Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Stalking Their Prey

A criminal's obsession is a victim's nightmare. Prosecution, though hard, is possible when law enforcement gets cooperation, O.C. experts say.

November 12, 1996|DENISE MARIE SIINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thud.

Westminster Police Detective Mike Proctor drops a 3-inch-thick binder on the table of a cramped interrogation room. "This is Sandra's file," he says. "She has been stalked by the same person for over 17 years."

Sandra is not an actress or any type of public figure. Her case, though, became one of the earliest to be prosecuted under California's anti-stalking legislation.

"Celebrities are not the only people to be stalked," says Proctor, Orange County's foremost specialist on stalking. "Two-thirds of all stalking crimes involve ordinary people, like Sandra."

And people such as Debra and Valerie, also of Orange County, whose names, like Sandra's, have been shortened or altered to protect their identities. Debra has been stalked by an ex-boyfriend since she refused to spend her birthday with him last year. Valerie was stalked briefly but vigilantly by a stranger who had been hired by her ex-husband to serve her with legal papers.

The stalkers of Debra and Sandra have been prosecuted. Although Sandra won in court, and her stalker was sentenced to jail, she still lives in fear: He is free again.

Stalking is the repetitive harassment of one person by another. It can take the form of unwanted telephone calls, letters or physical pursuit and frequently includes verbal or behavioral threats against the victim's person or property.

While it is most common for a man to stalk a woman, women also stalk men, and a small percentage of stalkers pursue the same sex. Stalking is a crime--though one its victims are often slow to recognize when it begins, and law enforcement is often slow to recognize when victims seek help.

Stalkers can be ingenious and frequently go to great lengths to contact their victims. Recently, police say, an Orange County woman arrested for stalking called a lawyer from jail to request his help in gaining release. She asked the lawyer to contact a man she falsely identified as her husband--the man whom she had been stalking--to arrange bail. The lawyer arranged a telephone conversation between her and the victim.

Stalking is against the law in all 50 states. In September, President Clinton signed into law a bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) making it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent to stalk or harass someone.

California was the first state to pass an anti-stalking law; the 1990 legislation was also drafted by Royce, then a state senator, and became a model for laws eventually enacted across the country.

Even with legislative backing, investigating and prosecuting stalking cases is difficult. It requires intensive, time-consuming work for police and a high degree of cooperation from the victim.

*

Stalking gained notoriety long before it became a criminal offense. For years, "star stalkers," as they became known in the entertainment industry, caused their famous victims and law enforcement agencies grief.

In January, entertainer Madonna gave many Americans a glimpse into the terror felt by a stalking victim as she testified in court against her stalker, Robert Dewey Hoskins. Hoskins was convicted of one count of felony stalking, three of making terrorist threats, one of misdemeanor assault. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

It was the fatal shooting of actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989 that helped spur legislation on the subject. Schaeffer was killed at her doorstep by a man who had previously shown up on the set of her sitcom, "My Sister Sam," with flowers for the actress.

As the state law was being enacted six years ago, police began to learn more about the dynamics of stalking. Detective John Lane of the Los Angeles Police Department's newly formed threat management unit and Proctor were among those who began focusing on the subject.

Proctor began seeing that stalking was a frequent component of many violent crimes being committed in Orange County. In the years since, he has talked with many women and men who, like Sandra, have been victimized by the continual, obsessive behavior of stalkers.

Proctor said that Sandra's cooperation became paramount. "Victims and law enforcement agencies need to understand that managing stalking cases is a long-term commitment," Proctor says. "We work with a victim as long as it takes to resolve the problem."

Stalking victims often find themselves dealing with police or court employees who aren't knowledgeable about the crime, Proctor says. To them, it sounds like just another domestic dispute. "When victims finally reach a knowledgeable investigator who is willing to work with them, they are usually overwhelmed with relief because, finally, someone is taking them seriously," he says.

Although a restraining order from the court is no guarantee that a stalker will stay away, Proctor urges his clients to get them and keep them current. When the stalker violates the order, it gives police more evidence in the case they are building.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|