Peeping British Biologist Sentenced

Steven Courtney Spied on Guests at His Montecito Home

A prestigious British biologist formerly connected to UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) was sentenced last Friday to two months in County Jail for capturing hidden footage of his tenants in the bedrooms and bathrooms at his Montecito home. Steven Courtney, 61, will also serve three years of probation, be required to register as a sex offender, and pay more than $17,000 in restitution fees.

Police said Courtney — who pleaded guilty to five counts of electronic peeping — had been spying on his tenants for sexual gratification for more than a year. He was caught after one of the tenants found the miniature camera disguised as USB chargers and called the police.

Prosecutors identified six victims, but there is speculation more exist as Courtney actively sought to rent out his front house to people he knew while he lived in the back unit. He was active in the bird watching community and, according to his LinkedIn account, split his time between Santa Barbara and Washington, D.C. He has worked on issues involving endangered species, biodiversity, and held high-ranking positions at nonprofits trying to influence public policy.

He was not formally employed by UCSB, but he rented desk space at the NCEAS downtown location for two years. After Courtney was criminally charged, center director Ben Halpern immediately ended the agreement.

As part of the plea deal, Courtney will have to register as a sex offender on Megan’s List for the term of his three-year probation. He must complete 18-month sex offender therapy and refrain from owning recording devices, including smartphones, for the next three years. During his probationary period, he is prohibited from renting his house to tenants. His attorney, Stephen Dunkle, declined to comment.

The restitution amount — $17,000 — paid to the District Attorney’s fund will cover the costs of therapy, rent, and lost wages for Courtney's six victims, according to prosecutor Megan Chanda. Four of them read aloud victim impact statements in court last week, saying they wanted to be sure Courtney never does this again. They all said he violated their trust and preyed on women in the local science community. Many are still suffering the effects of the trauma they endured, Chanda said. She added jail staff would determine whether or not Courtney could serve his jail time on electronic monitoring.

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