Seeking Protection

Stalking and restraining orders and the justice system 

On the morning of May 24, a 39-year-old woman drove a gold Kia Soul to the Eugene Weekly offices, walked in and screamed, “I know where you fucking work, bitch!” She then walked outside and threw an avocado-shaped rock at the newspaper’s front windows hard enough to crack the glass and break the rock in two.

The bitch she sought was me. I wasn’t there at the time, but our office manager, JJ Snyder, who came face to face with the woman, was freaked out. 

“My first thought,” she says, “was that this must be the same person who had sent the disturbing emails, as she referenced herself as being ‘the real slug queen.’ My second thought was that she needed help, and that I had better lock the door behind her.”

I knew the rock-thrower. I’d never met her, but for the past year, the rock-throwing woman’s disturbing emails included racist rants, conspiracy theories, and to me, threats like “I’ll beat your face with a brick and live on a tent outside the EW.” 

It’s the nature of editing a newspaper in this turbulent time that I hear from a lot of angry people. Often, the really angry people are not merely upset about a story we published. They can become obsessed with the news organization itself and even a name they see in the paper, whether they know the person or not. 

I knew that this woman had targeted other people with threats online. (She cc’d me and other people on the emails.) I had reported her threats to the police seven months earlier, but since she appeared to be out of state at the time, the police really couldn’t do anything. 

We reported the window-bashing to the police, and I thought that’s all I needed to do.

Nearly 3.4 million people said they have been stalked online or in what law enforcement calls “traditional” stalking — following their victims, showing up at their homes or places of work, or harassing friends and family — in 2019, according to federal Bureau of Justice statistics. 

One out of every three women reported they have been stalked, but one of every six men also reported being targeted. Sixty-nine percent of female and 80 percent of male stalking victims were threatened with physical harm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even without being injured, the target can live in fear. 

Honestly, I didn’t see myself as a victim — if she was waiting for me outside the office, I kind of figured I could take her, even if she was threatening me with a brick.

But then I learned the assailant had done the same thing at other organizations she had targeted with her angry emails. Snyder, who came face to face with the rock thrower, said she would go to court with me to seek a protective order against the rock thrower.

I didn’t see the point — the rock thrower could just ignore the judge’s order.

Here’s something else I learned, and the reason I’m telling this story: Too few people follow the legal steps available to them when a dangerous and obsessive person threatens to harm or kill them. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says only 35 percent of people who are stalked turn to the courts for help.

But some of the other people who had been threatened and stalked said our filing for a protective order might help their case and keep this woman off the streets. 

So Snyder and I went to court. It’s then I realized how little I knew about the system we have in place to protect us against people who mean to do us harm.

According to state judicial records, 19,327 people went to court in Oregon last year seeking some sort of protective order against a person who posed a threat to their physical safety. That’s an average of 52 people every day. That rate has more than doubled in the past several years.

This number includes all types of protective orders that can be issued by a judge. The most common order is the Family Abuse Prevention Act (FAPA) order, which protects families and couples from domestic and intimate partner violence. That’s what gets called a restraining order here in Oregon.

To convince a judge to issue an anti-stalking order, the petitioner (which would be me) needs to show the respondent (the alleged stalker) has knowingly alarmed the target with repeated unwanted contact that creates a fear of safety for themselves or someone in their household.

With my sense of bravado, I didn’t allow myself to be afraid of the rock-throwing woman. Not at first. I guess I had forgotten a lesson that I might have learned from other people’s experiences.

Lauren Regan is a successful and prominent lawyer in Eugene who two decades ago founded the Civil Liberties Defense Center. She works on often contentious cases, from defending environmental protesters to civil rights issues, such as defending the protesters against Georgia’s “Cop City.” 

About three years ago, Regan discovered she had a stalker. A man known in environmental activist circles began showing up at her office at the Civil Liberties Defense Center. She had seen him at events and protests, and he first approached her saying he needed legal help. Then he moved on to obsessing about her. 

Despite her courtroom experience, and because she is a prison abolitionist — someone who wants to get rid of the prison system and replace it with education and rehabilitation — Regan at first didn’t take legal steps against him. She instead tried “a multitude of alternatives” to get the man to leave her alone, including having friends talk to him to try to stop his behaviors. But, she says that his mental illness made it so he had no impulse control. “And we knew he had a number of weapons.” 

One day Regan was working in her neighborhood on a community cleanup project when she heard a roaring engine. “A car was screaming down the street,” Regan says. “He stops in front of my house,” she says. “And I’m far enough away that I don’t recognize the car, and I don’t really recognize what’s going on.”

The driver had rolled down his window. He asked a neighbor’s kid where he could find Regan. The child innocently pointed to where Regan was standing with her neighbors near the street’s end. The man gunned the car and aimed at Regan. 

Only then, she says, “I realized it was him.”

She and her neighbors scattered. Regan ran behind a camper parked on the street.

“That’s a stalker,” she told her neighbors. “Everybody, get away from his car.”  

The man got out of the car and came at her. 

Today, Regan recalls that, for a long time, she had mused that, if he ever came after her, “I figured I could probably knock this dude out.” But when the man approached, a neighbor grabbed her and pulled her to safety.

The stalker sped away, neighbors called 911 and she hid inside her house. She says a sheriff arrived six hours later. During that time, trapped inside, Regan thought, “Is he coming back? What’s going to happen here?” 

Regan told me about the incident at the time — and consented to retelling it for this story. As I heard it again, I flashed my own sense of hubris. She thought she could take the man on, just as I thought I had some kind of protective shield around me. 

I certainly do not, and neither do the people who work with me.

So I went to court.

Most people who seek the court’s protection from someone threatening to harm them need help navigating the system, and I was no different.

Earlier in June, Snyder and I arrived at the Lane County Courthouse. I still vaguely thought we were seeking restraining orders, and had no idea how all this would work.

We followed the steps on a flow chart provided by the Lane County Court’s Victims Services Division called “How to Apply for a Protective Order.” The chart has 10 steps and directed us to fill out a four-page form that asks for details about the alleged stalker’s threats and actions. It also asks how I had communicated to the person making threats that his contact was unwanted.

The form also asked me for my home address, which I found a bit ironic. 

We’d been warned that when the respondent gets a copy of the protective order, your address is on it, as is your phone number. As a court official advised me, “Anything that’s written in the petition or the order, a copy is provided to the respondent, so you don’t want to give them anything they don’t already know.” 

I used the Weekly’s address since she already knows where that is.

In order to get a stalking protective order you have to appear at the courthouse between 8 am and 10 am on a weekday, and you need to be ready to stay there for several hours.

Debbie Glessner, protective order clinic supervisor at Victim’s Services, is not an attorney and can’t give legal advice. She tells me in a later interview, “We don’t help people to get an order; we make sure that they have marked all the boxes that need to be marked and have provided all the information the judge needs.”

Victims Services, like the rest of the courthouse, is a drab brown room, with folks who work there protected by strong plexiglass windows that you slip your documents through. Like everyone in the building, they were helpful and supportive as we asked questions about the paperwork. 

We were told that the judge would decide on a temporary order later that morning and to come back at 10 am. While I waited, I edited news stories on my laptop (the paper was due at the printer in a few hours) and wondered how other people could take a day off work to get this done. As it turns out, that’s a problem for many people.

I later asked Madi Potter, legal services and system navigation coordinator with Sexual Assault Support Services, about the process. She tells me she lets people know in advance that it can take hours. “The time constraint can be a hard thing to navigate,” she says. “This could be an all-day thing.”

Shortly after 11 am, a court official walked out to the waiting area and called out the names of people waiting to see the judge about their petitions for a protective order. I thought that odd. I also thought it strange that no one asked to see my identification — though the flow chart said to bring ID.

Matt Watkins is a defense attorney who has worked on protective order cases on behalf of petitioners and respondents. He told me that the first step — the one I was about to take — was an ex parte proceeding. That means the judge at this phase will hear only from the petitioner. 

If the judge grants the order that day, it will be only temporary. The respondent, the rock thrower, will have an opportunity to appear in court at a later date and tell the judge why the order is unnecessary and not be extended. 

Watkins tells me that some judges are more prone than others to give out temporary stalking protective orders. The first, temporary, order is granted through that ex parte proceeding, Watkins explains. Since only one party — the one asking for the order — is present before the judge, it’s “contrary to due process, that’s why the hearing process is applicable,” he says.

We hear our names and enter the courtroom. Watkins advised me to expect a lot of questions from the judge, who is assigned at random. That day, Judge Bradley Cascagnette is on the bench. The judge looked at our documents, said our temporary anti-stalking order was granted, and that we could go. 

We had to wait for another half hour or so to pick up the written order itself, signed by the judge and certified by the Lane County Circuit Court. One by one, I watched from a bench outside as others left the courtroom. Everyone stayed to get their paperwork except one young woman who left the courthouse, sobbing.

We were given the time and date — always a Monday in Lane County — when we should return for the second hearing. It’s at this hearing where the petitioner, me, and the respondent, the still-alleged rock-throwing woman, can come face to face in the courtroom.

Watkins says it’s an awkward but legally necessary step, allowing someone to face their accuser. Protective orders “are very necessary but very capable of being abused,” Watkins says. He’s seen people try to obtain restraining orders over disagreements about which roommate should move out of an apartment.

Potter says the hearing doesn’t require an attorney, but that everyone must be present to testify. If the petitioner doesn’t show up, then the order is dropped and if the respondent doesn’t show up, it’s likely granted. Any witnesses have to be present. “They cannot write letters or provide statements,” she says.

I understand that’s how our legal system does — and should — work. 

Unlike restraining orders, which expire after one year, an anti-stalking order is permanent. It’s lifted only when the original petitioner requests that it be terminated. While a respondent can ask for a stalking order to be lifted, Watkins says that can be “delicate” because you need to contact the victim. 

Still, I wasn’t sure how I felt about having to be in a courtroom with the woman who had made it clear she wanted to bash me in the head with a rock. It has to be worse for a petitioner who’s been assaulted.

When we get the documents, we’re told by the court to carry the documents with me and to leave one set at Eugene Weekly’s offices in case the police need to show up.

The anti-stalking order itself does not actually stop someone from coming after you again. If they violate the order, we need to call the police and show them the paperwork. Regan says, “I think people think that — or especially women — think that once they get a restraining order that somehow they’re going to literally have like a cop standing in front of their door guarding them.” And that,” she says, “is never ever going to happen.”

At the moment, that’s not a worry. The rock-throwing woman is currently in the Lane County Jail, being held on charges related to breaking windows at local nonprofits and — ironically — violating a stalking protective order. I don’t know when she might be released, but I check the Lane County Jail Inmate Viewer every couple days. She did receive the court order telling her a temporary anti-stalking order had been filed by me against her. 

Regan also knows where her stalker is. Last fall, he was found unfit to stand trial after he chased his neighbors with a knife and injured a man with what the police called a handmade throwing star. (The victim described the weapon as an eight-and-a-quarter pound ball of lead with protruding five-inch nail spikes.) After being treated at the Oregon State Hospital, he was sent to state prison and could be released in August.

Regan says, “The overall sad part of it is, as long as this person is alive, he is a threat to me, a safety threat to me. And each time he gets out of jail, he is more furious that I put him there. And so each time this restraining order is enforced, it’s actually making me less safe. It’s an incredibly broken system.”

20240620cs-flowchart

Comments are closed.