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Professor pleads guilty to violating Fritz Coleman restraining order

Harbor College geography teacher Melanie Renfrew had inundated the KNBC weatherman with e-mails and letters. She could face jail time and a fine unless she refrains from contacting him.

September 15, 2009|Jeff Gottlieb

A community college geography instructor, who flooded TV weatherman Fritz Coleman with e-mails and rambling letters expressing her romantic interest in him and saying that God was talking to her, has pleaded guilty to violating a restraining order that prohibited her from communicating with the KNBC personality.

Melanie Renfrew, who teaches at Harbor College in Wilmington, could face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, if she has no contact with Coleman or NBC employees, the case will be dismissed in a year, Burbank Assistant City Atty. Denny Wei said.

Harbor President Linda Spink said that the college's lawyer will look at the case to determine if Renfrew should be disciplined.

In an e-mail to The Times, Renfrew, 54, called Coleman's charges "libel, slander, and I could sue for millions and win."

She said in a telephone interview that she started writing to Coleman because she thought his characterization of onshore and offshore air patterns during weather reports were wrong and that she had never threatened or harassed him.

"I was called a criminal for being normal," she said. "I think he should have been flattered because I liked him . . . I'm not ashamed of anything I did or said."

Coleman, his attorney and KNBC declined to comment.

In his declaration to the court, Coleman said he began receiving e-mails and handwritten letters from Renfrew in early 2007 that "used religious invective and expressed intimate feelings that she had toward me."

He said it appeared from the "obsessive tone" of the correspondence that Renfrew "was not a stable person." Although he asked her to stop, she continued communicating with him.

Coleman said that Renfrew, who holds a doctorate from UCLA, referred to restaurants he frequents near his office and in Toluca Lake, where he is honorary mayor. He said she also showed up at a personal appearance he made at Knott's Berry Farm.

Coleman said that even after NBC security spoke with Harbor College officials in fall 2007, Renfrew failed to stop contacting him, and he found that her "continuing incoherent messages were highly disturbing."

According to the court file, she invited him for an "intimate" Thanksgiving dinner and for Christmas, telling him he could camp in her backyard.

In one letter, she wrote, "We never have to get married or even be friends unless you want to." In another she said, "I don't want to love someone who doesn't love me, so I'm not afraid if you don't."

Another time she sent him 10 pages from her journal she was writing at 3 a.m. "I felt God was inspiring me to write to you," she said.

Coleman obtained a restraining order in March 2008 that prevented Renfrew from coming within 100 yards of him or communicating with him. She violated the order in July 2008, and the city of Burbank, where KNBC is located, brought criminal charges against her.

She pleaded guilty to violating the restraining order last month.

Harbor Vice President Luis Rosas said Renfrew had received good evaluations from students and faculty in the more than 10 years she had taught there.

"We have had no reason to have been concerned," Spink, the college president, said.

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jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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