a wall-mounted trash can, according to the criminal complaint. The video was about 33 minutes long and showed Russell using the bathroom and then 20 minutes before the employee entered the bathroom.
Drettwan said Russell was going down the wrong path and that getting caught was the best thing for him.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Leusink asked for three years of probation and six months of jail time with work release for the “blatant violation of a person’s right to privacy.”
The prosecutor said he believes the felony charge Russell was convicted of should be considered more serious than it is.
Leusink said having the victim appear in the profile picture on the Daddyhunt app that Russell was using undercuts Russell’s argument that filming his co-worker was unintentional.
Russell has a bail jumping and second-offense intoxicated driving case pending in a May 28, 2018, incident, court records show.
Russell’s defense lawyer, Aneeq Ahmad, said the results of those cases have not yet been determined.
In court Monday, Ahmad shared a letter full of praise from the job Russell has held since December. That job will be ending soon.
“With an infectious sense of positivity, you can always count on Nathan to put a smile on your face,” the lawyer read.
Ahmad said while his client’s past history of abuse does not justify his actions, it provides context for why he is in court.
Russell also spoke Monday, telling the judge about his life plans going forward.
After spending time connecting with his spirituality, Russell said it feels like his “God-given path” is to advocate for children who have been sexually abused. He said he wants to show them how they can live a “full and meaningful life past their trauma.”
A representative for the coalition said in an email after this story's publication that Russell has attended several public events, but, "he is not currently nor has he ever worked with our organization."
“I would like for my life’s purpose to be of healing,” he said. “And to help instill safety measures for children in future generations (so) that they receive the protection and care that they need once their household becomes broken due to such events.”
He has a job interview Tuesday for a customer service job, but Ahmad said Russell is concerned the case once again could hurt his chances of finding stability.
Clarification: This story was updated Wednesday, March 4 to add that a representative said Nathan Russell has not worked for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault.