Answering Writers’ Questions: When Does a PI’s Surveillance Become Stalking?
Posted by Writing PIs on October 21, 2014
Here’s a question that used to come up a lot in our workshops with writers.
WRITER’S QUESTION: At what point does a surveillance tail become stalking?
GUNS, GAMS, AND GUMSHOES’ ANSWER: Let’s start with checking the ethics in one’s motive for conducting surveillance. If the surveillance performed serves a purpose of obtaining information that PIs usually obtain, then courts will uphold rigorous surveillance. A few years ago, an individual in Michigan sued Henderson Investigations for a violation of the Michigan stalking law for actions the investigators took during an insurance surveillance. The PI firm fought the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, which agreed with the PIs that “surveillance by private investigators contributes to the goal of obtaining information and amounts to conduct that serves a legitimate purpose. Even though plaintiff observed the investigators following him more than once, this is not a violation of the stalking law.” In summary, the Michigan Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit outright and never allowed it to the stage where a trial was held.
Contrast this with a situation where a PI is hired to simply “put the muscle” on a witness or opponent in a lawsuit. Repeated contact in the absence of an information-gathering purpose is a road sign indicating the on-ramp to stalking and illegal harassment. As an example of a licensed PI crossing the line into illegal conduct, take the example of the “PI to the stars” Anthony Pellicano, who was charged in Los Angeles County in 2005 with intimidating a Los Angeles Times reporter. In that case, the Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley announced the charges against Pellicano, in a complaint that alleged the private detective’s co-conspirator had threatened the reporter “by placing a dead fish with a rose in its mouth on the windshield of her car. He made a hole in the windshield with the intent to make it appear like a bullet hole. He also placed a sign with the word ‘stop’ on the windshield.”
We’d call this not only stalking, but menacing, damage to property, harassment, battery, and abuse of a fish.
Other Articles of Interest on This Topic
Anthony Pellicano Back in Court, Agrees to Deposition in Michael Ovitz Case (Hollywood Reporter, July 2014)
Anita Busch Deposed As Lawsuits Against Michael Ovitz, Anthony Pellicano Revived (Wrap, August 2011)
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