Judge grants private detective license to gasfield firm; DA raised concerns
More than a year after a hearing on the status of a private investigator’s license, a Washington County judge granted a request to provide security for Marcellus Shale operations, saying he does not adopt District Attorney Gene Vittone’s “broad interpretation of the Private Detective Act of 1953” to include “flaggers” who perform traffic control duties.
“Such interpretation would require employees of road crews and tree-trimming services to be licensed under the act, which the court finds was not the act’s intention,” wrote Judge John DiSalle. “Nevertheless, the court recommends that the employees engaged in ‘flagging’ be employed” by Templar Protection’s affiliate, Templar Inc., to avoid any issue.
Testimony at a hearing last July noted both Templar Protection and Templar Inc. shared an address at 1610 Park Ave., Washington.
At a hearing last July, 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 they attributed to the firm.
Templar Protection LLC 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.
“The court warns that any future behavior of (Templar’s) employees which is found to be harassing or intimidating will be considered cause for revocation and may be subject to sanctions and/or prosecution,” DiSalle wrote in granting the private detective’s license for two years as long as the company pays filing fees and mandatory bonding requirements and conducts itself faithfully and honestly.
“I don’t have any issue with that,” Vittone said Friday. “He disagreed with my interpretation that flag people were covered. I really hope the Legislature at some point revisits the act,” which the district attorney said was written six decades ago to apply to private investigations dealing with divorce, workers’ compensation and child custody.”
Attorney Donald D. Saxton Jr., who represented Templar, also noted the absence of the term “flagger” or flagmen in the law and wrote to the court that flaggers and flagging “fall exclusively within the purview of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation” in its manual on uniform traffic control.
Marigrace Butela of Dunbar Township, Fayette County, said Friday, “I’m not happy with his decision at all. The judge almost always takes the recommendation from the district attorney, but he didn’t do it in this case. I think it needs (to be) looked into.”
In evaluating the firm’s request for the investigator’s license, the judge also heard from David R. Headley of Springhill 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 Allegheny County Court, allegedly 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 Headleys’ 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 they’re doing was watching us,” Headley, who is a former resident of Mt. Morris, testified in court last year. “My 4-year-old boy had an injunction against him, and my wife had an injunction against her.”
The pipeline 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, the land’s prior owner had already sold the oil and gas rights to the tract, which includes several wells.
Linda Headley on Friday registered disbelief when told of the judge’s decision, saying, “We wouldn’t be allowed” to act as she said Templar workers had. “It doesn’t seem fair, I guess. They’re off our land for now. They talk about creating jobs here, but they bring their own security company up here. We have security companies here that are well-qualified to do the job.”
Craig Southern, one of the principals of Templar Protection LLC, is from Gilbert, La. At last year’s hearing, Southern said he didn’t want “local news media, protesters or activists” on the gas line right-of-way in Springhill Township, and he didn’t want damage done to the property. During his testimony, he also publicly apologized to anyone who felt he was being harassed.