"But what is the sane response to an insane situation?"
January 26, 2013 4:23 AM   Subscribe

Oh my god, just finished reading all of the links, and the sick feeling in my stomach from the first article hasn't gone away.

While I agree with the family of the stalker that he's sick and needs help, I wish they hadn't tried to downplay what the woman he stalked has been through. Some of the stuff his dad and brother said seemed out of line, like when his brother basically insinuated she was exaggerating her fear or something because she couldn't have possibly been in a state of fear for four years. Excuse me, what? How does he figure? Especially when her story was clear on how difficult it was to get any action against her stalker, what exactly was she supposed to do, except continue living in fear? What action could she have taken to prove she was scared that she didn't take? I also found it distasteful that they said it wasn't about a woman being stalked, it was about a sick man. As someone who has personally had relatives make death threats to people in the midst of psychotic breaks, it was about both, and it's just gross to say it wasn't about a woman being stalked. She's absolutely right that she's going to spend the rest of her life looking for him and wondering if he's on his medication. I know personally how difficult it is to have close family members who suffer from mental illnesses with psychotic breaks, but have some class.
posted by Nattie at 5:34 AM on January 26, 2013 [33 favorites]

1. Let's not make this a 2nd Amendment discussion, especially considering that a crazy dude was the one able to secure and tote around a weapon under current laws. The author was addressing her plight and how the legal system currently works (or in this case, apparently does not at all). She wants law enforcement to protect her right to a life free of harm, which it should very well be fucking doing. Can we just stick to discussing that, considering there are plenty of other discussions here on the blue in which you can chat about and rail against those you think are in favor of abolishing the 2nd?

2. Jesus H Christ. Having dealt with a man that stalked my sister, frequently threatened to do harm, showed up at our house with weapons in violation of her numerous restraining orders, all while LE seemed to not be able to do anything at all about it, this breaks my heart for this woman. People don't realize the damage this can do to a person who is at no fault whatsoever. It effects not only your life but your families as well. It colors your everyday and it's ruinous. And Ron's father, a medical professional? That man should...well, I don't know. Wake the hell up? Oftentimes family wants to do their best for their own but it's insane to note how his view of that is to disregard a woman living in fear for her life and to think that his son needs ANYTHING other than the help of trained professionals. He is very clearly unwell.

3. WHOA. The striking difference between what the men in LE do for this woman (because they had assumed she asked for this by dating this guy at some point, though she never had) and what the woman accomplishes for her is disgustingly striking. Granted, the threats were worse when the female officer took charge but good god, what in the actual fuck?

Bless that woman and bless her wonderful friends. Damn the system, which cannot seem to help. And damn those that won't get Ron the help he needs.
posted by youandiandaflame at 6:13 AM on January 26, 2013 [19 favorites]

FWIW, this all happened from 1994 - 1999. I believe that public and law enforcement awareness of stalking has greatly increased since then. I'd be surprised if she received the same initially cavalier treatment from the police now, twenty years on or so.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:17 AM on January 26, 2013

jenkinsEar: I don't know that it has. One would hope that in the years since 1994, we've obtained a greater understanding of things like this, but at least here in the small-town Midwest, my sister's recent fight to have LE help protect her from a clearly deranged and mentally ill drug addict (who's parents "helped" him just the way Ron's father did) was just the same and as hard as the authors. Things appear to be just as they ever were.

Maybe it's better in large cities. One hopes that it is at least a tad better than it was 14 years ago somewhere, anyway.
posted by youandiandaflame at 6:24 AM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Second Amendment derail deleted.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:40 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ugh, what did Witte's brother want for the authorities to wait for? Would it have been better or less sensational for her to die first before being taken seriously?

I can answer my own question. "Yes."
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:47 AM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

Wow, that was awful. It's terrible that police didn't do more initially and the cop's behavior was rather appalling, it matters whether or not there was a relationship?

youandiandaflame - don't be afraid to escalate, contact the police, the DA, the Chief of Police after every incident, every time, until someone listens and takes it seriously.
posted by shoesietart at 7:29 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

a crazy dude was the one able to secure and tote around a weapon under current laws.

That doesn't seem like a fair phrasing. The article quotes a detective, "Turns out your crazy-ass boyfriend was picked up earlier this year for possession of an illegal handgun!" That would fall outside current laws, not under them. It's a bit like saying that we need to strengthen murder laws because somehow, inexplicably, "under" our existing laws OJ Simpson was able to...well.

The striking difference between what the men in LE do for this woman...and what the woman accomplishes for her is disgustingly striking.

This may indeed be attributable to gender. I don't know. But speaking as an attorney, what I do know is that very often I hear things like, "Nothing can be done legally until [stalker] actually hits you or explicitly threatens to kill you," and in every jurisdiction I'm familiar with that statement simply isn't true. (I am not familiar with D.C.)

I do not discount the experiences of countless stalking victims who have been told this inaccurate statement by police, lawyers, etc. There are police officers who believe it's true, and there are attorneys unfamiliar with this area of law who don't know differently. It is a harmful myth that creates real barriers for victims who confront it in an officer who refuses to act, a prosecutor who refuses to charge, a judge who refuses to rule, etc. Those experiences empower the myth and almost make it real.

But it isn't, as parts of this story illustrate. And when that myth weakens, so do stalkers.
posted by cribcage at 7:30 AM on January 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

cribcage: You're right. It was unfair and poorly phrased on my part. I merely wanted to point out that the only mention of a weapon (and as such, the only way at all to relate this story to 2nd Amendment rights somehow, was the gun the stalker had).

But true, should have slowed down and phrased what I meant to say better.

Shoesietart: We're years past that situation now but we did everything you mentioned at the time. In the end, we just all sort of came to believe that a restraining was only useful for giving the police a lead on suspect #1 in case someone turned up dead.

I'm curious, what is the difference between the threats Ron made (e.g. threatening to shoot the author in the head while she was at work) and an "explicit threat"? If that's not an explicit threat, what the hell is?
posted by youandiandaflame at 7:44 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I found some of the family's responses upsetting too, but on the other hand: here's a stranger who wrote that their son/brother has been threatening her for 4 years, and here's the son or brother they've known his whole life, and yes he's unwell but he wouldn't really hurt someone, and it doesn't look like much time had gone by to get them used to the idea that his brand of crazy was worse than they imagined, that they hadn't been helping him.

I'd really be interested to know what happened since.
posted by jeather at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

My reading of this is that stalking legislation was so new that police officers believed it was still the case that they couldn't act until an actual threat to kill was made. But I don't understand how threats to kill could be illegal and yet threats of serious harm aren't... can anyone confirm whether this is still the case.

I hope Theresa got her life back, I guess no news is good news...
posted by welovelife at 8:20 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The article that talked about how the stalker couldn't get his medication in jail was disturbing but unsurprising. Conditions that need constant medication are really hard, and not just in jail. If I were Theresa, I'd wonder for the rest of my life what was going to happen when "Ron" decided he was well and just went off his meds.

I'm acquainted with a guy who apparently has the delusion that he's in the Matrix or something like it and that nothing he does in the Matrix matters. The story I've heard is that he decided he was well and stopped taking the drugs that keep him sane(r). He seems like a high risk for suicide, which is bad enough, but the idea that he'll take people with him when he goes because they're not real is very scary.
posted by immlass at 8:44 AM on January 26, 2013

What on earth is "creative non-fiction"? Seems like Todd's brother is going through some great verbal contortions to call "Theresa" an exaggerator/liar.
posted by dr_dank at 8:56 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I find myself pretty outraged that the family have apparently known for some time Todd had some form of mental health problem but don't seem to have made very strenuous efforts to get him treated (indeed actually facilitating him removing himself from inpatient treatment) until he had inflicted so many years of trauma on the victim and her friends and family. It seems as though they became much more concerned about his illness and him getting the help he needs after he was facing legal consequences for his behaviour. That's sad for both his victim and him. I can't help wondering if it all could have been stopped before it started if they'd acknowledged his problems when they started to show themselves.
posted by *becca* at 9:31 AM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

Claiming her story was creative non-fiction was just cruel. [Creative non-fiction is a genre where you're writing fiction but can take liberties with it. In this case, if she had altered details *beyond names* it would be creative non-fiction -- mostly based on truth, but exaggerated. Since it was published as journalism, and as a true story with place/name details changed, nope.] To me, the brother's comments read as if he was in denial. You want to believe the people you know -- it's easier to say "sure, he's a little off, but he wouldn't actually do something to hurt this girl, she's blowing it out of proportion" than it is to say "he was on the brink of snapping and hurting this girl." I feel bad for the family, but not that bad.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find myself pretty outraged that the family have apparently known for some time Todd had some form of mental health problem but don't seem to have made very strenuous efforts to get him treated

I'm assuming that they didn't know that he was stalking someone. But it's not actually easy to force an adult to get treatment. I find the part where they helped him get out of inpatient treatment appalling, but family members of mine have looked into getting their mentally ill adult children treatment, and if the children didn't want it, it was no go.

I feel sorry for the family, though I feel more sorry for the author. I even feel sorry for her mentally ill stalker. It's not like my sympathy has to be limited to a single person here.
posted by jeather at 9:41 AM on January 26, 2013

posted by libcrypt at 9:43 AM on January 26, 2013

Mod note: A few comments deleted; "they should have killed him" is not a promising line of discussion.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2013

My friend AC had a prolonged stalker - someone she'd dated. She's strong and tough, so I was shocked when she got a few hang-ups on her phone and couldn't stop worrying about them. (This was pre-internet but I was able to track them down more or less to somewhere that couldn't have been him...)

I eventually heard the whole story. They'd dated for a few months, but she quickly realized that he was crazy - he had the whole "ex-Navy Seal, millionaire, financier" thing that he slowly revealed to her, which she realized was partly true and partly false.

He stalked her. She moved. He moved to the same city. He'd keep appearing even though she'd change her habits every day - doing things like running along side the train hammering on the window. She managed to get him to court, after literally years of runarounds by the state. But he had serious legal representation (he was actually rich) and it didn't look good - until the stalker in court started going off on how "she needed him to take care of her" and started to give details - like the fact that he'd "found" her prescription record - even though AC had been systematically destroying all her papers before they went into the garbage, yes, you have to think about things like that when you have a stalker - and she had a yeast infection. (As she tells it, the stalker's lawyer literally facepalmed when he did this...)

So she got a very strong order of protection, and last she heard, the man was actually married to some poor woman.

But as she said, if the guy hadn't had a serious meltdown on the stand, he'd probably still be spending all his free time and intelligence trying to spy on her.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:03 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

> "they should have killed him" is not a promising line of discussion.

...but "what should one do" is certainly important.

I haven't finished all the articles yet but I am at this point: "He says he's going to shoot me. In the face. Doesn't that count as a death threat? Isn't that a felony?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't. It's not a felony until he threatens to actually kill you. I know it doesn't make sense, but that's the way the law is written."

(That's legal bullshit, by the way. I'm not a lawyer, but you don't have to utter the exact words "I'm going to kill you," to be threatening someone's life. There's case law involving organized crime where oblique statements like, "Think about your children growing up without a father" were taken as death threats. If you threaten to perform an act that will almost certainly kill someone, like "shooting them in the face", that is a death threat.

(The reason someone made up this pretend rule is almost certainly because the police are completely overburdened. They have to triage most of the stalking cases, and so they set arbitrarily high barriers to entry into the system to keep their workload down. In a non-fucked America, they'd be properly financed, and they wouldn't be spending a big chunk of their resources on victimless crimes like selling pot and sex work.)

If I were at this point, or if I had a friend or relative who had reached this point - a result of years of stalking, and a consequent breakdown in mental and physical health, due to a real and ever-present threat to her life, where the police had indicated that they were completely unwilling to help in the slightest degree...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:34 AM on January 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was going to leave this thread alone, I have far too much personal history with being the stalkee end of such a relationship. However,
I'm assuming that they didn't know that he was stalking someone.

They did know. The author had called the brother and spoken with him about it. In the article, he was originally sympathetic. The father took the stalker out of a mental hospital stay. They down played this. I have very little sympathy for the stalker's family, and think that to an extent, they enabled this person's behaviour.
posted by kellyblah at 10:44 AM on January 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm assuming that they didn't know that he was stalking someone.

They did at some point, because the author talks about the conversations she had with his brother when the father sprung his stalker son from hospital.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ick. Sorry, missed kellyblah's comment.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:56 AM on January 26, 2013

They did know. The author had called the brother and spoken with him about it. In the article, he was originally sympathetic.

You're right; I had forgotten about that. She called him at the beginning, and then again a few years later when he was hospitalised, and I forgot about that first call. But again: one call, then nothing -- it's not impossible that he hoped/believed that "Ron" had stopped, and that until the hospitalization part he didn't know it was ongoing. I don't think "Theresa" did anything wrong in this story, but I'm not sure what his family was supposed to have done earlier on. I think his father helping him out of hospital was horrible. I think what they said about the two of them in court was wrong and cruel -- but I also think what they did was understandable, and that everyone in this story was failed by multiple systems. We're all human; we all act imperfectly.
posted by jeather at 11:00 AM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

And a fascinating ending to the whole thing. (Spoiler alert).

Very affirming for anyone who cares about the creative arts... she wrote her way out of it. She published the first piece and an immediate shitstorm ensued. The stalker turned himself in, the article was used in the court case against him, he got serious jail and then indefinite confinement elsewhere.

Of course, the vast majority of people can't write as well as she can. Plus, by getting so much attention she's made the next article on that subject much less salable... so it will be years before someone can use that trick again. I'm so glad she got some degree of good results out of it, but it makes me even sadder for all the other women like her who aren't doing so well. :-(

Also interesting to slowly realize how much of this was enabled by his affluent family. It hadn't really dawned on me that the stalker must have been being financed by someone with cash to burn. Note that he managed to get out of multiple legal jams because of serious legal muscle - expensive legal muscle. (Conceivably family influence also had something to do with the almost ridiculous lack of desire of the police to get involved in this case? "Sorry," he said. "But I was out working on real crimes." But that's overreading the data...)

It's fascinating to see yet again the role of money in subverting the legal system to protect wrong-doers...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:01 AM on January 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

...I can relate to this so much. Not sure I should be saying that on MeFi ('Theresa' is very right when she talks about not wanting to imply any sort of 'engagement' with her stalker). But yes, I can relate to this in so many aspects. Wish I'd read this sooner.
posted by aielen at 1:16 PM on January 26, 2013

Man, there's just a contingent of men out there that refuse to take anything a woman says seriously, isn't there?

I'm glad this particular story had a happy ending, but JEEZ.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

What? This isn't an asshole who doesn't listen to what women say, it's a guy who is clearly severely mentally ill. That's not the same thing at all.
posted by Justinian at 1:48 PM on January 26, 2013

I thought the contingent of men included the original cop, not the stalker.
posted by kellyblah at 2:00 PM on January 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

It makes complete sense that this drove her into the emotional state that she found herself in. It maddened me to hear the brother imply otherwise.

I dated a gun-owning guy once who turned out to be angry and occasionally seemed to imagine some paranoid things (someone on the street was following him either to hurt him or to recruit him to a secret society of paramilitary protectors).

About a year after breakup, he contacted me for the one and only time, and I met up with him. His physical and mental state had clearly deteriorated, and he seemed so heightened paranoid-crazy that it really spooked me. Among other things, he thought I was either being controlled by, or actively collaborating with, his enemies and demanded proof I wasn't.

I made sure (or tried to make sure) I wasn't followed home that night, and even a decade later I'll look closely at faces like his. Upon seeing an unfamiliar vehicle that looked uncannily like what he used to drive parked near my house, I detoured around the block while calling my roommates to make sure all was well inside. By no means do I live my life in a state of constant alert, and I quite imagine he's moved on and hopefully become healthy again. But a decade later after one awkward meeting, I'm unintentionally still keeping half an eye out.

I cannot imagine lasting as long as she did before starting to lose it. I wonder to what extent she's been able to recover. I like to imagine that she went on to law school and now uses her interpersonal and writing skills as a bad-ass prosecutor, but maybe that would be too triggering. Via this article, she's already done so much to call attention to the issue.
posted by salvia at 2:16 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Justinian: What? This isn't an asshole who doesn't listen to what women say, it's a guy who is clearly severely mentally ill. That's not the same thing at all.
He can speak for himself, of courses, but I think Uther meant the cops.

What I want to know is, in the decade since these events, have police and prosecutors been educated as to what the law says with regard to stalking and threats? I don't see a functional difference between, "I'm going to shoot you in the face," and the classic organized crime gambit, "This is a picture of your daughter getting off the bus at 123 Main Street just like she does every morning at 8 o'clock. Such a lovely girl. Would be a shame if anything were to happen to her." I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is those are both terroristic threats under the law. In Georgia that's a $1,000 fine and 1-5 years in prison.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:18 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There seems to have been no repercussions for the father. It makes me wonder if he abused his status as a physician to improperly influence the release of a dangerous individual - and if in so doing he could have faced discipline or loss of medical privileges.

Ha, I'm hilarious. The very idea of an ethics board even considering this, well, I need to wipe the tears from my eyes.

And of course the DC police chief at the time, Charles Ramsey, was one of the worst major-city police chiefs in modern history. At least he got his come-uppance. He got caught ordering the destruction of evidence regarding a brazenly unlawful mass arrest, lied under oath, and then got promoted to be chief of police of Philly.

Ours is truly a just society.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:57 PM on January 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

He can speak for himself, of courses, but I think Uther meant the cops.

Ohhhh, yeah that makes more sense.
posted by Justinian at 3:51 PM on January 26, 2013

Any more recent updates on this situation?
posted by gottabefunky at 4:51 PM on January 26, 2013

When I saw a web link in the comments of the main article preceded by "this came out shortly afterward," I was so scared it was going to be about her death and so relieved to see it wasn't.
posted by salvia at 5:41 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I meant the cops and the dad and brother. Stalker Ron was a whole other scary mess.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:47 PM on January 26, 2013

It makes sense to me that there'd be denial from the stalker's father, since a blind spot to mental illness in his son would enable it to continue to intensify unimpeded throughout childhood and adolescence, to the point where it got this bad.
posted by alphanerd at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2013

I nearly spit out my coffee when I saw the doctor refer to his son as being diagnosed with a schizoid personality disorder, mostly because I see that sort of hilariously implausible mistake happen way, way too often.

I barely trust medical doctors to know their own field, much less psychiatry. And of course there were no professional repercussions. I think state medical boards exist solely to point fingers and grumble disapprovingly after PR disasters more than anything.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 6:27 PM on January 26, 2013

youandiandaflame, one of the things that the article reminded me of was that victims' services can be more effective than the police as an point of contact. They have contacts in law enforcement and know the applicable laws, often better than private attorneys. You may have noted in the article that it was the Montgomery County Mobile Crisis Unit (part of the Crisis Center, which does a lot of work for domestic-violence victims) that finally took Theresa's story seriously; they convinced law enforcement to get the search warrant and the arrest warrant that were the first steps to getting Ron in the system.

In general, even if your sister is not a victim of domestic violence, the agencies and non-profits that do work in that area can be helpful with a stalking case. Best of luck to her.
posted by palliser at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Every time I read something about stalkers (don't know why I do), I wonder if/when it'll happen to me, because I am female and little and a crazy person magnet fairly often. Realistically, it's probably a "when," isn't it? I've been lucky so far, but who knows how long that'll last.

I could not believe how explicitly godawful this guy was getting--how is "I want to shoot you in the face" not a death threat?!?!?! Seriously, people?! It really sounded like Biggs wanted to wait until she was dead to do anything.

I hope this situation ended well, with Ron/Todd getting tons of drugs and therapy and never threatening anyone again, and that Theresa got some peace of mind.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:07 PM on January 26, 2013

That was some seriously bad writing. Like third rate high school newspaper bad. Couldn't finish reading the first article. But the "stalker" is clearly severely mentally ill. I wonder if they always are.
posted by jackbrown at 10:43 PM on January 26, 2013

I really wish there was an update for this story. What's happened in the 12+ years since these events? I hope Theresa's safe and hasn't had to keep looking over her shoulder for this guy.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:24 AM on January 27, 2013

What's happened in the 12+ years since these events?

I would imagine that watching the rise of social media in the 12+ years since Todd's arrest would keep Theresa constantly reminded that it wouldn't take much for him to contact her again (if he hasn't). It would be enough to keep me always reminded that stalking could continue.

As people have already mentioned, I hope that Todd has been able to receive the psychiatric help he needs.
posted by persephone's rant at 9:54 AM on January 27, 2013

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