Shaun and Colleen, married PI team (image is copyrighted)

One thing we’ve learned at our investigations agency is to never provide details about an investigation task to clients until after the task is completed. Years ago we learned that lesson the hard way when an overly emotional client spilled the beans about a surveillance to the subject of that surveillance, which not only killed the investigation but put us in jeopardy (which is another tale to tell).

However, this post is a more humorous result to an emotional client spilling the beans about a surveillance to the subject of that surveillance. Which all started when our lawyer-client decided to spill the “investigation beans” to his/our client, which caused all kinds of havoc…

The Day The Sheriffs Escorted Us to Another County

A lawyer hired us as investigators in a nasty divorce case. The husband had recently moved out of his home, leaving his wife and two small children there. The problem was, the wife was overly fond of cocaine and vodka, staying up partying for long periods before crashing for day-long sleeps. The children, both under six years old, had told their dad that on “Mommy’s sleep days,” they were going outside to play by themselves.

The attorney asked us to conduct a trash hit, see what evidence there was of alcohol and drug use. In preparation to visit the home, we learned it was remotely located in the mountains (very dangerous for young children to be outside for long periods by themselves). We also learned the soon-to-be ex-wife had a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

In preparation for a trash hit, we learned the day the trash was set out and where the trash cans would most likely be located. As the wife didn’t work, it was likely she’d be at home, so we planned to work quickly (“How to Conduct a Trash Hit” explains about trash hits in more detail).

It was going to be a long drive to the mountains, so we decided to take our Rottweiler (our female, now 7 years old, named Aretha Franklin).

Imagine Our Surprise When We Saw…

As the sheriff approached our car, our Rottie jumped into my lap (image licensed, please do not copy/distribute)

The home, located in the mountains, was accessible by a single dirt road that snaked around hills, boulders, trees. When we finally hit the last stretch leading to the house, imagine our surprise to see several sheriff’s units, including a K-9 unit and a van.

These dudes, and dog, were waiting for us.

Our Rottweiller, Ms. Big Bad Herself, jumped over the backseat and huddled in my lap, shaking with fear. The sheriff who was approaching our vehicle saw Ms. Big Bad clear the backseat and placed his hand on his holster.

This was going to be one of those days.

My husband poked his head out the driver’s window and said loudly, calmly, “The Rottweiller is docile — she’s cowering in my wife’s lap.”

I smiled at the sheriff, a hundred-plus pounds of Rottie trembling in my arms.

Our Rottie refused to leave my lap the entire drive down the mountain (image licensed, please do not copy/distribute)

Wife Added All Kinds of Sinister Story Twists

For the next hour or so, the sheriffs interviewed my husband and I about what we were doing there, who we were, who sent us, etc. etc. etc. From the questions, it became obvious that our attorney-client had informed the almost-ex-husband that we were heading up the mountain to conduct a trash hit on his former residence. Seems in a rage-fueled conversation with his estranged wife, he’d blabbed everything the lawyer had said, down to the expected time of our arrival.

The subject spiced up reality by describing us as burglars and/or kidnappers (image in public domain)

The wife then called the local sheriff’s house and added all kinds of sinister twists to her husband’s tale, leading the sheriff’s office to believe we were everything from potential burglars to kidnappers.

Lovely.

The sheriffs, after learning we were actually private investigators…

and that this was about a nasty divorce case, decided the best recourse was to escort us to another county, which wasn’t so bad as that next county was the one in which we live and work. They set up a caravan of sheriff’s vehicles, in front and behind us, and our happy convoy proceeded down the mountain.

Along the way we called our attorney-client, explained that his telling the client about the trash hit had resulted in this sheriff-fest. “Are they putting you in jail?” he asked, “’cause if they are, call me. I’ll represent you, no charge.” He thought that was pretty funny.

We continued in our sheriff-PI caravan down the mountain, our steel-nerved Rottweiler refusing to leave my lap. As we crossed the county line, one of the sheriffs honked and waved good-bye.

Friendly folk, those mountain sheriffs.

Lessons Learned

Since then, whenever we start working with a new lawyer, we insist that pertinent details of an investigation not be shared with a client until after the task is completed. Most attorneys know this, but we’d prefer to err on the side of too much information than risk another ride to the county line flanked by law enforcement.

Postscript: That attorney hired another investigator who safely conducted a trash hit. Significant amounts of drug and alcohol were found (the wife kept tossing evidence into the trash). We’ve since heard she’s in a recovery program, so hopefully this story has a better ending for the kids.

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