Birdwatcher Charged with Spying on Houseguests

Steven Courtney Allegedly Installed Cameras in Montecito Sublet

Steven Courtney ​— ​an acclaimed British biologist formerly associated with UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) ​— ​faces up to four years in prison for allegedly installing multiple hidden cameras in the bedroom and shower of a Montecito house he sublet to acquaintances.

Steven Courtney
Click to enlarge photo

Steven Courtney

Last month, a tenant called the police after finding a miniature camera disguised as a household electronic device in the house she rented from Courtney, who is 61. A subsequent police search of Courtney’s computer and cell phone files showed he had been viewing the footage for apparent sexual gratification for about a year, police said.

On October 11, Courtney was arrested and booked into County Jail with bail set at $2,500. The next day, he was released on his own recognizance. On November 9, he pleaded not guilty to eight counts of electronic peeping. Each charge represents one victim and has a maximum sentence of six months behind bars, according to prosecutor Megan Chanda. His defense attorney, Steve Dunkel, declined to comment. The case returns to court on December 16.

Courtney was not formally employed by the NCEAS, but he had rented a desk at its downtown collaborative space for two years; as such, he was granted adjunct status. After the case was filed, said Ben Halpern, the center’s director, he immediately severed ties with him. According to Courtney’s LinkedIn page, he also has offices in Washington, D.C. He has held leadership roles at nonprofits that seek to influence public policy. He is also an ardent birdwatcher. In 2000, he was credited with helping plane crash survivors after a jet hit an object on the runway while taking off, according to media reports at the time.

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