Sunday, February 20, 2011

Surviving A Stalker Part IV: The Aftermath

So Dan Smith* has been caught, convicted, sentenced to two years probation, and a restraining order has been imposed. Most importantly, and often overlooked, the calls stopped completely once he had been picked up (how's that for a little concrete proof?), never to happen again. One would think I'd feel safe.

They would be wrong.

My number was listed under both my name and my grandfather's, as it has once been used as the number for his business. I had the phone company take my name out of the book, but leave my grandfather's. The local phone company kept a tracer trap on my phone (for only an additional $5 a month) for the rest of the time that I lived there. When the services came available to my area, I was the first to be offered caller id, annoymous call rejection and last call return along with per line call blocking. It was several dollars tacked on to my phone bill, but it was all worth it.

I was suddenly super-aware of people looking at me in public places, almost to the point of paranoia, or coincidentally following behind me, either walking through a store or out driving. I started dressing down to go unnoticed out in public, usually a black yoga pants and black hoodie, when ever I went shopping. I found myself interupting my shopping to abruptly move to the opposite side of the store to avoid anyone that might be following me. If I observed anyone driving behind me for a long period of time, I'd intentionally slow down to make them pass me. If they didn't pass, I'd start making erroneous turns or stops to see if they would follow.

I had become introverted and quiet, hardly speaking to anyone in public. I used to be the one who would spontaniously strike up a conversation in the grocery line, but I became suspicious and uncomfortable with any stranger who attempted to speak to me.

I also avoided giving out my phone number for any reason. Someone could have offered me a guaranteed million dollars in exchange for it and I would have told them to keep their money. I stopped registering for prizes and give aways, I only put my work number on documents for school. I didn't even let them publish it in our church directory.

I also forbade anyone who did have my number from giving it out. My grandparents were the worst at doing that. Because my grandfather's name came before my parents in the Leeds phone book, people trying to find me or my little brother often called them first. They would just blurt out our number to whomever asked, without any further questions. I instructed everyone that if anyone called looking for my number, they were to take a message, call me with it, and I would call them back myself. Anyone who wouldn't leave a number was immediately suspicious. If the caller wouldn't accept a call from an annonymous number, I'd drive up the road to the quickmart and call from their payphone (payphones...remember those..LOL!).

When my boyfriend became my husband, and we set up household together, I insisted that we keep all the same services on our new home phone. Every so often he will ask if we can drop something and I will tell him no. Our name is not even on our mailbox.

Barbie* did wind up marrying Dan, despite hearing all the evidence and knowing the torment he was inflicting on other women. They still live in my town. Because it's not a big place, I find myself running into them from time to time.

Once, while on a major grocery shopping trip to WalMart, found myself buggy to buggy with them at the corner of an aisle. She was clearly, enormously pregnant, pushing the buggy, and he was following along like husbands do. Normally I laugh, say excuse me and make a comment about having traffic signals at the ends of the aisle, and move on. But all I could do was gasp. I turned in the opposite direction from where I had intended and hurried down the next aisle, then back over to the aisle they had just come from, and stopped to catch my breath. There I decided to head for the dairy section, the direction they had come from, and shop in reverse. I'd grab exactly what I needed and then go. I would blend in and slip out.

It was then I realized that I was wearing a pull-over in bright, safety yellow, that we had used for Julz's "duck" costume the previous Halloween. The tank top I had worn underneath was not appropriate to be seen in public, even in the best of circumstances, much less the cold, wet weather outside. So much for blending in.

As I went to make my dash for the dairy, they suddenly turned back down my aisle, an aisle they had already shopped! Dan was now pushing the buggy, while Barbie waddled along behind. She rubbed her swollen belly, stopping only long enough to put items in the buggy. I tried not to appear bothered (or worse, panicked) as I made my way to the main aisle (or as Walmart likes to call it "action alley") to make my way up to the dairy section.

I went straight for the eggs. I stopped to check my eggs for cracks, turned to put them in my buggy and who should be standing there next to me! I went to the adjacent milk case, they moved with me. I went down the cereal aisle, and they followed. I skipped the chip/snack aisle to go to the sodas and they followed yet again. I decided that my family didn't need sodas, turned down the cold case aisle and practically ran straight to the front.

I lucked up on a checkout with only one person ahead of me and quickly started unloading my cart. Having worked in a grocery store, I was really pretty good at stacking things on the belt so that the cashier had the easiest time. I began packing my buggy as the casheir filled bags and looked up to find the Smiths in the checkout next to mine. There was a customer in front of them, still being serviced. Barbie was chatting cheerfully with the customer, but Dan was staring right at me.

For a split second, panic welled up in me and I nearly bolted, leaving all my groceries behind. But that would be letting him know he'd gotten to me. I busied myself with my own check out process, but every time I looked up, Dan was staring a hole through me, with this smirk on his face. I came close to yelling, "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU LOOKING AT PERVERT?!" or "IS THIS 500 FEET?!" (though I think that the restraining order had run out by then )but thought better of it. I didn't want to become that woman that freaked out in WalMart, that every time I came in the employees would point and whisper, "Hey, there is that lady that freaked out in here that time." (Did I mention that I'd once worked in a grocery? I KNOW things like that happen.) Luckily, I had a jump start on checking out, so I was able to get out before them.

I practically ran to the parking lot, I threw all the groceries into the trunk, not caring if I squashed the bread or broke the eggs. I put the buggy between my car and the next (a personal pet peeve) instead of walking it to the buggy corral, lept into the car and sped out of the parking lot. Instead of going straight home, I hopped onto the interstate, drove up to the next exit and took as many narrow back roads as I could, several miles out of my way.

Thanks to Google Maps, I later learned that I had driven right by their house in doing that, so I did not make that mistake again.

Another time, I was working the souvenier table for the Miracle League. At the time, it was under a gazebo next to the adjacent tee-ball field, instead of next to the concession stand where it sits today. From there, it was harder to watch a Miracle League game, especially if there was a tee-ball game at the same time.

I love watching the tiny, tee-ball players as they learn to play the game. Some are so tiny their extra small uniforms still swallow them up. Most of the yelling comes from the parents but they yell out when they have to go to the bathroom, in no uncertain terms, for all the field to hear. Sometimes they forget and run toward third instead of first. There are times when it seems they would all rather be digging in the dirt and leave the game to the grown ups, who seem more concerned with it anyway.

I had gotten up to get a tee-shirt from a storage box when I saw them. Barbie, pregnant again, was standing on the fence line, cheering for a little munchkin at bat. Crowded in the tiny space between his shoulders was the word "Smith." Just to Barbie's right, sat Dan in a folding chair, close enough that I could reach out and slap him. And rather than watching his son at bat, he was looking at me.

You know how when you catch someone looking at you, they jump? Well I am not certain who jumped more, me or him. He quickly turned his attention back to the field. I turned back around to deal with my customer, but my heartbeat was hammering in my ears. I sat down and threw another glance over my shoulder. There he was, staring at me with a smirk on his face. It reminds me of the expression the Grinch makes. He and I both knew that the restraining order had long since expired. I thought about yelling at him again but didn't want to embarass myself. i was now a member of the Miracle League board and didn't need to cause any trouble at the park.

I flagged down another volunteer to handle the souveniers and trotted out onto the field to buddy a player in left field, putting the stone pressbox between me and him. A few minutes later, he was at the concession stand, watching me as he waited in line. He then sat down on the shaded bench next to it, where he could watch both me and his son's game unobstructed. I couldn't take it anymore. I told the coach that the heat was getting to me and asked for another buddy for my player. I told Mr. Johnny, our announcer that I was going to have to go home and I dashed to my car. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I called my husband, who now seemed unconcerned. "That's been a long time" he said, "shouldn't you be over that by now?"

Yes, I guess I should. But I'm not.

Over the years I continue to run into them in the grocery store, the gas station and the ball park. Most of the time, I see him first and can exit unnoticed. The times that I don't, I fight the urge to scream in his face, draw attention to him, embarass him, maybe clue his wife into the fact that she didn't change him. I figure that eventually, she will find that out on her own, when he starts again. At least this time, he will have a record and it will be a repeat offense and some poor girl won't have the same trouble I did.

Whenever I hear of someone having strange phone calls or noticing stalker behavior, I always share my story and these words of advice.

DOCUMENT : Keep a journal of dates, times, duration of incident, type of behavior (calling, following, driving by home, etc...) No detail is too small.

REPORT: Go to your local police or sherrif's department (or the law enforcement department that covers your area, if it is happening somewhere other than home like work or school)or call law enforcement to come to you. Ask to file an incident report for every incident. Carry your journal so that all details will be included. This will provide a paper trail for the pattern of behavior.

DEVELOP A SUPPORT NETWORK: Let your family, friends, coworkers, teachers know what is going on. Do not keep what is happening secret. Those who truly love you, will not judge you. They will do what they can to help you.

I once read "If I Am Missing or Dead.." the bone chilling true story of the murder of Amy Lynne Latus. Ten weeks before her abusive boyfriend strangled her to death, she had written a letter about the abuse, sealed it in an envelope marked "If I am missing or dead" and taped it to the inside drawer of her desk at work. She had kept the abuse a secret, rather than seeking help from her loved ones. Don't ever make that mistake.

SIGN THE WARRANT FOR ARREST: When someone crosses the line between nuIsance and criminal behavior, it's time for legal action. Do not be afraid to sign the warrant.

PRESS FOR PROSECUTION (where applicable) : Reoccuring criminal behavior should not only be documented, it should be punished.

SEEK COUNSELING: Victims go through many emotions. Anger, fear, self doubt, did I do something wrong, was I too nice, why didn't I see this coming, etc, etc, etc... Don't try to deal with those emotions alone. Seek counseling specifically for victims.

So in the aftermath, I'm a little less outgoing, a little more observant, a little less trusting, a little more paranoid.

Don't let yourself be a victim.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me.

On a happier note, here is this year's Valentine's gift from Darling Hubby.
He always knows how to make me feel special
Love the penguin balloon! It reads "Our love warms my heart"

Thank you baby!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Surviving A Stalker Part III: My Day In Court

My stalker had a name: Dan Smith. *

And in my attempt to put a name with that face, a friend introduced me to a person who would prove most valuable in my day in court. I will call her Amy Doe.*

Amy was the young wife of one of my brother's friends,whom I will call Doug* so we both already knew of one another, and making contact was very easy. Amy, it turns out, was one of Dan Smith's earlier victims.

I sat in her living room and gave her a brief history of what I had just been through, right up to trying to find a photo of this guy, and being told that I needed to speak with her. Her toddler crawled around between us, frequently stopping to offer us a toy from the collection in the floor.

Amy's story was equally as harrowing, but more malicious: Dan was a good friend of Doug's, and a frequent visitor to their home. She had begun receiving strange phone calls during her pregnancy, that escalated in frequency when Doug was switched to night shift. She also noticed that the calls would only come when Doug was not at home, sometimes within minutes of his leaving for work.

She was more successful in getting cooperation from local authorities, possibly due to her delicate condition, and was soon shocked to find that her tormentor was none other than her husband's friend. "He was welcomed in our home! I had made him dinner!" she had said to me, "We felt so betrayed!"

Dan had been picked late one afternoon, and spent the night in jail. The next phone call Amy recieved was a guilt-ridden call from Dan's parents. Unbelievably, Dan is a pastor's son, raised in a local church where his father was the pastor for many years. The scandal would embarass the family in their church, and embarass the church in our community. Dan's mother begged Amy to drop the charges, promising to seek counseling for Dan. Amy agreed to drop the charges, and Doug dropped the friendship.

Around the same time Amy was recieving her calls, her best friend, a pretty, former cheerleader from a neighboring town, was getting them as well. When she found out that Dan was the culprit behind Amy's calls, she confronted him outright, he confessed and the calls stopped. Ironically, the tie that binds these stories together was the cheerleader's cousin, Barbie: Dan Smith's girlfriend.

I was shocked! Not only had Dan been caught twice before, he had gotten away scott free! No record, no punishment, nothing.
"Not this time!" I vowed. Because it was obvious that the Smiths had not sought help for Dan's "problem," Amy agreed to testify should she be needed.

The month between the arrest and the first of two trial dates were peaceful and quiet. I met with the D.A. and turned over my journal. He was impressed by the detail and told me that I had made his job much easier.

The day of the pretrial, my boyfriend and I sat on the back row of the large courtroom in the county courthouse, when I first saw Dan Smith in person. Looking back at pictures of past parties and events, his face jumps out from my photos with chilling clarity. But at that moment, he was a stranger to me, despite the preverse "relationship" we now had.  He came in with his parents, watching the floor as he walked. Because we were on the last row, no one could sit behind us and I studied Dan Smith as we waited. He sat with his elbows on his knees, hanging his head while he sat. His mother rubbed his back and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. His father sat stone still, no expression, arms crossed. The judge came in and called the docket, deciding which cases to hear that day, which to reassign.

After about an hour, the D.A. called me into a room just off the main courtroom. There a woman waited at a table. The D.A. introduced me to what turned out to be the court's violence counselor. I really could have used her a month earlier, but today I was fine. "So tell me, what is the nature of your relationship with Dan Smith?" I wasn't certain why I was having this conversation. I pointed to myself "Um, victim," then pointed back toward the courtroom, "pervert." The counselor blinked and shook her head. "What?" I repeated, pointing with both hands for emphasis "Victim! Pervert!" She looked down at a file on the table and looked back up at me, "So you mean you are not engaged in a relationship?" I laughed hysterically, "Good Lord no! Today is the first day I've even laid eyes on him! My boyfriend is sitting out in the hall." I immediately flushed and felt faint. What Dan Smith had told these people? The D.A. apologized for upsetting me and invited me and my boyfriend back into the courtroom. He told me that when the judge called our case, I could stay seated until it was decided whether we would proceed that day or set a new date.

As my boyfriend and I walked back to the back row, we passed the Smiths, seated on the third or fourth row. Dan never looked up, but his parents did. My boyfriend protectively put his arm around me and ushered me to our seat.

When our case was finally called, we stayed seated while Dan and his attorney went before the judge with the D.A. After a few minutes, the attorney took Dan into the side room and the D.A. motioned for us to come to the front. As I stood there, I could feel the Smith's eyes burning a hole in my back. I wondered what he had told them, what explanation he had come up with for being caught yet again. The judge could not fit us in that day and we were to come back the following week.

The following week, we returned to the courthouse. I spoke with the D.A. who asked questions about the various entries in the journal. He said that I was to spare no detail when asked to describe the content of the calls, including curse words. My confidence was soon shaken as I stepped out into the hall to go to the courtroom. I was mortified to find my grandparents waiting in the hallway to go into court. Despite telling them repeatedly that I didn't need them, they had come as a show of support. Great, not only was I about to curse and describe explicit sexual comments in open court, I was going to have to do it in front of my grandparents.

The D.A. asked questions such as how did I know the defendant (I didn't, though I was told he went to my high school at the same time I did) and if I'd ever met him before (No, I hadn't) and if I'd ever given him my telephone number for any reason (No, of course). He held up my journal and asked what it was, what prompted me to keep it. He read specific dates and times listed. He asked me to read the comments listed for those dates.

The cross was short. His attorney asked about the first dates listed in the journal, the calls made before Christmas. He asked me to read those dates, times and comments into the record and then asked me to read the dates again. Then I was excused, and the prosecution rested.

The defense's star witness was Barbie, surprisingly introduced to the court as Dan Smith's fiance. I could not believe that this young lady would still even be his girlfriend after catching him making graphicly explicit calls to not one, but three other women, much less agree to marry him.

The main reason that Barbie was called as a witness was not only because she bought him the cell phone as a Christmas gift, she did not give it to him until Christmas Eve. (Like he couldn't have made the calls from another phone before that?) She testified that because she worked for the cell phone company, she had gotten a special deal for the first contract year of unlimited minutes. Dan was letting all of his friends use his new toy and she was with him all the time to witness it. So that was his defense: even though it was his phone, he couldn't have made the calls before Christmas because he didn't have it yet or the ones afterward because all his friends were using it.

Her cross examination was not as easy. The D.A. went over her testimony and she repeated her answers. "You've witnessed him loaning his phone to his friends? "Yes" she responded, defiantly, glaring at me. "You are with him all the time, huh?" he quipped. "Most of the time, yes" she responded. "Do you live with Mr. Smith?" the D.A. asked. "No," she shot a glance at his parents, "we aren't married yet." Then he picked up my journal and read off a series of dates and times, asking in between if she was with Mr. Smith at 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. on these dates. I could tell she was about to cry and her voice cracked as she responded "no" to each date. I felt really sorry for her in that moment, as you could see her realize that there was more to my story than she had obviously been told.

Then the D.A. asked the million dollar question: Had she ever heard of Amy Doe? I do not recall her answer because I distracted by the sudden flurry of movement to my left. Dan Smith, who had been sitting with his arms crossed, staring at the floor, suddenly sat bolt upright and both of his parents practically lept forward. The muffled whispering between them and the attorney, hissed like helium from a balloon and the D.A. announced he had no more questions.

The defense rested without Dan Smith taking the stand. The D.A. said it was probably so I wouldn't be able to positively identify his voice.

The judge did not even have to excuse himself to go over the testimony and make a decision. "Mr. Smith, I find you guilty" he announced immediately. He told him that though cell phones were relatively new, it was still implied that the owner was the user. The judge said that he found Dan's actions "reprehensible" and the fact that there may be other victims made it worse. He sentenced Dan to two years probation, with the added promise that if Dan was ever even rumored to be involved in another harrassment suit, he'd see to it that Dan would spend every single day of a two year sentence in jail. The judge also added that Dan was stay a minimum of 500 feet from me and violation of that would result in jail time as well.

As my family left the courtroom, we passed his group in the hallway. I heard his attorney say he wouldn't advise seeking an appeal, I heard his mother ask about the stalking charge that wasn't addressed.

I turned back to the D.A. when we were further down the hall. "What did happen to the stalking charge?" He just smiled and replied, "We will worry with that if they decide to appeal."

Coming soon: Surviving A Stalker Part IV: The Aftermath

*names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely me.