Stalking Law Applies To Officer’s Conduct

Jeffrey Wilson and Donna Nicholson are officers in the Vice Unit for the Peoria, Illinois Police Department. Wilson has been the unit technical officer since he joined the unit and was specifically assigned responsibility for the unit’s video, audio, and surveillance equipment. Wilson was specially trained in electronic surveillance, GPS installation and maintenance, and surveillance equipment engineering.

On November 9, 2010, a lieutenant observed a surveillance camera feed labeled “office” streaming onto the computer at Wilson’s work station. A department computer video expert was able to establish that a hidden camera was trained on Nicholson’s desk and that a pan/tilt/function had been utilized in the video recording to follow her movements around her desk and the office. Equipment records indicated that Wilson was the only officer who had access to the camera.

When asked about the recordings, Wilson told his superiors that he had merely been testing the equipment and did not intend to use the camera to monitor Nicholson or anyone else. He claimed that the video must have accidentally recorded Nicholson.

Two years before, Nicholson had reported a similar incident where she believed that Wilson was monitoring her movements in the office by use of video cameras. Nicholson testified that she reported her suspicions to her superiors, but she did not file a formal complaint. A sergeant instructed Wilson not to videotape any individuals at the office without their permission.

In August 2010, a Sentinel GPS tracking device was discovered on Nicholson’s car. Wilson denied having anything to do with the device being on her car. The device discovered on the car was a department device that transmitted data to a specific laptop computer, which was kept at Wilson’s desk and for which he was responsible.

At Nicholson’s request, a trial court entered an injunction against Wilson, concluding that he violated Illinois’ anti-stalking law. Wilson appealed, alleging there was inadequate evidence to conclude he was stalking.

The Illinois Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. The Court found that “for Nicholson to prevail, she was required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that, on at least two occasions, Wilson followed, monitored, or engaged in surveillance of her, while he knew or should have known that his course of conduct would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or suffer emotional distress. Here, the evidence clearly established that it was more likely true than not true that Wilson had engaged in at least two such actions. While Wilson denied engaging in such acts, there was sufficient evidence upon which the Court could have disbelieved Wilson. Moreover, the evidence supported the conclusion that, given Wilson’s professional background and expertise with surveillance equipment, it was highly unlikely that he ‘accidentally’ videotaped Nicholson while testing his equipment.

“As to whether Wilson knew or should have known that his activities were likely to cause a reasonable person to fear for her safety or suffer emotional distress, the record supports the conclusion that Nicholson would likely suffer emotional distress. She had sought assistance from the employer regarding pervious acts of surveillance upon her and indicated that she was very upset about the 2008 incident, regardless of whether Wilson was proven to be the perpetrator.”

Nicholson v. Wilson, 993 N.E.2d 594 (Ill. App. 2013).