Just When Is Surveillance Considered Stalking?

louisiana private investigator on surveillanceLast week I received a call from a concerned individual who was inquiring about our counter surveillance services. She stated that she and her husband have been continually followed by individuals who drive vehicles with dark, tinted windows and have also noticed the same individuals following both of them inside of stores when they go shopping on the weekends. After telling me her story, she mentioned that she recently had been injured at work and had filed a workers’ compensation claim.

I automatically knew that this was most likely the reason she was being followed. She had confronted the same individuals on two separate occasions and identified them as private investigators. After the confrontation, these investigators did not even bother to change surveillance vehicles for future surveillance activities. If these individuals are in fact private investigators who are hired by an attorney or insurance company, I wonder if they even made their client aware that the investigation had been compromised (probably not).

Because my company is routinely retained by insurance adjustors to conducts workers’ compensation and personal injury claims, I have some amount of bias when it comes to these sorts of matters. Out of courtesy, Top Echelon, LLC does not conduct counter surveillance in these types of situations where other PI agencies are involved, but I cannot say that I agree with the other PI agency’s professionalism and surveillance tactics. Not all PI agencies are equal…or ethical.

I know firsthand how difficult it is to conduct investigations and keep in the shadows without getting “burned” by a subject of an investigation. Not getting noticed is sometimes the hardest part of covert surveillance.

As any great investigator should be, I am a heavy supporter of human rights and privacy. An ethical investigator will NEVER break an ethical law or use their powers to exploit someone.

My concern with this situation is that, these investigators have been caught repeatedly and the claimant is aware of their presence. Instead of suspending the investigation and coming up with a different plan of action using a different team of investigators, these investigators kept following the subject without care that they had been caught. This has resulted in severe emotional harm to the subject of the investigation. I wonder if the goal of the surveillance in this  particular instance is to actually gather documentation of the subject’s activities, or to harass the subject in the hopes that they will drop their workers’ compensation claim.

My question is, when does surveillance turn into stalking & harassment? Louisiana RS 14:20.2 defines stalking as: “…the intentional and repeated following or harassing of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel alarmed or to suffer emotional distress.” Private investigators and law enforcement are exempt in the course of their work. (Louisiana RS 14:20.2 G.  The provisions of this Section shall not apply to a private investigator licensed pursuant to the provisions of Chapter 56 of Title 37 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes of 1950, acting during the course and scope of his employment and performing his duties relative to the conducting of an investigation.) I agree that this exemption of PIs is absolutely necessary for the continued existence of the PI profession but at the same time, I’m compelled to admit that this law can be exploited.

As an ethical investigator, I see my job as one of skill and art. In all of the years I have been conducting covert surveillance, with well over 10,000 logged hours in the field and hundreds of completed investigations, I have been caught by my subject on only two occasions; I take great pride in this fact. On these two occasions, there were no physical confrontations because I was able to pick up the signs that I was caught and departed the area before the claimant was able to identify or approach me.

Shortly after, I found my intuition to be right-on because the claimant contacted their legal council, which in turn contacted my client. I was not personally identified until my investigative report and video was submitted to the court. If I would have continued to surveil the subject after getting caught, I would have not only have been wasting my client’s money, but also inflicting emotional distress on the claimant.

It is my personal belief that in order to get accurate evidence, investigations should be conducted in the background and should have little interference with a claimant’s life in any way. I would love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

~Jonathan A. Stelly
President of Top Echelon Investigation, LLC

Top Echelon Investigation, LLC is an investigation firm with offices in Opelousas and Lafayette, LA, with private investigators serving:

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