Here’s how a Chesterton Police officer spent part of her shifts last week.
At 9:36 a.m. on Monday, according to the officer’s initial report, a woman
filed a complaint against her ex-boyfriend—with whom she’d broken up on
Saturday—after he “harassed her extensively via telephone over the past 24
hours” and sent her as well a total of 46 texts.
“She stated that some are just general conversation but in some he makes
threats against both her and her estranged husband,” the officer stated and
included these examples: “Watch your back the next few weeks”; and “I’m
going to put your husband in the hospital.”
The officer duly contacted the ex-boyfriend and strongly advised him to
“cease all contact” with both the woman and the woman’s husband. The
ex-boyfriend admitted having sent some “stupid” texts and promised the
officer that he would so cease.
Then, at 3:25 p.m. on Tuesday, the ex-boyfriend discovered what it’s like to
be on the receiving end of threatening texts, the officer stated in her
second report on the case. Beginning at 8:30 a.m. that day, the ex-boyfriend
complained, he’d gotten a series of threatening texts apparently from the
estranged husband. Examples: “Im still waiting 4 u 2 run ur mouth some
more”; “Why dont you tell police that u like 2 chase married women”; “Better
yet why dont u meet me”; “Whats wrong? U have nothing 2 say now?” and “I
will find u!”
The ex-boyfriend advised that he hasn’t responded to the estranged husband’s
texts and doesn’t intend to, that at the moment that estranged husband
doesn’t know where he lives and he wants keep it that way, and that the
estranged husband owns “multiple firearms” and “he is afraid that (the
estranged husband) may harm him.”
Then, 4:04 p.m. on Tuesday—less than 30 minutes after the boyfriend
had filed his complaint—the woman’s estranged husband also reported
receiving from the ex-boyfriend a derogatory text about his wife at 12:05
a.m. on Monday, the officer stated in her third report on the case.
This time the officer strongly advised the estranged husband to
“cease all contact” with the ex-boyfriend.
The officer told all parties that her reports will be forwarded to the
Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review.
Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a term of up to six months
in jail and a fine of $1,000.
Indiana Code defines it as occurring when “A person who, with intent to
harass, annoy, or alarm another person but with no intent of legitimate
communication,” makes a telephone call, sends a telegram, writes a letter,
broadcasts over a CB radio, or uses a computer network to communicate with
another person or to transmit “an obscene message or indecent or profane
As Porter County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel told the Chesterton
Tribune, the key statutory element of the crime of harassment is “no
intent of legitimate communication.” He gave this example. Say an estranged
husband and wife are talking on the phone about the custody of their child.
“There may be cussing and shouting, there may be trash talk, but at the end
of the call they make some arrangement or reach some agreement about their
child’s upraising. That’s not harassment. If there’s some legitimate
communication beyond merely haranguing, then it’s not considered harassment.
But if one parent is just calling up the other and screaming for the sake of
screaming, then that may be harassment.”
Harassment can be a tricky crime to prosecute, Gensel noted. For one thing,
“there’s the difficulty in interpreting a basis for what constitutes
meaningful communication between the parties involved. Obscene calls are
clearly harassment. But a text or call with a legitimate nugget of
communication is not. It has to be wholly devoid of legitimate communication
to be considered harassment under the law.”
For another, there really needs to be documentation of the harassment—a
recorded call or a text—for a prosecution to be successful. “Otherwise, it’s
just one person’s memory of what was said,” Gensel observed.
On occasion, a decision may be made not to prosecute because the harassment
“was an isolated incident,” Gensel said. “Typically police officers took at
whether the harassment is part of a continuing pattern and so do we.”
For the record, in November 2009 a Porter man was charged with harassment
after Chesterton Police said that he e-mailed photos of himself to a
Westchester Public Library employee and then left a note for her indicating
that he was “waiting” for her.
Harassment as his deputies usually see it, Gensel said, tends to involve
ex-friends, acquaintances, and family members in face-to-face or telephonic
communication. Cyber-harassment is an altogether different issue. “One of
the dilemmas about e-mails is who’s doing it, where are they doing
it, and how will you find them?”
In any event, Gensel said, pinpointing the federal agency with jurisdiction
in the matter can be problematic.
As it happens, Chesterton Police Chief George Nelson said, his officers
spend a fair amount of their time responding to what are classified as
either “Harassment” complaints or “Obscene/Harassing Phone Calls.” In 2009
alone, calls for service included a total of 122 of both.
More: according to the logs, the CPD officer who filed three separate
reports on Monday and Tuesday devoted a total of 35 minutes of her time to
the case or just under 12 minutes per report. If that average is in any way
typical, the CPD devoted 24.4 hours or three full eight-hour shifts in 2010
to harassment complaints.