Are you being stalked? Would you know if you were, and what could you do about it? The Times examines the laws, the issues and the people affected by stalking.
May 14, 2003
On the afternoon of Saturday, April 12, classmates Rebecca, 17, and Nancy, 16, drove to Girard Park in Lafayette to play Frisbee.
What happened the next few days illustrates the terror that comes with a stalking, the fear accompanying the perception of being stalked and the frustration that victims and their families often feel because the system doesn’t seem to work quickly enough. Because the girls referred to in this incident are juveniles, and because the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department and the Lafayette Police Department confirm that their story is still under investigation, their names have been changed here.
When Rebecca and Nancy pulled into the parking lot of the park, a well-dressed man stood alongside a white compact car with its hood open. He asked them to help him jump-start his car. The girls agreed to help him. While he hooked up the cables to the cars, he explained that he had been in his car talking on his cell phone for 30 minutes and that his air conditioner had drained his battery. When he spoke, the girls say, he had “an accent.”
After the man’s car started easily, the girls walked off into the park to play Frisbee; when they looked back, the man turned off his car and got back in it. Rebecca remembered how her father had once told her that you should let your car run after jump-starting it to rebuild the battery’s charge. For 25 minutes, the girls played Frisbee in a field while the man sat in his car, behind his tinted windows. The girls felt as if they were being watched by the man, so they walked to the swings on the other side of the park.
They talked about an upcoming chemistry test and decided to go to Barnes & Noble Booksellers to study. When the girls got back to their car, the man was gone, but his car was still parked in the same spot.
That evening, the girls were at Barnes & Noble, and Nancy says she heard the man’s voice again, but neither girl saw him. On Sunday afternoon, the girls met at the bookstore’s café to study. Two tables down sat a man who looked familiar to the girls. It wasn’t until another man walked up to the stranger and asked him if he could borrow an empty chair that the stranger spoke. When he did, the girls looked at one another. Both remembered his accent.
The girls say they thought it was strange that the man didn’t thank them for helping him with his car the day before. He had been so outgoing. For 45 minutes, the girls studied for their chemistry test. When a friend of theirs met them, the girls told their friend of their encounter the day before in the park. Later, Nancy and the friend left for lunch, and Rebecca stayed behind to study. As they left, the stranger gathered his belongings.
Rebecca says, “I looked over, and we were in the café part of Barnes & Noble. He got up, and he watched them leave from the window.” There was something about how the stranger stood and stared at her friend that disturbed her. Rebecca left the café soon after. As she pulled out of the parking lot, she spotted the man’s little white car and wrote down the license plate number. That evening, she spoke with Nancy on the phone and told her how the man had acted when she left the bookstore. They both decided to talk to their parents about the situation.
Nancy’s mother, Gail, called 911 to report the man and what they believed was suspicious behavior. Later that evening, Nancy spoke with a Lafayette city police officer who advised her to be cautious and assured her that a report had been entered into the computer. Cpl. Mark Francis, public information officer for the Lafayette Police Department, says Nancy’s call was treated as a differential response call, which “saves time and doesn’t require an officer’s presence.”
Rebecca called the hot line and reported the stranger to the Multi-Agency Homicide Task Force charged with finding the South Louisiana serial killer.
Rebecca’s father, John, says he was “greatly distressed” that an officer was not dispatched to take a report of either of the girl’s stories. Gail says, “I didn’t know that I had to request for an officer to come out here.” The following morning while John escorted the girls to school, Gail took the girls’ story to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She says, “I felt like I was dismissed, that’s why I decided I was going to take this to a different place. Something disturbed both of these girls. I know I was dismissed (by the police department), as simple as that. Were they rude about it or were they ugly about it? Certainly not. But that’s the way I felt.” That day the girls gave their statements to both the FBI and the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department.
John and Gail say they both felt that their daughters had been stalked, and they were not satisfied with the Lafayette police’s response to the situation. Both visited the police station to file a complaint. John says during the course of their conversation with two officers, he stated on three separate occasions that he wished to file a formal complaint, but he was never given a form or instructed how to do so. John says, “I’m infuriated that the police were called, that something happened and that they didn’t respond. I’m doubly infuriated that I went there to call it to their attention (and) they wouldn’t even let me make a complaint.” The police told John and Gail that the stalking laws were complicated, and that, in their opinion, this was not a stalking incident. Later that evening, a city police officer took written statements from both of the girls.
Francis says that, according to the officers working the shift, when John asked to file a complaint, “This guy was just difficult to please.” After being asked several times by The Times how a citizen would go about filing a complaint with the police, Francis explained how calls are processed and prioritized, with life-threatening situations receiving first priority.
Francis says, “We have to prove that the incident happened. We have to be able to prove that it occurred. We’re not just going to falsely accuse someone. Don’t get me wrong. I know how the parents feel, especially with what’s going on right now, but we’re the professionals and we have to be able to prove the elements of the crime.”
Francis says that incidents must be documented in order to prove that one is being stalked. Then, the police can locate the suspect and give him a verbal warning. If the stalking continues, then a pattern can be established and the police can file it with the district attorney’s office for prosecution. Francis says that what complicates matters now is that his department is dealing with a lot of calls from individuals who believe they have leads on the serial killer.
The FBI would not comment on this case. Donna Delahoussaye, media relations for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office, says of the girls’ story that “a circumstance was reported to law enforcement that occurred” and that “investigators have identified the person and they are looking into circumstances surrounding it.” Francis says the suspect willingly submitted to a DNA swab in order to eliminate him as a suspect for the serial killer.
John says, “If it is ruled that it is circumstantial, that’s fine, but my original complaint is that the police never called to take my daughter’s complaint. My daughter could have been murdered by this stalker. She would have done the right thing. She was alert. She called 911. No response was made. To me, that’s the issue. If it was a coincidental thing and it causes anybody pain or embarrassment, I’m sorry. I’m not out to do that to anybody. To me, the issue is (that) the police did not respond to a call for help.”
Francis says, “Most times, most of our stalkings are domestic, an ex-boyfriend or an ex-husband situation. Every now and then, though, you get a guy who’s loose on his rocker, but most of what we deal with are domestic-type cases.”
According to Louisiana law, “Stalking is the willful, malicious and repeated following or harassing of another person that would cause a reasonable person to feel alarmed or to suffer emotional distress.” It further clarifies stalking as the “repeated uninvited presence of the perpetrator” at any place “which would cause a reasonable person to be alarmed, or to suffer emotional distress.” The law does not require that the stalker make a verbal threat in order to commit the crime. If he acts in a way that the victim perceives as a threat against herself, her family or her acquaintances, the law states that she is being stalked. A first-time conviction carries a fine between $500 and $1,000, a jail sentence of 30 days to a year or both. The penalty increases if the victim already has an injunction or restraining order against the stalker.
In 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Justice conducted the first national survey of 8,000 men and 8,000 women on stalking. The findings were published in “Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey.”
The study found that one out of every 12 women and one out of every 45 men will be stalked during their lifetime. An estimated 1,006,970 women and 370,990 men are stalked annually in the United States. Seventy-four percent of stalking victims are between the ages of 18 and 39 years old.
The study concluded that while stalking is “a gender-neutral crime,” women are the primary victims and men are the primary perpetrators. Sixty percent of the men who are stalked are stalked by other men. The average age of a victim when they begin to be stalked is 28 years old, and the average length of time a victim is stalked is 1.8 years.
Most victims know their stalkers. Only 23 percent of female victims and 36 percent of male victims are stalked by strangers. Women tend to be stalked by intimate partners, while men tend to be stalked by strangers and acquaintances. Once victims suspect they’re being stalked, only about half of them report their stalker to the police. Of those who do report it, only about a quarter of the stalkers are ever prosecuted.
The study also found that when either women or men obtained restraining orders against their stalkers, 70 percent of restraining orders were eventually violated. Nineteen percent of the victims put an end to their stalking by moving, 15 percent ended after the stalker received a warning from the police, 9 percent of the stalkers were arrested and less than 1 percent said the stalking stopped because they received a restraining order.
Thomas Guilbeau is a Lafayette criminal defense lawyer who knows about stalking from experience. In the summer of 1998, a former client began stalking him by leaving threatening and harassing messages on his answering machine and eventually showing up at his home. He says of his stalker, “She was very irrational and very scary.” Guilbeau eventually received a permanent injunction against her.
He says, “The problem that you run into is that it may take six months to a year to convict someone for stalking.” So while a victim is being stalked, she must have the forethought to set in motion a series of events that may lead to a conviction for stalking, but will most likely only result in a permanent injunction. During that time, Guilbeau says, “You’re at the mercy of the stalker.”
Time is the greatest factor in receiving protection from a stalker, and it’s also the greatest hindrance in protecting oneself. Guilbeau suggests three steps – report the stalker to the police to begin documenting his actions, get a permanent injunction and, as a last resort, protect oneself. “If you’re scared,” he says, “and you don’t believe in carrying guns, you do anyway. Then you hope to God you don’t end up shooting someone, and they charge you with homicide.”
Mark and Kelly Gremillion moved from Alexandria to Lafayette with their two children in October 2001. Mark is a civil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Kelly is studying civil engineering at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
One evening in February 2002, a man in a blue cap and a blue uniform knocked on their front door. The patch on his breast read “Johnny.” He was selling tickets for a barbecue benefit for his church. He later told the Gremillions that he was a meter reader for Lafayette Utilities System and that their home was on his route.
Mark bought tickets for the benefit, but says that it was difficult to get the man to leave. Johnny talked incessantly about his church and how he is always fighting the devil. Mark says, “It didn’t matter what kind of verbal or nonverbal signals you gave him, he didn’t get the message it was time to go. I don’t think I ever met anybody that was that hard to get rid of.” After a two-hour visit, Mark finally escorted the man back outside to his car, when he introduced himself as Johnny Hawthorne.
Two weeks later, Hawthorne, along with two women from his church, delivered the barbecue dinners to the Gremillions and left soon after. When Hawthorne showed up the next time at the Gremillions’, he was alone and selling dinners again. The Gremillions had not enjoyed the first barbecue dinners they purchased, so they didn’t buy any more. But, Hawthorne continued to show up every other week at the Gremillions’ home. Each time, they told Hawthorne that they would not be buying any more tickets.
One evening in March, Hawthorne arrived at their home during dinner. He asked for a glass of water. Mark offered him dinner, but Hawthorne declined. Instead, he stood in the kitchen, watched the family eat and talked about the devil. When he saw a half empty bottle of whiskey on the kitchen counter, he talked about the evils of drinking. The Gremillions’ daughter was ill, and Hawthorne volunteered to take her back into a bedroom and to lay hands on her. The Gremillions declined his offer.
Until that point, Mark had thought that Hawthorne was “harmless,” a man who was very involved with and very excited about his church. That night, Kelly confided in Mark that Hawthorne had leered at her body in a manner that made her uncomfortable. They decided not to let Hawthorne back into their home.
On a number of occasions, Hawthorne drove by the Gremillions home, turned and passed by their home again, usually when Mark was at work. Kelly says Hawthorne began to pass by the house like clockwork, always in the early afternoon.
He then began stopping by the house when Mark wasn’t at home and would knock on the front door. Kelly wouldn’t answer the door. When he grew tired of knocking on the front door, he would began knocking on the side door. Kelly began to close her blinds early in the afternoon. In August, Hawthorne came by the house one evening before Kelly had the chance to close the blinds. He knocked on the side door, and she waved him off. Hawthorne went to the front door and started knocking harder. Within the next six weeks, Hawthorne repeated the same behavior on three different occasions.
Mark says of Kelly’s gesture to Hawthorne through the window, “As far I’m concerned, that’s telling him to leave. She’s smart enough not to open the door and say the word ‘no,’ but apparently the police, the DA (district attorney) and the others felt she should have said, ‘No. Go away. Don’t come back.’ It just scares me to think what might have happened if she would have opened the door to tell him that. So, to me, it was stalking at that point.”
One evening in August, while Kelly was taking out the trash, Hawthorne drove up into the driveway and got out of his car with a can of Coke in his hand. He asked for a glass of ice. When Kelly walked into the house to retrieve the ice, Hawthorne followed her closely into the house. Kelly was unnerved and called Mark on the phone to tell him that Hawthorne was there. When she got off the phone, Hawthorne stroked her hair and commented on how pretty it was. By the time Mark made it home, Hawthorne had left the house. Kelly decided it was time to contact LUS and report the strange behavior of their employee.
Kelly says, “I can’t stand the thought of hurting somebody’s feelings, but I got to the point where he was really starting to get on my nerves.”
“We didn’t know what to do,” Mark says.
But as time passed, the Gremillions did not contact LUS.
On Dec. 9, Kelly encountered Hawthorne again. Her children had just gotten out of the car, and she was unloading a few groceries. Hawthorne pulled his car into the driveway.
“I was totally vulnerable,” she says, “and there he was. That’s when it hit me that he could be dangerous. He was an annoyance until Dec. 9th.”
She said to him, “Johnny, what are you doing here? I’ve told you that we’re not going to buy any more of your tickets.”
Kelly says he replied, “I just came by to check on you. My wife’s been really sick. She’s got high blood pressure.”
“We’re fine,” she replied.
Kelly walked toward her house, and when she went to shut the door behind her, Hawthorne stood in her way and asked for a glass of water. “By that time I was scared,” she says.
Kelly kept the door open and gave him a glass of water. She called Mark on the phone, but in her haste, she dialed the wrong number, but still pretended to be talking to Mark, telling him that his parents had not arrived on time as expected. She then gathered up her children, told Hawthorne that her in-laws were lost somewhere in Lafayette, left the house and loaded the children into the car. Kelly says the whole time Hawthorne stood with his arms folded across his chest, smirking at her. As she slammed her car door, Hawthorne told her that he would be back to check on her.
“It’s like he wants to catch you,” she says, “to take up all your energy and your time.”
The Gremillions decided it was time to follow through with their earlier gut reaction to report Hawthorne to LUS. The next day, Mark paid a visit to LUS and found that Hawthorne had not worked there since March 16, 1998. According to Mike Sands, human resources manager for LUS, Hawthorne was a city employee for 10 years, and when he resigned, he was a meter reader. With this new piece of information, Mark reported Hawthorne to the police on Dec. 11.
Kelly says that they did not report Hawthorne to the police sooner because she believed she could handle him on her own. She says, “He has this air about him that makes him look so meek, in the way he walks and just his whole demeanor.”
Mark says, “It’s a problem of awareness. If you know you’re being stalked, you’re very lucky. We didn’t realize it until Dec. 9th. I think it’s just a matter of not knowing, of not understanding the problem.”
The Gremillions were told by the Lafayette police that unless they had verbally expressed to Hawthorne not to return to their home or not to speak to them, Hawthorne had not committed a crime. Mark then met with a detective, who later called in Hawthorne and warned him to leave the Gremillions alone.
Mark says that Kelly “was a prisoner in her own home, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and he (Hawthorne) wasn’t.”
Mark paid a visit to the courthouse and discovered that on Nov. 12, 1998, Johnny Hawthorne pled guilty to the charge of indecent behavior with a juvenile and was convicted. According to Bill Babin, the assistant DA who prosecuted Hawthorne’s case, Hawthorne was accused by a 12-year-old girl of kissing and fondling her in the back yard and carport of the child’s home. Hawthorne was employed with LUS as a meter reader at the time and was on duty at the time of the incident. Babin says that Hawthorne did not “fully admit everything the victim said, but in some cases he corroborated her story.”
Hawthorne was sentenced to three years at hard labor, but the sentence was suspended with three years of supervised probation. He was ordered to “seek psychological evaluation and treatment if necessary.” In July 1999, his sentence was amended and he was ordered to register as a sex offender. On June 6, 2002, Hawthorne was granted a first offender pardon.
On Nov. 4, 2002, Hawthorne was arrested on the UL campus for remaining in places after forbidden and crimes against nature and was booked into the custody of the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center. According to the initial report filed by UL police, officers responded to a lewd conduct complaint at the university’s Conference Center and Hawthorne was apprehended in a bathroom stall. Hawthorne later told Kelly that he had been arrested at the university, but that “they had got the wrong man.”
On New Year’s Eve, Kelly grabbed her pepper spray and looked from every window in her house before going out to check the mail. When she opened her mailbox, she saw Hawthorne walking down the street toward her, but when they made eye contact, he turned and walked into the back yard of an abandoned house. Kelly called the Lafayette police, but they were unable to locate Hawthorne. On a few more occasions, the Gremillions spotted Hawthorne driving by their house. On Feb. 7, 2003, after seeing Hawthorne pass in front of his house, Mark decided it was time to seek other actions against Hawthorne.
After hiring an attorney and meeting with the district attorney’s office, the 15th Judicial District Court granted the Gremillions a temporary restraining order against Hawthorne. He was forbidden to contact the Gremillions “in any manner whatsoever” and was prohibited from coming within 100 yards of them, their home, their workplace and their children’s schools. On April 7, 2003, the same conditions were issued to Hawthorne in a permanent injunction.
Hawthorne says that he only encountered the Gremillions when he was selling barbecue and candy to benefit his church. He says his mistake was being persistent in raising money for his church. He says, “I’m the kind of person who can’t take no for an answer.”
He also added, “I wish you would tell those people to stop harassing me. I’ve already been to court about this.” Asked if he would like the opportunity to tell his side of the story, he stated that The Times would have to contact his lawyer. When asked for his lawyer’s name, Hawthorne replied, “Jesus.”
Since April 7, Hawthorne has not violated the permanent injunction.
Even with the court order, Kelly doesn’t know if her life will be normal again. She says, “I used to go out and run. We bought a treadmill for inside the house. But, I’m also much more aware. I’m extremely cautious, and although I don’t feel that he’ll be back, I feel like it’s probably OK, at the same time, it’s made me a lot more aware.”
Aside from the actual physical encounters with Hawthorne and the time spent researching laws and Hawthorne’s past, Mark estimates that he has missed two weeks of unpaid leave from work, after exhausting all his annual paid leave and sick leave. He has also spent time putting up a security system and cameras around his house. He says he has lost at least $2,250 in income and spent an additional $1,000 on a home security system. The Gremillions took out a loan of $2,500 in order to hire an attorney. Mark estimates that the total financial loss to his family, his employer and the state is more than $18,000. He says, “The time and money aren’t wasted as far as we’re concerned. It’s well spent, even if it doesn’t do anything, because what’s the risk of not doing it? Maybe losing your family?”
Mark says, “I believe that the real problem here is a lack of awareness. Certainly it was for us. We all want to be careful not to hurt somebody, except these guys who are trying to hurt us who don’t give a damn. So, we’ve got to become a little bit more aware. You have to take on a wartime mentality with them, and you hate to do that. It’s changed my life that way, and it’s made me commit to doing that. There’s no greater instinct than protecting your family. My God, to think that somebody came very close to hurting my wife and children or could have. I don’t know what his intentions were, but they’re certainly not good.”
Kelly says the psychological toll of their experience has been greater than the loss of time or money. She says, “You think, OK, I’m not going to be paranoid and I’m not going to put something on the table in front of me to make myself feel worse, but at the same time I want to be aware. And I start questioning myself, ‘Are you being paranoid?'”
Kelly says her greatest fear wasn’t physical harm to herself, but “my fear was really with my children. I always thought that if he gets past me somehow, then my children are not safe.”
“So maybe being a little paranoid is a good thing,” Mark says.
“Not that much, though,” Kelly says.
They both laugh.
She says, “I haven’t been having much fun, but we feel a lot better now. I feel a lot better having the injunction, even though it’s just a piece of paper.”
STALKING AND LOUISIANA WOMEN
15 percent of Louisiana women have been stalked at one time in their life
2 percent are currently being stalked
Of the women who are stalked …
75 percent perceive their situation to be life-threatening
67 percent report their stalker to the police
To avoid their stalker
70 percent change their usual behaviors
36 percent move to another town
11 percent purchase a gun
11 percent obtain a restraining order
32 percent are assaulted by their stalker
55 percent experience stress for periods of more than a month
51 percent are stalked by someone with whom they had an intimate relationship
33 percent know their stalker but are not intimate with him
13 percent are stalked by complete strangers
4 percent are stalked by individuals they can’t identify
Source: ‘Prevalence and Health Consequences of Stalking. Louisiana, 1998-1999’ published in the July 28, 2000, issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Conducted by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, the report focused on the findings of a survey of 1,171 Louisiana women.
IF YOU’RE STALKED
When Mark Gremillion realized his wife and children might be in danger, he took measures to protect them. Here, Gremillion offers 12 things you can do if you suspect that you are being stalked.
• Call the police and file a report on every incident. Every call goes on record and helps to establish a pattern. Keep notes.
• Don’t accept ‘no’ for an answer. If necessary, talk to the person in charge. Ask the police to send an investigator to your home to take a detailed statement.
• Don’t worry about sounding paranoid. It’s better than being dead.
• Turn your fear into action. Meet your neighbors and ask them to keep an eye on your home.
• Work out a daily action plan. With the help of a partner – a close friend, neighbor or spouse – think about what you’ll do if your stalker suddenly confronts you. Rehearse it until you’ve got it down.
• Assess your vulnerabilities. Are you most vulnerable when you’re entering or leaving your house, arriving at your workplace or grocery shopping?
• Stay in touch with your partner at your most vulnerable times. If you don’t already have a cell phone, get one.
• Change your routine often. Five minutes can make the difference between life and death.
• Fight the urge to retaliate physically. You can’t protect yourself or anyone else if you end up in jail.
• Take legal action. Get a temporary restraining order, and follow it with a permanent injunction. It’s only a piece of paper, but it adds teeth to law enforcement’s bite.
• Provide your own security. Carry some kind of weapon (pepper spray, tear gas, knife, gun) every time you step out of your home, even if it’s just to put out the garbage or check the mail. Install a video surveillance and security system. Borrow the money if necessary. Your life is worth it.
• Maintain a sense of humor. Laugh often, but keep your pepper spray handy.