Weld County private eye charged with stalking in unique case

Weld County private eye charged with stalking in unique case

Posted: 08/13/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT
Updated: 08/13/2010 05:57:04 AM MDT

A private investigator was arrested and charged with felony stalking recently in Weld County for doing what colleagues say is the backbone of their profession: surveillance.

Timothy Allan Stitt, 42, was charged in Weld County District Court for putting a tracking device on the car of Shantele Sherman in LaSalle last month.

Stitt admitted he was following Sherman at the behest of her estranged husband, Jeff Schudel.

The two are in a child-custody dispute.

“I don’t know if that’s ever happened before,” said Denver private investigator Ryan Ross, who writes a blog about private-investigator issues in Colorado. “The charges weren’t specific to him using a GPS. The ramifications are much broader.”

A prosecutor at the Weld County district attorney’s office filed a stalking charge against Stitt after Sherman claimed she suffered severe emotional distress. Schudel, too, has been charged with stalking.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Rourke said he couldn’t comment on Stitt’s case out of fairness to him. Rourke said he was not aware of any private investigators ever being charged with stalking before.

A subsection of statute

Stitt was charged under a subsection of the stalking statute. People violate the law if they repeatedly follow, approach, contact, place under surveillance or make any form of communication with another person — or a member of that person’s family — and cause him or her “serious emotional distress.”

The statute does not require the complainant to receive professional counseling in order to prove the criteria are met.

Rourke said he believes private investigators should be concerned about the statute if they are causing people serious emotional distress.

But Ross said police also follow possible criminals, and that distresses them. Just like police, private investigators perform a legitimate service, he said.

“A lot of private investigators have cases that obligate them to follow somebody,” Ross said. “When we get hired, it’s not for prurient interests. It’s to protect the life and safety of children.”

In some cases, people hire private investigators to try to gather evidence that their spouse has a drinking problem or other habits that jeopardize their kids.

In Stitt’s case, Schudel allegedly called his estranged wife and told her he had paid a lot of money to track her whereabouts, an arrest warrant affidavit says.

“Shantele stated that (her husband) knew exactly when she was out at night and when she was at work,” the document says. “So if it takes three months or three years, these people will be watching how you care for our son.”

GPS device under car

Sherman found a black metal GPS device with two green lights attached under her car. She said she was shaking.

There was no indication in the arrest affidavit that Sherman knew Stitt was following her until her husband called her.

Colorado lawmakers defined stalking as involving “highly inappropriate intensity, persistence and possessiveness, it entails great unpredictability and creates great stress and fear for the victim.”

“It involves severe intrusions on the victim’s personal privacy . . . as well as risks to security and safety of the victim.”

When the detective interviewed Stitt, who has a business called Civil Task Force Investigations, Stitt acknowledged working for Schudel. He said Schudel paid him $300 to put the GPS device under Sherman’s car. He had been following Sherman for about two weeks.

Stitt declined to comment to The Denver Post.

Ross said there are as many as 500 private investigators in Colorado, which does not license them.

“PIs and clients don’t want to have to guess what a police officer will do,” Ross said. “If we know where the line is, we won’t cross it.”

Kirk Mitchell: 303-954-1206 or kmitchell@denverpost.com