Private security, private eye or flaggers on public roads: judge asked to decide gasfield case
A Fayette County family in litigation over Marcellus Shale and a resident who said a uniformed guard wrote down her license plate number after she stopped her vehicle on a public road near a pipeline project described that and other heavy-handed treatment by a security firm seeking a private detective’s license.
Washington County Judge John DiSalle heard several hours of testimony Wednesday about Templar Protection LLC of 1610 Park Ave., Washington, which is seeking the detective license, and another entity with the same address and owners, Templar Inc.
Templar Protection provides contracted security guards, many of whom are retired state troopers, at gas well sites and pipelines while Templar Inc. employs minimum-wage flaggers for traffic control and other duties such as ditch-digging and tree-clearing.
Chief County Detective James McElhaney, who is also a retired state trooper, testified that when he did criminal background checks on the 49 employees of Templar Inc. earlier this year, he found that 32 had a history of arrests ranging from rape, burglary, theft, drugs and assault. Donald Saxton, the attorney representing Templar Protection LLC, objected to McElhaney’s testimony as irrelevant because Templar Protection, a separate entity from Templar Inc., is the firm seeking the private detective’s license.
“Obviously, they’re affiliated,” DiSalle ruled, and allowed the chief detective to continue.
“Templar Inc. does not perform any function that comes within the scope of the (private detective’s) act,” he continued, noting that there is no prohibition keeping employees of the firms from working under the same roof.
The state’s law on private detectives requires them to have, along with a clean record, a valid driver’s license. McElhaney also read an advertisement for flaggers that required them to have valid driver’s licenses, but of the 49, 10 were found lacking.
While McElhaney didn’t go as far as his predecessor, Michael Aaron, in recommending Templar Protection not be granted the private detective’s license, McElhaney asked the judge to consider several points, including commingling of resources and that the same individual is general manager of both companies.
In evaluating the firm’s request for the investigator’s license, the judge also heard from David R. Headley of Spring Hill Township, whose mailing address is Smithfield, Fayette County. He asked that the judge deny the request for a detective’s license because of ill treatment he, his family and visitors have received as Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream installed a Marcellus Shale pipeline in his front yard.
Headley, who is litigating the pipeline project in Fayette County court, was told he was on a “watch list.” He showed the judge examples of a security guard photographing him; of an armed Templar Protection employee standing on the Headley’s front yard which was beyond a gas line easement; and nearby vehicles marked Templar Protection LLC.
“They were supposed to be watching the equipment and all there doing was watching us,” testified Headley, who is a former resident of Mt. Morris. “My 4-year-old boy had an injunction against him and my wife had an injunction against her.”
The pipe line project is done, Headley said, but he said his goal in coming to court was “to protect someone else from having this happen to them.”
The Headleys purchased 115 acres in 2005, moved there in 2007, and sold an easement to Williams Gas, but Headley said, unbeknownst to him, that the land’s prior owner had already sold the oil and gas rights to the tract, which includes several wells.
Marigrace Butela of Dunbar Township, Fayette County, said a uniformed man wearing a sidearm recorded her license plate when she stopped her car on Hope Hollow Road.
Craig Southern, one of the principals of Templar Protection LLC, met with Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone last August to discuss “technical deficiencies” of the firm’s private detective’s application.
He described Templar Protection and Templar Inc. as “sister companies, like Sam’s and Walmart. On one side we deal with weapons and the other side is common, everyday work.”
In Spring Hill Township, he didn’t want “local news media, protesters or activists” on the gas line right-of-way and he didn’t want damage done to the property.
“I publicly apologize to anyone here that feels they were being harassed.”
The commonwealth’s concern is Templar would use its separate entities to subvert the purposes of the private detective act,” Vittone said, and that John Altman, as manager, oversees both operations. The judge asked Southern, who is from Gilbert, La., why he thought he could operate without a private detective’s license in Pennsylvania.
Southern said that in some states, firms are grandfathered. Vittone said Templar Protection “is not providing what is traditionally thought of as private detective services,” which typically investigate divorces or workers’ compensation cases and that the legislature needs to update the act, especially in light of the growth of the Marcellus Shale industry.
The judge also said the firm acts in a capacity of private security, and he asked both sides to submit legal briefs within 20 days.