During one point in my career my then partner and I investigated many stalking cases. For a period of time, I believe that my partner and I made more stalking arrests thnt anyone in NH. I don’t have the numbers to back that claim up, but we made many, many stalking arrests. I think it was possible that we made more stalking arrests then anyone in any police department north of Boston.
There was a stalking law in the New Hampshire criminal code when I first came on the job. However, It was kind of archaic, and compiling all the necessary elements to actually arrest and charge someone for stalking was almost impossible. Added to that was the fact was that the crime of Stalking in NH was a misdemeanor, and under the laws of arrest, a police officer could not make an arrest without a warrant for a misdemeanor not committed in the officers presence. There were a couple of exceptions to that, but early on Stalking was not one of them.
As a patrol officer, I dutifully took my stalking reports from victims as I was sent to them, but for all practical purposes that’s where most stalking complaints ended, with a report on file.
Sometime close to the mid 90s the Stalking Laws were revised in NH (NH RSA 633:3). Simply put, the updated law redefined Stalking as a series of events or behavior (meaning two or more) that targeted an individual which would make a reasonable person fearful for their own safety or the safety of their family members. Stalking was further defined as violating a Bail Order or court order, such as a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVP) by, among other things, appearing ONCE in proximity to a person in a location prohibited in that order. Further more, because Stalking was included in the state definition of domestic violence, an arrest could be made, without a warrant when probable cause existed. To top it off, Stalking would now become a felony if the defendant had a previous Stalking conviction on his or her record within 7 years.
Obviously, these updates changed the landscape regarding law enforcement response to Stalking incidents. It gave us practical tools to vigorously enforce the stalking laws and allowed us to arrest on the spot. It also laid out simple, easy to understand elements that defined the crime of stalking.
At one point, I was asked to take part on a committee that created a state-wide protocol for police agencies responding to and investigating stalking complaints.
During the summer of 1997 I was reassigned to the MPD Domestic Violence Unit. It was easy enough. There were two openings, and only three cops applied for them. At the time, most cops got very frustrated working DV cases because of the common behavior of the victims. I won’t go into the dynamics here, but suffice it to say that the behavior of DV victims created problems for us when we tried to hold a batterer responsible for his reprehensible behavior. I had always had a problem with people beating up and taking advantage of other people who were weaker then them, and Domestic Violence Batterers certainly fell into that category.
When I was very young I was playing with my younger sister Jean. She was probably less than three years old, and she grabbed something out of my hand and whacked me. I became angry and I pushed her backwards. I didn’t hurt her at all. But, I did this and my dad saw it! He was very angry. After yelling at me, he took me aside and told me that a real man never, ever put his hands on a girl or a woman. He warned me against ever putting a hand on my sister and told me that if I wanted to grow up and be a real man, I would never, ever put my hands on or hit a woman. That lecture always stuck with me.
Added to that, I looked at the chance to work full time on DV cases as a good thing. After all, I would be working exclusively on violent crimes and as a result I would leave behind the world of parking violations, no injury auto accidents and litigating endless neighborhood disputes. I found out after my assignment that the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted DV cases, along with the local Women’s Crisis Service Agency recommended that the PD select me for this assignment because of the thorough job they thought I did in DV cases and my reputation among DV victims who sought services. So, In August of 1997 I went into that unit and I worked there until May 2003.
I was still treating Stalking cases as kind of a nuisance, and preferred to spend my time working other “violent” cases. One week, I was sent to L.A. for a conference and training for stalking cases. It was there that my eyes were opened about the heinous nature of stalking. We were presented numerous case studies from LAPD and other agencies. I also learned that something like 90+% of all homicides were preceded by some type of stalking behavior. This made sense when I thought about it, but it also opened my eyes and I looked at the issue of Stalking in a whole different context.
3 years go by, my first partner in the DV Unit, Danny (may he rest in peace) was reassigned back to patrol and I got my second partner. Steve was a really smart guy, a hard working street cop and like Danny, he was also senior to me and a solid union guy. All these things were important to me, so I had already respected him before I got to work with him.
We normally worked 6 PM-230 AM. We were given a ton of latitude by MPD. For example, we could decide to stay and work overtime any shift on any case when we felt it was warranted. Some of the bosses at MPD resented that, and it came back to bite me in someways later in my career, but that’s the nature of this job. Bosses sometimes have long memories, and payback was always a hazard in this profession. Another benefit was that we were allowed to switch our work schedule as needed to work various cases and so forth. Additioanlly, we were pretty much given free reign for personal time off, something we never enjoyed working in Patrol. All this freedom was great, and as long as we didn’t forget our primary shift was 6-230 AM and we didn’t abuse this responsibility, the bosses in our direct chain of command backed us up. They actually trusted our judgement.
One of the best cases I consider I ever worked was a stalking case. Its too involved and complicated to talk about here, but I will say, this is one case where I believe to this day we saved the victim’s life. On this job you make so many arrests, and if you make an unremarkable but solid DWI arrest, for example, you always like to feel you may have saved some innocent person from being killed by that drunk driver, but who ever knows. In the case I mention here, there was no doubt, and I actually received phone calls from that victim thanking me for no less than saving her life. The suspect’s behavior caused the victim to go into hiding and before we were done, she sent me a letter thanking me and emphasizing that we saved her life. And, to this day, I truly believe Steve and I did just that!
But here is a different stalking case we worked that was interesting and kind of unique, so I’ll take a few minutes and share it here.
One day a patrol officer took a stalking complaint from the victim in this case. The case was assigned to me, so Steve and I went to work on it. We met with the victim and I conducted a more in depth and complete interview, which was the norm for us.
The victim was a woman from the Boston area. She had been in a long term romantic relationship with a guy. In fact the two lived together for several years. Problem was the relationship was abusive, and the suspect assaulted and threatened the victim many times over the course of their relationship. For many reasons, including her fear of her boyfriend, the victim never reported any of this behavior to the police. Because of this, naturally, there were no records anywhere of this abuse.
I asked the victim to describe to me the most serious or worst assault she suffered from the suspect. She told us that during one argument, several years ago, the suspect threw her down a flight of stairs. As a result of this incident she had suffered broken bones and head injuries. These injuries were serious enough for her to be hospitalized, and as a result she spent several days being treated and recovering at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.
She went on to tell me that during this time, from the time she was taken to the hospital until she was released her boyfriend, the suspect, who she believed was stalking her in this case, had stayed with her 24 / 7 in her hospital room. The hospital allowed him to sleep on the floor and by doing so, he insured that she was never able to disclose that assault to anyone at the hospital. She told them she had accidentally tripped and fell down a flight of stairs, and since her injuries were consistent with such a fall, no one there asked any further questions.
While evaluating this case, the credibility of the victim, and trying to determine the potential lethality regarding this relationship, I obtained her medical records from MGH. Everything she told us was true. Of course, there was no mention of an assault, but after spending time with her, her word was good enough for me.
So, as time went on the victim fled Massachusetts to get away from the suspect, and she didn’t think he knew where she lived. However she started to receive many terrifying messages on her computer from someone by way of Instant Messaging which was pretty popular at the time. The messages indicated that whoever was sending them was watching her. That person knew about where the victim was going, who she was seeing and she was pretty terrified. We didn’t blame her, the suspect knew way too much about her and it was apparent he had been shadowing her. She believed her ex-boyfriend had somehow found her, and he was the person sending the messages. Of course he never identified himself. But clearly, he was out there and watching her here in Manchester.
We came up with a plan. When we had an hour here or a half hour there, we placed her apartment under surveillance. This was hit or miss, and it never worked out. We didn’t tell her when we were around, but we told her we would be, and we were true to our word. But, due to the volume of casework and so forth, we could not devote large blocks of time to anything less than a homicide.
So, the next step was to obtain the subscriber information of the person sending the messages. In this case, he was using an AOL account. AOL, at the time was located in Louden Virginia. I went on to learn that the Loudon County Sheriff’s Department had three full time Detectives assigned to AOL, which AOL paid for. I contacted one of them. He told me that to get the subscriber information I would have to obtain a subpoena, obtained in Manchester then send it to him. If I wanted access to content and activity of that person’s account, I would have to obtain a search warrant from a judge in Manchester, send it to him. He would then apply for a subpoena or search warrant in Louden County, serve it on AOL and eventually send me the information. That’s all that these three detectives did. It was their full time assignment. They fielded subpoenas and search warrants for AOL from law enforcement agencies from all over the country and throughout the world as well.
I went to work. I obtained and sent the necessary documents and to this detective. The process was equally long and arduous on his end. Meantime, the victim was till getting threatening messages from our boy via IM. The messages weren’t overt threats, but he kept telling her he was watching her, knew what she was doing and so forth. We became very worried about her safety.
Now from the beginning, she believed her ex boyfriend was the perpetrator. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I had obtained his criminal record and he was a bad boy for sure. I found out where he was living, in Everett Massachusetts. This complicated matters for us even more. We had no Jurisdiction in Everett, and even if we made a case against him, the most we could charge him with was a misdemeanor, therefore we would not be able to forcibly extradite him across state lines for anything less than a felony. But, the jurisdiction issues did not prevent us from working the case.
The messages were being received by the victim in Manchester, and we could prove it, so that gave us jurisdiction over the crime itself. However gathering further evidence was problematic. Steve and I decided to pursue an arrest warrant anyway, and lord forbid, if he ever decided to come to Manchester, if he ever entered New Hampshire and had contact with police they would find the warrant, arrest him and he would be held here in Manchester on the warrant. Thats the best we could hope for, but to even accomplish that, there was a lot more arduous work to be done.
Operating on the reasonable assumption that her ex was our suspect, I contacted the Everett Massachusetts Police Department and spoke at length to a detective there. We came up with a plan of action. Once I received the information which identified the victim’s ex-boyfriend as the subscriber sending the messages from AOL, I would then obtain a search warrant to seize his computer at his home in Everett, from Manchester District Court. We would then obtain another search warrant to search the computer itself for evidence we believed it contained. I would obtain these warrants in Manchester once I got the information from the Louden County Virginia Detective.
I would then take the search warrants to Everett, meet with the detective, and he would re-write applications for the same search warrants and obtain them form his district court. He and I would then go to Malden Mass. District Court and obtain a search warrant there. Once we had those warrants in hand, we would go together to the suspects house, serve the warrants and seize the computer. We weren’t sure how we were going to process the computer for evidence once we got it, again the jurisdiction issue was a problem. But, we’d have to figure that out once we got the computer.
So, we had a good plan, I thought, and I waited to hear from Louden County. During this time, I kept in touch with the victim, we stopped by whenever we were in her neighborhood and tried to assure her we were on top of the case. Well, at least as much a possible. Unfortunately, these steps took time. Unless we could catch him on the scene, we had no choice other than to follow this formidable paperwork chain. We could only hope the victim didn’t end up seriously hurt or worse in the meantime.
One day I arrived at work and the requested information from AOL and Louden County had finally arrived. I eagerly opened the envelope and much to my surprise, the subscriber was not our suspect at all!
We got the name an address of our new suspect all right, but now we had a whole new investigation on our hands. Well, not exactly, but this information certainly threw both Steve and I along with the victim the proverbial curve ball.
Continuing the investigation, we learned that our new suspect lived in Concord NH. He, at some point, drove a taxi for a living in Nashua NH. We were shocked. So were the Everett Detectives we had been working with. I pulled a criminal history on this guy, but I was unable to locate anything significant. I’m sure if he had a criminal record he wouldn’t have been able to work as a taxi driver in Nashua or anywhere else, so his record was a dead end for us.
Steve and I headed up to Concord to try to locate, identify and interview this subject. We stopped at Concord PD to let them know why we were in their city and where we were going. They graciously offered to send someone with us, but because we didn’t anticipate arresting this guy at this time, we declined their kind offer. Since the new suspect did not have a previous stalking arrest, making this a felony, no matter what we discovered we would be unable to arrest him on the spot for a misdemeanor stalking case.
We found his house. It was a nice looking split level in a quiet and well kept neighborhood in Concord. It was located in a cul-de-sac. We knocked on the door. A middle aged guy answered wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts. We identified ourselves, showed him our credentials and asked to talk to him He agreed and showed us inside. So far, so good, I thought.
Once we got inside, we saw, to our dismay that the living room and kitchen were cluttered and literally knee deep in trash. Also, there were three young children living there. During our visit there, in addition to our stalking investigation, we now had a child neglect case on our hands even though we were technically out of our jurisdiction. Even so, we were considered mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect under New Hampshire Law. Not that we had a problem with that. The kids shouldn’t have been living in those conditions.
The guy was cooperative. He allowed us to go though the house and inspect his refrigerator. As bad as the house was, the refrigerator appeared well stocked and reasonably clean, and that was important. The children’s rooms were unkept, but certainly not unsanitary. The kids were reasonably clean, apparently going to school everyday and appeared happy. We questioned them about what they had eaten for meals during that day, and their answers and appearance satisfied us that the kids were reasonably fed and appeared healthy. They were sadly, somewhat wary of our presence, and I think the fact that they and their father were black made them even more suspicious of us than they otherwise might have been. Unfortunately, this wasn’t uncommon for police work.
So we interviewed our new suspect in his kitchen. He admitted meeting the victim who had ridden in his cab sometime ago. He said he didn’t mean any harm, that he really liked the victim and was contacting her only because he hoping for a date. Steve and I knew from reading the messages that this was BS and he was clearing minimizing his behavior, but we also knew that a judge or jury could possibly give him the benefit of the doubt or even believe him.
We looked for a computer, but we found none. He told us when he gets on line, he uses a computer at his local library. No real, practical chance to get any solid forensic evidence. We also learned that AOL only saved content for 30 days, something we learned too late. After that, content no longer existed. This investigation took a hell of a lot longer than 30 days. We had invested a ton of man-hours to it, but slowly we were starting to realize our case was suddenly evaporating.
Steve and I left the encounter shaking our heads. We ordered him to cease and desist any contact with the victim immediately. We explained in detail that the stalking law stated specifically the once being advised and warned that his behavior constituted stalking, we could then charge him with any single attempt to contact the victim in any way. We may not have been able to make a good case against his past behavior, but any contact from that point on would make him immediately subject to arrest and probably conviction. It also allowed the victim to obtain a Stalking Restraining Order in Concord, if she chose to do so.
Steve and I filled in the Concord PD about both the stalking behavior and the child neglect issue that we believed existed in the house. We also wrote up and filed a neglect report with the state agency that investigates these issue. I have no idea what, if any follow up was done in the case. DCYF rarely got back to us on cases we sent to them.
As for the original stalking case, we met with the victim. We filled her in on everything, as well as our thoughts about a successful prosecution. She seemed fine with it. Although shocked that this person was stalking her (she did visit friends in Nashua and had taken a taxi there a few times) she was mostly relieved that we were able to prove that her ex-boyfriend was not the one stalking her. We certainly left the door open for her to contact us if she had any further problems with this guy, her ex, or anyone else.
We never heard from her again, so I am of the hopeful opinion that neither guy ever bothered her again. My take away from this case was two fold. One, always keep an open mind during criminal investigations, even if you believe you have identified the perpetrator. And two, I had entered and learned a lot in the world of forensic investigation involving computers and related electronic devices. The world was changing and as a cop, I had to keep up with it. It was the 21st century, and I was being dragged, willingly or not, into an entirely new world of technology and forensic investigative methods. The stalking cases continued to come in, and we worked them and made arrests whenever as possible. On the wall above my desk, I placed a sign I had printed out. It said:
MPD Domestic Violence Unit. We stalk stalkers.
My supervisor ordered me to take it down, telling me it was inappropriate and unprofessional. I never understood why, but I took it down as ordered. However, that’s what Steve and I did. We stalked stalkers and we came to excel at it.