Requesting guidance re: stalkerish ex-friend
March 17, 2014 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Hi all, I have a former friend with mental health issues who is somewhat obsessed with me and has been increasingly creeper-ish over the past year. I just found out today that he now lives within 1.5 miles of me and I'm a bit freaked out. Would like to request input/advice re: next steps, partially because I'm not sure how concerned I should be. More after the cut.

Background info:

I read a few of the existing stalker threads but none seem to cover PA, where I live. I looked up a few of the statues and the legalese sounds vague to me. I'm confused about what I should do next, and whether this would be a police vs. magistrate vs. lawyer sort of thing.

This person is an old friend from high school who had expressed romantic interest in me over the years. His mental health issue is some sort of mood disorder, possibly bipolar spectrum, but I don't know for sure. He has two ex-wives and kids with each, none of whom he is permitted to see. It's been a long time, but I vaguely recall that Ex #1 had a restraining order against him at one point. (Lots of drama on both sides, with both spouses.) He moved back to my area shortly before I split up with my troubled ex, last March. Most of his family is deceased and he's not close with his siblings, so I think he wanted to move back here and feel like he still had someone who cared about him in his life.

Friend was very kind to me after my awful breakup last year, when I was exceptionally emotionally fragile and dealing with a lot of life-fallout relating to said relationship. We'd been spending a lot of time together and I had the impression that he'd matured somewhat. I was tentatively willing to date him, very casually...nothing crazy. Just plain old-fashioned "let's go get ice cream and hang out" type dating. (This was my dumb decision, but like I said, I was not in the best place to make good decisions and he definitely took advantage of that.) Two months after the breakup my ex committed suicide. Friend kept me from jumping off a bridge at that point, basically...and a week after the funeral, Friend asked me to, "tell him the truth about whether or not I wanted to be with him." I truthfully answered, "Not now, too much has happened, I'm just not in a good place right now, but please know that I really appreciate your support and I'm sorry," etc.

Friend proceeded to send me a verbally abusive email telling me that I was "...just using him to get to Ex and Ex shot himself bc of my actions and Friend felt partially responsible, bla bla bla." I told him never to contact me again and I blocked him on my phone, Facebook, email, etc. He replied with more vitriol, so I installed SMS Blocker on my phone and started logging his messages.

Within the next two weeks, he began contacting my friends via Facebook about my status, and also drove out to my dad's house in the suburbs to ask about me. (Luckily my dad wasn't home and he just left a note taped to the door.) A month after the funeral, he showed up at my apartment at 10:30 PM under pretense and knocked on my kitchen window and called my name. I had to ask my then-roommate to tell him to leave and not return or we'd call the police. He texted me again three days later to say that he was afraid I'd committed suicide so that's why he stopped by.

He stopped contacting me for a while, but did call my dad late one night back in September, and hung up when my dad replied that I wasn't there. He texted me again in October, and then I randomly saw him at a grocery store near my town at the end of this January. It was odd because to my knowledge, he'd lived way on the other side of the city from me, at that point.

I've been resigned to ignoring his sporadic sad-puppy text messages, but was definitely unnerved to see him at "my" local grocery store. He works all over the greater metro area and lived on the other side of the city from me, so I chalked it up to uncomfortable happenstance and resigned myself to an eventual follow-up text.

He contacted me today to see how I was doing, and asked if I wanted to go to a concert with him next month because his "gf can't go," as if we're still friends. (I have ignored and not replied to him since June of last year.) He also just casually mentioned that he now lives in...the next village over from me. He conceivably lives within a 1.5-2 mi. radius of me...these two boroughs are small enough that they share a municipal planning commission and police force and whatnot. I can walk there in 25 minutes.

I feel (understandably, imo) freaked out and I am wondering if I should do something about this. His behavior has made my recovery from my ex's suicide even harder, and I've spent a lot of time in therapy talking about this. Now I have to worry that I'll run into him?

Would this be a matter to discuss with the magistrate, and if so, what sort of document(s) do I need to file? Is it relevant to my case that he had a prior restraining order, and how would I go about finding that information? I'm guessing it's long expired by now, but would there still be a record of that somewhere? The restraining order was filed in PA over ten years, and Ex #1 possibly had another one in North Carolina.

Tl;dr: I am located in PA and an ex-friend has engaged in inappropriate behavior now for almost a year, and now lives near me. Wondering if I need to take steps to protect myself or at least establish a paper trail in case he tries to escalate now due to closer proximity. Thanks for reading.
posted by cardinality to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry about your ex and about how creeped out/scared you must feel.

You need to change your phone number if you have no other way of stopping the texts, and I would send a final "Please never contact me or my family again. If you do I will be reporting you to the police for harassment" message before doing so. It worries me that your roommate threatening police action didn't stop him from continuing to contact you, and of course it worries me that he just showed up at your apartment and your dad's home looking for you. In my experience if someone has a prior restraining order or bad experiences with the police that is enough to get them to leave you alone if you threaten to take legal action.
You should go to your local police station (is that what you mean by magistrate?) to find out how it works. I think you would have to get a court date where you present your case for why you need one and then a judge approves it or not, and the sooner you get that done the better. See if there's an abused women's centre in your area as they handle these sorts of situations all the time too and may be able to provide extra guidance.
posted by lafemma at 8:14 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

IANYL. That said: You should absolutely begin creating a paper trail if you have not already begun. Stop what you are doing and gather all of the proof of his behavior you have right now, and type up a chronology of everything that has happened to date.

You need to send him one text message that states: "Your repeated attempts to contact me directly and through my friends and family are making me uncomfortable. I will notify the police if you attempt to contact me again." Be very clear and very direct, and mention the police. Although you stated in the beginning of your question that you'd blocked him on your phone, it sounds like so much time has passed that the block expired (yes, that happens) and you have not renewed it - thus, he's been able to continue sending you texts. After you've sent the message, don't block his number again; that way, if he does continue texting and calling, you'll have more material to give to the police.

If he continues with this behavior, follow through on your threat to contact the police. Stalking and harassment are both potential claims, depending on the details of your situation. I'm sorry this is happening to you, and please take care.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:15 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I disagree with the above posters about sending one final text message.

Whatever you do, do not engage with this person. Do not respond. I've heard it repeated many times on Metafilter that responding after a person makes X attempts to contact you only reinforces in that person's head the idea that all they need to do in order to get a response is contact you X more times. I imagine you saw similar advice in the previous stalker posts.

For your own mental health, changing your phone number is the best way to go.

I wish I had more advice to give - I am so sorry about your situation. Please feel empowered to talk to the police and seek advice *now* so that they can instruct you on how best to handle things moving forward. You're on the right track with wanting to establish a paper trail.
posted by lizzicide at 8:39 PM on March 17, 2014 [22 favorites]

IANAL, but I work with stalking cases on a fairly regular basis. In Oregon (and from my cursory reading of the PA statute,) the main thing you need to establish to secure a stalking order is repeated unwanted contact that makes you either: severely emotionally distressed, or fearful for your physical safety. Repeated doesn't necessarily mean that there has to be a long pattern-- two unwanted "contacts" will often do it.

You established here: "I told him never to contact me again and I blocked him on my phone, Facebook, email, etc." that any further contact would be unwanted. Obviously, he has ignored that and gone on contacting you, which you would be able to establish in court. (You would want to bring print-outs of all the Facebook messages, texts, etc.) However, your hurdle might be in proving that this man poses a serious threat to your physical or emotional safety. If you think you can demonstrate that his actions/communications are threatening, I think a stalking order might be the way to go. (Again, IANAL, but I don't think that his prior restraining order would be admissible in court.) You can file for a temporary order immediately (this would be a hearing before a judge that this guy would not be present at,) and then schedule a hearing for a permanent order. Generally both parties are present at those hearings, and both have an opportunity to present their evidence to the judge.

I don't know about in PA, but in Oregon violating a stalking order is a Class A misdemeanor that carries up to a year jail time. Even if the order isn't granted, the threat of those consequences might be what this guy needs to leave you the hell alone.
posted by frizzle at 9:39 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreed: do not under any circumstances engage this man. All that does is tell him he can get through eventually.

Document everything you can think of. Dates, places, witnesses if any. Make hard copies of emails, texts, screenshots, etc. Contact the police (I'd go to the station, personally), and ask them what to do next.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:50 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think other posters have said this implicitly, but for clarity I'll say it explicitly: do the gather up the things and go to the police *now.*

Don't wait for more contacts, don't ask a friend to tell him you're considering doing this, etc. Just gather up what you need to establish the pattern, and head on down to your local police station. There's nothing to be gained by waiting.
posted by colin_l at 4:59 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do NOT engage at all with him. Change your phone number immediately and disable your social media presence for now. No tweets, updates, nothing. Change your email address.

Go to the police and file a harrassment report. Show them your phone and other messages, tell them, "I believe this man has the capability to be a stalker, I am afraid of him. While nothing he's done to date has been particularly threatening, I feel threatened." At the very least they should take the report. You are laying the foundation for a restraining order.

Do not blame yourself. You re-engaged with someone, it's not your fault that he turned out to be untrustworthy.


Just wanted to say that. Do you believe it?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:38 AM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Lawyer up. Restraining order is fairly straightforward, and not terribly expensive as lawyerly things go. You can file for one without a lawyer in PA, but I'd want to have all the details nailed down to the ground in case he decides to contest it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:03 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also think you should go to the police. If you were to do this in my area, they would advise you to send him a message similar to the one sevensnowflakes recommends*, and then, if he contacts you again, you would be able to get a restraining order. Your local processes might be different, so check with the police first.

*If you do need to send such a message, they'll be able to tell you what you need to include in it in order to get the restraining order. My SIL had to list all of the ways in which she didn't want to be contacted.
posted by amarynth at 6:55 AM on March 18, 2014

Take your documentation to the police. Do not engage the person. Tell your family and closest friends not to engage the person. If he shows up at your Dad's, Dad should say "Do not come here. Do not contact me or my daughter in any way" and should call the police. Make sure your workplace doesn't give out personal info and that there's some security, esp. if you're ever there alone. Tighten privacy on fb, blogs, etc. Read The Gift of Fear. There's a family/domestic violence agency somewhere near you; they will know local laws, and will know whether your police dept. is a useful resource or not. Develop really reliable safety habits, like looking around, checking to see who's around. Make sure you have and use good locks, use motion-sensitive lights, keep the car locked. Consider a medium to large dog.

This person exploited your grief shamelessly, turns up at your dad's, has turned up at your window. He has some history of violence or threatening violence. Don't be embarrassed thinking you're over-reacting. He's fucking with your life and it's unacceptable.
posted by theora55 at 7:11 AM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

I should clarify - you need to tell him the police will be contacted the next time he tries to initate contact for legal reasons. You need the threat and his failure to heed it. Obviously, do not engage or contact him at all with the sole exception of that message.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 9:51 AM on March 18, 2014

sevensnowflakes, I really really really don't want to turn this into an argument, but what you are advocating is actually dangerous.

Stalkers rely on engagement from their targets to perpetuate the delusion. If the OP engages this stalker, even if it's just to say the police will be contacted 'next time,' it tells him two things: 1) if he pushes hard enough he can get her to contact him which obviously means she loves him etc, and 2) that she hasn't called the police yet, so obviously he hasn't done anything actually wrong, so maybe he should just show up at her place tomorrow to talk about it.

So even if she contacts him to say never contact me again or police, he will interpret that as her still responding. Or, given there's a history of violence, could easily spur him over the edge into "Well I'm gonna show her."

Seriously, read The Gift of Fear linked above. Stalkers will interpret any communication as positive reinforcement of their delusions. The only way the OP should ever engage the stalker is by appearing as a witness at his trial if there is one.

Again, I am really not starting an argument here or perpetuating one, and if you disagree with me please MeMail. But I feel it is irresponsible to let dangerous advice stand.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:38 AM on March 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

You might want to let your boss/security at your job know that this person has been stalking you and might stop by.

My work has had it happen a few times, and each time it's been subtly communicated to the receptionists to watch for this person and if they show up, contact security and the police. When one person had actually threatened violence there was a wide blast with a picture that said if you see this guy, call the police. The next day that guy came by with a stuffed bear and asked to see so-and-so. Without the warning, he might have actually been able to access her.

None of this is your fault.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:37 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

feckless fecal fear mongering, no worries! I certainly don't want to be giving dangerous advice or starting arguments, and having worked with survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the past, I totally respect your position. I re-read the question, though, and I don't see where there is a history of violence represented here.

In any event, my read of the PA statute is that a stalking charge requires proof that the stalker intended to cause the victim severe emotional distress or fear of physical violence, and I'm not necessarily seeing intent on these facts.

But because the response to my original advice has been mostly negative, I'll amend it: OP, get advice from a lawyer. That person will be able to tell you exactly where you legally stand and exactly where to go from here.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:00 PM on March 18, 2014

Go to the police with everything you have so far. When I did this, the police contacted the stalker for me with a final do-not-contact message.
posted by mibo at 5:32 PM on March 18, 2014

Just wanted to update and say that I was able to make it over to the police station today. Ex-friend contacted me again on Wednesday.

I compiled my notes & logs and showed them to an officer. He said that so far, the content of the text messages being mostly, "Hey, are you okay?" (plus most of the in-person activity having happened last year) isn't enough to be a chargeable offense. That said, the officer is going to contact ex-friend for me and warn him that any further contact or in-person attempts to content will result in charges. The officer also said that if ex-friend shows up on the property uninvited that I can immediately call 911 and ask to have an office sent to remove him from the property. After that, charges would be filed.

I appreciated everyone's feedback here, and it helped to see that my cause for concern wasn't too overblown. I'm hoping that this guy will get the hint after the phone call and cut it out. I am also going to request that my dad talk to his lawyer, just in case.

Thanks again for the help. I'll mark this as resolved.
posted by cardinality at 1:04 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Whoops, sorry for the typos. Got distracted and missed the edit window!

Thanks again.

posted by cardinality at 1:11 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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