Cyberharasser Sentenced to Two Years Probation
This case, although several years old, captured my attention because of the perpetrator’s employment with the Department of Defense. That is an agency unsuccessfully used by some known harassers to give false reports against activists, bloggers and others.
Here is the story …
Lori Stewart of Urbana, Illinois opened a blog titled “This Just In.” She shared gentle stories about gardening, her military family, and vacation photos. In 2006, Lori founded the non-profit organization Toys for Troops. It was soon afterwards when someone using the handle “JoeBob” began sending her vulgar comments.
Lori’s son was in the military, so JoeBob referred to Lori’s son as an “inbred half-retarded son” and said he hoped he took a bayonet in the gut. JoeBob also sent comments that were anti-Semitic and homophobic.
The News Gazette reports;
“Initially, it started out as a bunch of nasty comments from him. I didn’t know who he was. I thought he was some young punk kid. He was posting anonymously. Mostly, I thought he was a royal pain in the … But then he began attacking anyone I talked about,” she said.
That included a sister with cancer, her mother with Alzheimer’s, her son in Iraq. The comments, some of which Stewart shared with followers on her blog in July, could charitably be described as obscene.
“I didn’t want to invite attacks on other people I loved so I shut down the comments,” she said.
Lori disabled comments on her blog and began using a private Facebook account to communicate with readers. Apparently, that made JoeBob angry. He created a fake email address, purporting to be Lori, and sent emails to her friends and family that were full of homophobic slurs and anti-Semitic. JoeBob also impersonated Lori by posting rude comments on blogs using her name. JoeBob also signed Lori up for white supremacist websites and subscribed her to porn sites. Lori said she was terrified.
Many of Lori’s blog followers and personal friends knew that Lori had been targeted by the cyberstalker, but others did not. In early 2013, Lori heard from about a dozen people in quick succession that they had received mean-spirited messages purporting to have come from her. Lori turned to the police, who told her “there’s really not going to be much you can do about this. You have a public blog, there is such a thing as freedom of speech.” Lori did convince one officer to file a report so she could have a case number to work with.
Also in early 2013, WDWS radio personality Elizabeth Hess began receiving obscene and threatening e-mails at work. Champaign police detective Patrick Simons was assigned to the case. Champaign County sheriff’s investigator Jody Ferry then took interest in Lori’s case. He said that he found Lori’s case different from other cases of cyberharassment for several reasons, among them:
There was no personal relationship between Lori and JoeBob, such as a break-up making him angry. They did not know each other. JoeBob was very racist and sexist. He was also relentless in his attacks.
Investigator Ferry collected IP addresses from Elizabeth and Lori for where the messages were coming from. He sent subpoenas to the ISP’s and identified the perpetrator.
JoeBob was not some young guy sitting in his mom’s basement. His real name is Robin B. King, who in 2013, was 55-years old. King lived in Bella Villa., Mo., a small suburb south of St. Louis, and was employed with the Department of Defense out of the St. Louis area.
A warrant was issued for King’s arrest charging him with four counts of harassment by electronic communication, a Class 4 felony. His bond was set at $250,000. The counts filed against King allege Stewart, Hess, and two others, Benjamin Beaupre and Sarah Boyer, were subjected to obscene electronic comments from King on four occasions each between January and May 2013. Beaupre and Boyer are bloggers who Lori knows.
On September 24, 2013, King was arrested. Investigator Ferry said that he sent the warrant to a police colleague in St. Louis, who arrested King at work.
On April 14, 2014, King plead guilty and was sentenced to two years of probation. He did not share any light for his motivation, and his attorney cautioned him to say nothing in order to keep his job with the Department of Defense.
In exchange for his plea and a promise to have no contact with his victims, the state dismissed four more serious felony counts of harassment by electronic communication. King was also ordered to get a mental health evaluation.
Lori Stewart said she believes the laws on this issue are vague and she intends to contact legislators to see if they can be strengthened.