You have a right to defend yourself against a stalker. But you must go about it in the right way. The Attorney General has outlined some prevention and intervention strategies that can help shield you from stalking. There is often confusion concerning what constitutes stalking. A stalker, through behavior or threats, tries to intimidate or terrify a person. A stalker’s mind can run from obsessive love to obsessive hate. Stalking can take the form of verbal threats, threats conveyed by the stalker’s conduct, threatening mail, property damage, surveillance of the victims or by following the victim.
How do you know if stalking is occurring? The stalker, on more than one occasion, is stalking you if he or she:
- Follows you or your family
- Vandalizes your property
- Damages your car, harms a pet, breaks a window
- Makes threatening calls or sends threatening mail
- Drives by or park near your home, work or other place you frequent
Sometimes a stalking charge is not appropriate but criminal mischief or terroristic threat can be filed. The penalty for criminal mischief is determined by the amount of damage. A terroristic threat charge is a Class B misdemeanor. The Texas stalking law makes stalking a Class A misdemeanor. If the stalker has one prior conviction for stalking, then the crime is upgraded to a felony of the third degree.
In addition, when a stalker is released from jail or escapes, the releasing officer is required to make a reasonable effort to contact the victim It is important that the victim notify those handling the case of any phone number or address changes. To file a stalking charge we must prove the intent of the stalker. This means proving the stalker has the intent or the knowledge that his or her actions will instill fear of death or serious bodily injury. The treats can be explicit or implied. These threats have to be aimed at the specific person and they cannot be general threats.
The stalker’s conduct must have occurred on more than one occasion. However, more than one police report is not required. If you are having problems with a situation you feel may involve stalking, contact the law enforcement agency having jurisdiction. The agency may not be able to help immediately but it will start the important documentation process. In next month’s column we will discuss the things you need to do to provide evidence against your stalker and the safety measures you should take to protect yourself.
If you are being stalked, notify local law enforcement. Request that each incident be documented. Give them any written correspondence and calls received from the stalker.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL RECOMMENDS:
*Keep a diary – record a description of each incident, witnesses and their addresses. Complete records are essential to successful prosecution of stalking cases.
*Get a Protective Order – If you are related to the stalker by blood or marriage, if you have ever lived together or if you have a child in common, a protective order is possible.
* Record telephone conversations – Tell the stalker to stop calling and hang up. Screen your calls. Keep recorded messages and give them to law enforcement.
*Take pictures of the stalker – If a photo can be taken safely, write the time, date and place on the back of each picture.
*Keep all correspondence – Touch the letter as little as possible in order to preserve fingerprints.
*Tell everyone – Give friends, co-workers and neighbors a description of the stalker. Ask them to document each time they see the stalker.
IMPORTANT SAFETY MEASURES:
*Be alert – Stay aware of people and your surroundings.
*Vary routes – Come and go by different directions, avoid a pattern.
*Park securely – Park in well-lit areas and ask someone to escort you to your car.
*Be aware – Watch for vehicles following you. Drive to a police or fire station for help.
*Alert managers or security at your place of business.
*Security check – Have law enforcement do a security check of your home and keep doors and cars locked.
*Maintain privacy – Never give out personal information when it can be overheard.
*Develop a safety plan – You and your family members need a safe place to meet and someone to call in case of an emergency.
If you need more details, telephone numbers of numerous related agencies or Protective Order information, the Attorney General’s pamphlets on stalking, protective orders and domestic violence are available at the reception desk of the Erath County Sheriff’s Office.
Tommy Bryant is the Sheriff of Erath County. He has served as sheriff for 18 years (28 total in law enforcement), and before that, he was a motorcycle officer with Stephenville PD. He is the proud father of Thom Allen Bryant and husband to Donnie Bryant, a teacher at Stephenville HS. Bryant can be reached at 254.965.3338 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.