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"Aggressively" Following Someone in a Car for Several Blocks Because of Her Religion = Felony:

See yesterday's Minnesota v. Stockwell (Minn. Ct. App.):

MH is a Muslim woman who immigrated to the United States from Somalia in 1994, and wears a headscarf. On September 12, 2006, MH was driving on a four-lane road in Rochester to her place of employment when she noticed a blue van following extremely close. According to MH, the van was virtually on her bumper and continued to follow her just as closely after two turns and numerous opportunities to pass.

MH testified that when she made a left turn into her workplace parking lot, the van had to wait for oncoming traffic before turning to follow her. Then the van continued to follow MH into the parking lot. MH quickly parked and rushed toward the building. The driver of the van, later identified as appellant, pulled up to the entrance of the building and rolled down her window. MH further testified that the driver assumed that she was Muslim, confronted her about Islamic terrorism and her Islamic religious beliefs, and told MH that she felt like killing her.

Appellant [Patricia Josephine Stockwell']s testimony provided a different version of events. Appellant acknowledged that she was driving a van on September 12, 2006, to pick up her son from driving school, which was located across the street from MH's workplace. Appellant testified that she was parked at the driving school when she observed MH walking from her car to her workplace door. Appellant testified that she noticed MH because of her headscarf. According to appellant, she drove across the street and into the parking lot to speak with MH. Appellant testified that she did not intend to cause appellant any fear, but stated that she had strong feelings about radical Islam and wished to share a message with other people about radical Islam. Appellant denied following MH or being angry.

At trial, appellant admitted that she was not truthful when she initially told the police that she had never confronted a Muslim woman and had never been in the parking lot of the building where MH worked.

A jury found appellant guilty of one count of felony stalking under Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subds. 2(a)(2), 3(a)(1) (2006), and acquitted her of harassment and disorderly conduct. The district court granted appellant‟s request for a downward durational departure and imposed a 365-day sentence, stayed for two years. ....

[The] conviction for stalking was based on appellant's driving conduct and not her words in the parking lot. What was said to appellant in the parking lot was not relevant to the conviction other than to enhance the conviction [to a felony] on the grounds that appellant followed and pursued MH because of MH's religion....

While a person can be convicted for a single act of stalking under the stalking-harassment provision of the Minnesota statute, [the statute] requires an element of intent because the statute requires that a person be harassing someone by following them.... [T]o harass “means to engage in intentional conduct which: (1) the actor knows or has reason to know would cause the victim under the circumstances to feel frightened, threatened, oppressed, persecuted, or intimidated; and (2) causes this reaction on the part of the victim.” Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd. 1 (emphasis added)....

Here, appellant's conduct of aggressively pursuing MH in a vehicle for several blocks clearly falls within the statute's prohibitions....

I should note that the case struck me as noteworthy because the "conviction for stalking was based on appellant's driving conduct and not her words in the parking lot" (presumably since the words were the subject of the harassment and disorderly charges on which Stockwell was acquitted). Had the jury convicted her of making a death threat (based on the allegation that Stockwell "told MH that she felt like killing her"), treating the crime as a felony would have seemed to me much more sensible.

Oren:

Appellant testified that she did not intend to cause appellant any fear, but stated that she had strong feelings about radical Islam and wished to share a message with other people about radical Islam.

Sharing a message usually entails finding someone that wants to listen. If the target doesn't want to listen and you have to chase them down and confront them with what you want to say, harassment seems like a more apt description.

The conduct seems to be fairly clearly within the statute's prohibition and aggravating conditions. What's the beef here?
8.12.2009 3:39pm
byomtov (mail):
Wouldn't the behavior after parking suggest that the motive for the driving conduct was harassment, and that the close following was not unintentional?

If Stockwell had just parked at the driving school and stayed there would there really be a case here?
8.12.2009 3:47pm
Houston Lawyer:
Based on this, the bum who last week cursed at me when I ignored him and who then followed me down the street to confront me committed a felony.
8.12.2009 3:48pm
sk (mail):
Yes, bums do that all the time. I've experienced it in Chicago, to a lesser extent in KC. Fortunately for them, they tend to be (or tend to be stereotyped as), liberal. Ergo, no crime.

Sk
8.12.2009 3:56pm
DennisN (mail):
Houston Lawyer:

Based on this, the bum who last week cursed at me when I ignored him and who then followed me down the street to confront me committed a felony.


I think only a misdemeanor under the MN statute. It was the religious nature of the confrontation that aggravated it to a felony.


byomtov:

If Stockwell had just parked at the driving school and stayed there would there really be a case here?


I think it would be hard to prove, as Stockwell had gone to a different destination and had justification for going there.
8.12.2009 4:03pm
Oren:

Based on this, the bum who last week cursed at me when I ignored him and who then followed me down the street to confront me committed a felony.

Nope, misdemeanor harassment -- which seems quite apt since (taking the fact in the allegation as true) he did harass you.
8.12.2009 4:08pm
pete (mail) (www):

Based on this, the bum who last week cursed at me when I ignored him and who then followed me down the street to confront me committed a felony.


Only if he cursed at you because of your religion.

I am not sure this should have been a felony, but I am not going to be shedding many tears for the woman. Assuming the alleged facts are true the aggressive tailgating and following her into the parking lot should land her a few days in jail and she should have her license suspended.
8.12.2009 4:23pm
wfjag:
@ Houston Lawyer:

Since you're governed by Texas law, shouldn't your statement have been:


Based on this, the bum who last week cursed at me when I ignored him and who then followed me down the street to confront me committed a felony was suitable for target practice.

?

[Question asked with a level of envy evident.]
8.12.2009 4:31pm
Owen H. (mail):
Or perhaps the jury decided to find her guilty of the lesser charge, but based it partly on the words?
8.12.2009 4:32pm
Duel:
The reason why, religion or road rage or otherwise, is unimportant. In a car, you have no idea why you are being followed. Having a stranger follow you in a car, for reasons you do not know, can be a genuinely terrifying experience. More so than on foot. You have no ability to communicate with the follower. You have no way to gauge the person's sanity or actual dangerousness. What you do know is that in a vehicle, the person behind you has the power to severely injure or kill you. And so the follower proceeds, switching lanes when you do, speeding up and slowing down to stay behind you, and pursuing you at every turn. Meanwhile you have to concentrate on driving safely, despite your rattled nerves, though other vehicles are likely on the road, thus making any kind of fast escape itself inherently dangerous. So no, it's not anything like encountering a foul-mouthed bum on the street.

Yeah, it happened to me once, so I cannot offer a very objective opinion. Perhaps in this matter, tailgating someone for two turns shouldn't itself trigger a severe penalty. But, in considering the statute on its face, I don't see anything wrong with making this a felony crime.
8.12.2009 4:33pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Appellant [Patricia Josephine Stockwell']s testimony provided a different version of events. Appellant acknowledged that she was driving a van on September 12, 2006, to pick up her son from driving school, which was located across the street from MH's workplace. Appellant testified that she was parked at the driving school when she observed MH walking from her car to her workplace door. Appellant testified that she noticed MH because of her headscarf. According to appellant, she drove across the street and into the parking lot to speak with MH. Appellant testified that she did not intend to cause appellant any fear, but stated that she had strong feelings about radical Islam and wished to share a message with other people about radical Islam. Appellant denied following MH or being angry.


Unless the marking lot at MH's work place is huge, MH parked very far from the entrance to her workplace, and MJ is a very slow walker, appellant's story sounds fishy.

In any decent mystery novel, the detective would ask MH to step out of her car and walk to the entrance of the work place while someone in the parking lot of the driving school across the street noticed MH's headdress, started her engine, drove across the street, and then "shared her message" with MH.
8.12.2009 4:37pm
SGD (mail):
This sounds like a good way to prosecute those bothersome mormon missionaries.
8.12.2009 4:37pm
ohwilleke:
Colorado has a low level felony called "menancing" that would probably be applicable in a comparable situation. This conduct certainly appears to have constituted a credible threat to cause seriously bodily injury (at least) which was intended to be a credible threat.

Admitting on the stand that you lied to the cops certainly doesn't help your credibility as a trial witness, and running someone down so you can talk to them probably isn't defensible conduct even if true.
8.12.2009 4:37pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
I've seen women try, and fail, to have criminal action taken against actual, abusive stalkers, based on much more evidence of intentional placing in fear than this.

This was not stalking, and calling it that does a disservice to real victims of stalking who have often worked very hard, politically, to get these laws enacted.

Eugene, contrary to your last statement in the post, the defendant WAS convicted based on the words she said in the parking lot. Had it not been for those words, she would not be guilty of a felony. That's not just a sentence modification; to qualify as a felony, the additional element of "based on her religion" had to be found by the jury.

This conviction scares me. I don't defend the woman's conduct, but a felony? Is this what we're coming to? Let the woman be arrested for disorderly conduct, fine. But to pronounce her a felon because of her beliefs, however offensive? No, not on these facts.
8.12.2009 4:40pm
Houston Lawyer:
wfjag

The Texas Department of Public Safety has been sitting on my concealed carry permit since March. Even here in Houston, though, I don't think a jury would let me off for shooting a guy on a public street who didn't strike me or at least brandish a weapon.
8.12.2009 4:42pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I could understand this being harassment if MH had clearly and unambiguously explained that she did not want to hear the message. But she had not, and Stockwell is now a felon for trying to communicate with a stranger. Since when is that a crime?
8.12.2009 4:42pm
pete (mail) (www):

This conviction scares me. I don't defend the woman's conduct, but a felony?


I think it ia a borderline case. Intentionally following someone around like that in a vehicle is close on the badness scale to making death threats since a reasonable person would be afraid for their life and physical safety. Getting out of the car and follwoing her shows that it was not a misunderstanding or incompetent driving.


But she had not, and Stockwell is now a felon for trying to communicate with a stranger. Since when is that a crime?


Its not. But aggressively tailgating someone is and should be a crime since you put the driver and other people on the road at risk and the intent of the aggressive driving is to make the driver fear for their safety.
8.12.2009 4:52pm
Steve P. (mail):
Roger Shalafly - if you read the opinion, the woman was acquitted of harassment.

PatHMV - From the opinion: "[The] conviction for stalking was based on appellant's driving conduct and not her words in the parking lot."
8.12.2009 4:57pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Roger
I could understand this being harassment if MH had clearly and unambiguously explained that she did not want to hear the message.



Surely your standard can't be quite right.

Assuming MH's version is correct, when and how was she to have explained that she did not want to hear the message? She was driving her car, the other woman was tailgating her. is MH supposed to roll down her window and say "Whatever message you might have for me, I want to make it very clear that I don't want to hear your message?"

What if Patricia Josephine Stockwell had just been tailing MH because she just enjoyed aggravating or scaring random head scarf wearing Muslim's but didn't happen to want to communicate any particular message about Muslims? In that case, there would seem to be no first amendment issue because there is no claimed message to deliver. Presumably MH doesn't have to roll down her window to shout out that she doesn't want to hear the message.

INAL, but the judgement seems to be suggesting they are treating tailgating and following as harrassing. The words Stockwell uttered does establish that the fact that the tailgating was targetting MH for her religion. Stockwell wouldn't have tailgated her otherwise.

But, the fact that Stockwell felt the need to deliver a specific message and delivered it, does not, in and of itself the constitute the harassment. The message merely established the motive for the tailgating.
8.12.2009 5:03pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Steve P - From the opinion: "A person is guilty of felony stalking if he or she commits the stalking or harassing conduct because of the person's religion. Minn. Stat. § 609.749, subd. 3(a)(1) (2006)."

It only goes from a misdemeanor to a felony based on the thoughts and beliefs of the offender. Heck, there's not even a requirement that the victim know that the stalking or harassing is based on her religion, just that that is in fact the motivation.

Quoting the statute:

Subd. 3.Aggravated violations. (a) A person who commits any of the following acts is guilty of a felony and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both:
(1) commits any offense described in subdivision 2 because of the victim's or another's actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability as defined in section 363A.03, age, or national origin;
8.12.2009 5:04pm
Fub:
From facts quoted by lucia at 8.12.2009 4:37pm:
Appellant testified that she noticed MH because of her headscarf. According to appellant, she drove across the street and into the parking lot to speak with MH. Appellant testified that she did not intend to cause appellant any fear, but stated that she had strong feelings about radical Islam and wished to share a message with other people about radical Islam. Appellant denied following MH or being angry.
One thing that bothers me about the appellant's story is that she presumed MH to be Muslim solely on the basis of being a woman wearing a headscarf.

Headscarves are very common in decidedly non-Islamic cultures, including Catholic cultures. I've known many women who were not Muslim but wore headscarves routinely. Some of them had skin tones, eye colors and features which would suggest they were of some lineage besides, say, Scandinavian. But I don't recall any who were presumed to be Muslims by strangers. If anything, strangers' presumptions were that they were Italian Catholics. The presumption was was incorrect in that case too.

When did the popular presumption of Islamicity attach to women wearing headscarves?
8.12.2009 5:07pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Suppose I find a woman's bracelet in a parking lot. I see about a dozen people in the area, but only one is a woman, and she is getting in a car and driving off. I hop in my car and tailgate her until I get a chance to offer her the bracelet. Have I committed a felony under Minn. law?

Tailgating is annoying, but not every annoyance is a crime. Stalking and harassment laws usually require many repeated annoyances to be criminal.
8.12.2009 5:16pm
Owen H. (mail):
Fub- right after 9/11, a truck being driven by two Sikhs was stopped in traffic here in Philly, and a guy walked up and punched the driver because he assumed the turbans meant they were Muslims. Ironically, they were driving relief supplies to NYC. The point is, people are stupid, and make assumptions. Like this woman did, assuming that any Muslim is related to extremism.
8.12.2009 5:16pm
Steve:
I hop in my car and tailgate her until I get a chance to offer her the bracelet. Have I committed a felony under Minn. law?

Of course not. This is the sort of question we get when people act like taking "intent" into consideration is some newfangled thought-police concept in the law.
8.12.2009 5:23pm
Mike& (mail):
It sounds like the hate crime laws are actually being used to enforce civility mores.

You shouldn't follow someone to lecture them about religion. STFU and mind your own business.

Should failing to do so be a felony?
8.12.2009 5:46pm
einhverfr (mail) (www):
Steve:

Of course not. This is the sort of question we get when people act like taking "intent" into consideration is some newfangled thought-police concept in the law.


Not sure that follows.

For example, someone starts carrying out robberies against Jewish folk because he believes they are wealthier. Subject to a hate crime enhancement? His INTENT is to make money by robbery. He just believes affiliation with an ethno-religious group corresponds to a desirable target group.

Suppose it is against doctors instead?

Why should a professional classification be more protected than an ethnic or religion one when the motivation and intent are both primarily financial?
8.12.2009 5:53pm
Ariel:
I really wonder if this passes 1A scrutiny. Was this fighting words? If so, was it worse than Chaplinsky? If flag burning is protected expressive conduct, isn't her behavior expressive conduct as well? I find her behavior obnoxious and threatening, but I'm not sure it's to the level of fighting words (at least based on the excerpt here).
8.12.2009 6:05pm
DennisN (mail):
Fub:

When did the popular presumption of Islamicity attach to women wearing headscarves?


My grandmother would have been in trouble.

Heck, I remember one snowy day, I wore a Saudi Keffiyeh, walking to work in the snow. I drew some attention, but it IS a good head wrap. Today, I suppose I'd be taking my life in my hands.
8.12.2009 6:08pm
DennisN (mail):
Fub:

When did the popular presumption of Islamicity attach to women wearing headscarves?


My grandmother would have been in trouble.

Heck, I remember one snowy day, I wore a Saudi Keffiyeh, walking to work in the snow. I drew some attention, but it IS a good head wrap. Today, I suppose I'd be taking my life in my hands.
8.12.2009 6:08pm
DennisN (mail):
Fub:

When did the popular presumption of Islamicity attach to women wearing headscarves?


My grandmother would have been in trouble.

Heck, I remember one snowy day, I wore a Saudi Keffiyeh, walking to work in the snow. I drew some attention, but it IS a good head wrap. Today, I suppose I'd be taking my life in my hands.
8.12.2009 6:08pm
DennisN (mail):
Hiccups
8.12.2009 6:09pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Roger
I see about a dozen people in the area, but only one is a woman, and she is getting in a car and driving off. I hop in my car and tailgate her until I get a chance to offer her the bracelet. Have I committed a felony under Minn. law?


Evidently, the law only makes the stalking a felony under certain circumstances. In your bracelet example, you were not pursuing her because of her religion. So, you don't trigger that part of the law. Also, depending on how closely you were tailing her etc, you might be able to convince a jury that you had no idea she might be frightened; your knowing she might be frightened seems to matter with this statute. Finally, if the bracelet turned out to actually be hers, I image the jury would believe you on the facts of the case. (It's likely she would also believe you the moment you yelled out "Hey lady! I have your bracelet!" )

So, I think that a) you would not be guilty of the felony under this statute and b) the woman you pursued would not call a cop. But even if she did call a cop, I suspect most cops, prosecutors and juries would easily see that you were not motivated to tailgate because of the woman's religion.

Of course not all acts of tailgating are crimes. Maybe the Minn. law is misguided to turn tailgating into a crime when it's motivated by religion. But evidently they have, and evidently a jury thought Ms. Stockwell did that.
8.12.2009 6:15pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
In my example, I am pursuing the woman because of her sex, and sex is a protected category just like religion. But change the facts to religion, if you wish. Assume that the bracelet had a religious symbol on it. Yes, of course, the woman will not complain if I am really returning her lost bracelet, but maybe she did not lose a bracelet and is annoyed that I followed her.

For another example, suppose I see some Mormons or Scientologists or Buddhists in a public place, and I follow them because I am genuinely curious about their beliefs. I would have thought that was completely legal, up until the point that they tell me to get lost. Would that be a crime in Minn.?

You might say that the prosecutor will understand that I did not mean any harm. But in the above case, Stockwell did not mean any harm and it did not make any difference.
8.12.2009 6:46pm
kumquat:
You might say that the prosecutor will understand that I did not mean any harm.

The question isn't whether the prosecutor will think you meant any harm - it's whether the people you're following have reasonable grounds to think you mean any harm. Following someone in a car generally produces the impression that you do, until you prove otherwise by, for example, shouting that you have something valuable they lost.

If you instead use your first opportunity to communicate with them to declare that you believe they belong to a very bad group of people, they are unlikely to be reassured as to your intentions.
8.12.2009 7:33pm
Malvolio:
People here are confusing motive with intent.

IIUC, Intent is the chain of events you wish to trigger by a particular act; motive is the reason you regard that chain of events as desirable.

Consider the following two cases.

1. Bob hates Pastafarians (believers in the Flying Spaghetti Monster) and he sees George, a well-known Pastafarian, on the street, so Bob draws a gun and shoots over George's head. Or tries to: turns out, Bob is a lousy shot and hits George in the head, killing him.

2. Bob hates Pastafarians and deliberately shoots George in the head.

Both crimes have the some motive (anti-Pastafarianism) but different intent (alarming George vs. killing him).

Many, if not most, crimes require criminal intent, mens rea. Criminalizing certain motives is a huge can of worms.

In Roger's example (about following someone to return a lost religious item, but accidentally doing so so ineptly as to alarm the person you were trying to help), the person's religion is not the motive.
8.12.2009 8:24pm
Kara:
Motive is often criminalized in economic crimes.
8.12.2009 8:56pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Roger Schlafly
I would think in your more recent examples it might depend on whether a cop, prosecutor or jury believed you were pursuing the woman because of her religion or merely as a pretext to get to know here because you thought she was hot. With respect to the Scientologists or Mormons, the case might turn on whether the jury believed, based on evidence, that it never occurred to you that your manner of pursuit would frighten someone.

Why do you believe Stockwell did not mean any to frighten MH or didn't know her behavior would do so? INAL, but... isn't that a matter for the jury to decide based on the evidence presented?

If someone tailgated me a long distance, I would be frightened. Most women would be. MH is a woman. Stockwell is a woman, Even men know that women are often frightened when people start taligating them and following them for a distance. Unless Stockwell is a few short of a six pack, how could she not know tailgating would frighten MH?
8.12.2009 9:14pm
confused_876:
This girl has been calling the police on me for years and making up all kinds of things like I slashed her tires and chased her etc.. The other day I went through a public parking lot just to turn around and it so happened that she just started working in one of the stores there and she called the police on me and said I was harassing her when alls I did was go in and out not knowing she was there.

Does anyone know if this is considered harassment and if I can file harassment charges on her for calling the police on me all the time when I haven't done anything to her?
8.12.2009 9:52pm
Oren:

Yes, of course, the woman will not complain if I am really returning her lost bracelet, but maybe she did not lose a bracelet and is annoyed that I followed her.

Isn't that the point -- before you follow someone aggressively you ought to be sure that they will not be pissed?!
8.12.2009 10:01pm
ReaderY:
Are the participants in a religious funeral procession who do not know where the cemetary is committing a felony?

Both cases appear to involve the identical "driving conduct", (the Court of Appeals' phrase): following a car closely for some distance solely because of ones belief regarding the religious practices of the car's occupants as determined by their garb.

In addition to the driving conduct, a reasonable person would know that mourners can often feel harassed, threatened, and intimidated, and that being in funeral can enhance these feelings. It would appear that they ought to know that participating in a funeral can contribute to them.

What if one drives recklessly or negligently or otherwise gets involved in an accident: mourners are not always driving at their best. Does the fact that one has been deliberately following people because of their religion matter?

Applying a dictionary definition of a law seems dangerous. Given that dissent on matters the public feels strongly about is almost always at least mildly annoying, it would seem that if merely mildly annoying conduct could be treated as a felony, there would be no First Amendment.
8.12.2009 10:48pm
ValentinoRossi:
If I had been told of this entire incident instead of having just read of it on VC, I would find it impossible to believe.
8.12.2009 11:00pm
lucia (mail) (www):
ReaderY--
Gosh, when I've driven in a funeral procession, my motive was to mourn. I mourn for people of various religion; so my motive is not their religion per se.

Also, since the procession was organized and encouraged by the family of the deceased, it strikes me as unlikely that they would be frightened by the cars following behind. One of the requirements in the MN las is that the stalker must have reason to believe they would frighten the person being stalked; another is that the person being stalked must be frightened.

The funeral procession may have religious overtones, but the other elements of the stalking law don't apply to someone merely taking part in an organized funeral procession. The law required a number of elements connected with 'ands' not "ors". So, I don't see how a person quietly following in a funeral procession in the expected manner triggers the dictionary definition of the Minn. law.

No one is going to be frightened unless the person tailgating does something somewhat menacing to stand out from the rest of the mourners. No jury is going to believe anyone was frighted. No jury is going to believe a person following in a funeral procession expected anyone to be frighted.
8.12.2009 11:05pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Isn't that the point -- before you follow someone aggressively you ought to be sure that they will not be pissed?!
I am just trying to understand the law, not good manners. If that is really the law in Minn., then I will not try to return anyone's bracelet there.
8.13.2009 12:07am
Ricardo (mail):
It seems like some people have ignored the fact that Stockwell clearly broke the law by tailgating MH. Tailgating is unlawful in Minnesota as in all the other states. Additionally, she could be guilty of reckless or careless driving:

169.13 Reckless or careless driving.
Subdivision 1. Reckless driving. Any person who drives any vehicle in such a manner as to indicate either a willful or a wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving and such reckless driving is a misdemeanor.
Subd. 2. Careless driving. Any person who operates or halts any vehicle upon any street or highway carelessly or heedlessly in disregard of the rights of others, or in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any property or any person, including the driver or passengers of the vehicle, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

So maybe she wasn't convicted under the right law but clearly she is not innocent either. The situation does not compare with being followed by a foul-mouthed homeless person. As to Roger Schlafly's example, the fact that you found a woman's bracelet in a parking lot doesn't give you an excuse to break the law by endangering the woman in question or other motorists through reckless and irresponsible driving. Hand it over to a security guard or store manager -- if it's valuable she will be back for it.
8.13.2009 12:21am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Ricardo.... Reckless or careless driving is not a felony, conviction for which deprives one of the right to vote, the right to possess a gun, etc., etc.
8.13.2009 12:35am
whit:

This girl has been calling the police on me for years and making up all kinds of things like I slashed her tires and chased her etc.. The other day I went through a public parking lot just to turn around and it so happened that she just started working in one of the stores there and she called the police on me and said I was harassing her when alls I did was go in and out not knowing she was there.

Does anyone know if this is considered harassment and if I can file harassment charges on her for calling the police on me all the time when I haven't done anything to her?


we deal with this crap all the time. to paraphrase dershowitz, DV is simultaneously the most underreported (when it occurs less likely to be reported) and overreported (false and exaggerated allegations).

we deal with bogus complaints all the time. of all sorts./

i don't go to ANY call without at least a very healthy dose of skepticism. iow, a complainant is not necessarily a victim. sometimes they are trying to turn a civil issue into a criminal one (very common), or flat out lying.

here's the rub.

in most states, allegations of domestic violence, due to law, REQUIRE a case report, given at least a reasonable basis to believe they may be true. we can "blow off" all kinds of rubbish complaints (at least in my agency, since our policy is that our job is not to document any complaint, no matter how stupid. many other agencies policy is document everything)., but DV issues are a bit stickier.

also, even if she does make false allegations of domestic violence and she later recants, prosecutors HATE prosecuting (and generally won't) false DV complaints, because it's politically incorrect. there is no crime more political than DV and no area of law (imo) where people's rights are so routinely ignored. vague "stalking" cases like this, are the result of many years of the pendulum swinging, and its undoubtedly swung too far towards the state's side.

you also have to realize that just because you didn't go to that lot to "stalk"her , that she MAY have the belief that you did. iow, it's not "harassment" (or a false complaint) unless she makes up case facts to the officer or makes false statements. if she merely makes a dumb assunmption, it is up to the officer to question her AND you to get to the bottom of it.

this goes back to my other concept (which so many people here falsely claim the opposite of) which is that IF you are innocent, it is often in your best interests to talk to cops, and not the other way around.

but in brief, showing up in a parking lot where your ex happens to work is clearly NOT stalking. but since she has apparently made all sorts of other false complaints about you, god knows whether that has hurt her credibility. how were those cases disposed of?

but like i said, it's not harassment for her to call the cops cause you were in the parking lot. if she lies to the cops, that's a different story.

sounds to me like this woman is trouble. anybody that would lie to the police to try to get you in trouble is. people get jammed up all the time based on false complaints. i emphathize with you.
8.13.2009 6:21am
Ryan Waxx (mail):

The reason why, religion or road rage or otherwise, is unimportant. In a car, you have no idea why you are being followed. Having a stranger follow you in a car, for reasons you do not know, can be a genuinely terrifying experience. More so than on foot. You have no ability to communicate with the follower. You have no way to gauge the person's sanity or actual dangerousness. What you do know is that in a vehicle, the person behind you has the power to severely injure or kill you. And so the follower proceeds, switching lanes when you do, speeding up and slowing down to stay behind you, and pursuing you at every turn. Meanwhile you have to concentrate on driving safely, despite your rattled nerves, though other vehicles are likely on the road, thus making any kind of fast escape itself inherently dangerous. So no, it's not anything like encountering a foul-mouthed bum on the street.



I had a cop do this to me well past midnight(for over 10 miles, on a winding backcountry route with no streetlamps), and I couldn't tell what kind of car it was (much less weather it was a patrol car) because he was tailgating me with his high beams on, blinding me.

When I sped up to get away from the (so I thought) lunatic, he pulled me over for a speeding ticket. Pretty slick technique, eh?

I wonder how many tickets he gets using it. I wonder if I have a felony case to press.
8.13.2009 7:18am
yankev (mail):

When did the popular presumption of Islamicity attach to women wearing headscarves?

There are head scarves and there are head scarves. Certain forms of Islamic headscarves are indistinguishable from, say, a shawl worn over the head, others resemble a babushka, but still others -- e.g. those that incorporate a hood or trunkated hood that covers the neck -- do not. For the same reason, if I saw a woman where a tichel, a snood or a turban, I would assume she is not Muslim, because the neck is left exposed.
8.13.2009 9:36am
hillbilly habeus:
Confused, i am not a lawyer but it sounds like you should ask one about a restraining order against that person. yikes.
8.13.2009 11:07am
Steve:
whit, I appreciate the fact that you bring a healthy dose of skepticism when you respond to complaints, but you didn't seem to bring a lot of it when you responded to that post! Dunno, maybe you were just being tactful.
8.13.2009 12:12pm
Fub:
Owen H. wrote at 8.12.2009 5:16pm:
Fub- right after 9/11, a truck being driven by two Sikhs was stopped in traffic here in Philly, and a guy walked up and punched the driver because he assumed the turbans meant they were Muslims. Ironically, they were driving relief supplies to NYC.
Yep. In sunny California shortly after 9/11 some creeps murdered a Sikh somewhere up around Fresno for the same reason -- they thought he was a Muslim because he wore a turban and had a beard.

The irony does run deep. Sikhs have fought Muslim invaders since the Mogol empire period.
8.13.2009 12:50pm
whit:
steve, it was implicit that my response was with the following kept in mind " assuming that what you are saying is true" then the following applied. obviously , the poster could be exaggerating, skewing, or outright lying, but it's a little rude to outright say that when responding to an anonymous question on the internet in this blog.

my point is this - good cops have a healthy dose of skepticism. it's actually one of things we really have to pound into recruits. most civilians are incredibly naive and incredibly nonobservant. trusting people is a good thing, but when you are making decisions that affect other's liberty, and even life, it behooves you to question and have some skepticism even towards alleged victims. if you don't, you will miss inconsistencies that could show they are lying or mistaken. you also have to be really careful when interviewing to differentiate between assumptions and actual observations. many people will sometimes fail to distinguish this, but it's critical. i also firmly believe in, at least at the outset, NOT asking leading questions and letting the victim (or suspect) give a story unprompted by leading questions, which put ideas into people's minds and give them the impression that by answering in the affirmative, that they are "pleasing" me.
8.13.2009 4:05pm
Fub:
whit wrote at 8.13.2009 4:05pm:
... i also firmly believe in, at least at the outset, NOT asking leading questions and letting the victim (or suspect) give a story unprompted by leading questions, which put ideas into people's minds and give them the impression that by answering in the affirmative, that they are "pleasing" me.
And good on you for that.

I have heard there is another strong effect of leading questions in the critical time during and after a stressful event when memories are actually being formed in the brain. I don't recall who the researchers were, but the experiment was simple, and very telling. My recollection may be garbled in details. But the gist is clear.

In the middle of a classroom lecture, an actor runs into the room, snatches something from the teacher, and runs away. Teacher acts shocked (he's the experimenter), and says to class, "Did anyone see that curly haired man who snatched my lecture notes? Write down a description quickly so we can identify him to police."

Overwhelming majority of student descriptions include "curly haired". In interviews later, students insist the man had curly hair and they insist they remember it clearly.

The actor wore a buzz cut.

I do have citations handy for a much older account of a similar experiment. Francis L. Wellman, in The Art of Cross-Examination, cites an experiment by Prof. James Swift, Prof. of Psychology, Washington U., in a 1918 tome Psychology and the Day's Work.

The entire experiment's action was complicated, but here is a very limited synopsis that illustrates the point.

Four actors whose faces were well known to the 29 students enter a classroom and create uproar and confusion. One brandishes a banana as if it were a pistol. One drops a brown paper bag containing a brick. Professor Swift himself drops a firecracker which explodes. Another actor picks up the brown paper bag. Another actor cries out "I've been shot".

Students were asked to report what they saw happen during the event. Only 3 of 29 students recalled that 4 people had entered the room. Several described "a mob or crowd". None recognized all 4 actors, and 4 recognized none. Eight identified people who were not present. Only one even noticed the paper bag (remember it contained a brick). Nobody noticed that another actor picked it up. Several reported seeing a pistol flash. To quote Wellman directly, "Five reports did not contain a single item of truth or fact."

Wellman's point was the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. But the experiment itself also illustrates the brain's susceptibility to forming false memories in response to suggestion under stress.
8.13.2009 10:25pm
whit:
fub, in brief ... i agree. people are suggestible (children much moreso)

there are essentially two issues with leading questions. one is what you mentioned. that they can (like with witnesses) make them think they saw something they didn't. but the other is that it can actually encourage them to outright lie. now people are going to lie anyway. but you don't want to encourage it. it also creates bias in the following way. i have seen officers who when they respond to a domestic type incident will ALWAYS ask the woman "did he hit you?". but often not ask the same question to the man (on a different incident, where they contacted the man. usually one officer talks to one party and the other to the other party seperately, then we get together and compare "stories".). that creates a bias. asking non-leading questions like "what happened" is much less problematic. now this is different than if somebody tells you they didn't get hit, and you see a black eye. of course. then, you want to find out how did they get the black eye. also, when interviewing the male, i know some officers who would ask "did you hit her". they would never outright ask the woman the same question UNLESS an allegation of that was already made. now, this GENERALLY doesn't trigger miranda issues, since these are usually non-custodial, despite the fact that the question is designed to elicit an incriminating response, but it's still better to not ask questions that ASSUME a person is a victim or a suspect, in such cases.

interviewing is really an art and a science. it is an exceptionally important skill.

as another example, if a cop is investigating a threats type case, and it has been determined that one person said "i'll kill you you bastard", that is not (necessarily) a true threat. a necessary element of a threats case (harassment is the charge in WA state), is that the victim feels in fear. no threats case can be won if the victim does not feel fear (the fear must ALSO be reasonable, and there are other factors, but i digress).

you don't ask the person "were you afraid when he said he was going to kill you?" that's a leading question. you ask "how did you feel when he said that?". this really isn;'t that complicated, but it's AMAZING how many people simply don't get it
8.13.2009 11:09pm

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