Posted: April 29th, 2012 by Militant Libertarian
by William N. Grigg
What does it take to be officially designated a “stalker” in the State of Oregon?
Apparently, the only guaranteed way to earn the unwanted title of “stalker” in the Beaver State is to criticize the local police and the corrupt municipal cabal it serves. That’s a reasonable inference to draw from the bizarre experience of Sunriver, Oregon resident Robert Foster
, whose stalking case involving the Sunriver PD and the Sunriver Owners Association (SROA) is scheduled for trial on Tuesday, April 24. [Update: The trial has been rescheduled — again — for August 21.]
Roughly two years ago, Foster – a well-established and widely respected local businessman who operates a hot tub service company – was designated a stalker in an ex parte proceeding. Since that time he has been arrested twice for the supposed crime of coming within eyeshot of one of the timid, shivering creatures who supposedly live in bladder-loosening fear of Foster – Sergeant Joseph Patnode and Officer Kasey Hughes.
Foster has never said or done anything to harm either of those proud, intrepid members of the Brotherhood of Coercion. Prior to the arrests made pursuant to the spurious stalking protection order, Foster had no criminal record of any kind. Over the past two years, Foster has been treated as a prisoner in his own hometown. At one point last fall he was driven into out-of-state exile for three months to avoid arrest as he prepared for a January 26 court date.
Rather than convening the trial on the appointed time at the designated location, the presiding Judge conducted a series of sidebar conferences with the parties in her chambers while dozens of people waited for several hours in a crowded, poorly ventilated courtroom. In the far corner of the small room could be seen a poorly-disguised Detective from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, who furtively took photographs of everyone who had gathered to support Foster.
In the middle of the courtroom had assembled practically the entire Sunriver Police Department. All of them but Hughes and Patnode were in uniform and wearing body armor. They were also wreathed in the unmistakable aroma of pure, unfiltered fear. This shouldn’t surprise us: These are people who profess to be terrified by the mere sight of a skinny, mild-mannered, unarmed, 51-year-old businessman whose only weapon is a finely whetted wit.
Bob Foster and his daughter, Rebecca Kossler, were as eager for their day in court as the Sunriver PD was to avoid it – a fact that says everything we need to know about the relative merits of their respective cases. If Foster’s accusers were telling any portion of the truth, they wouldn’t be exhausting every dilatory tactic known to man in an effort to avoid testifying under oath in an adversarial setting.
In defiance of State Law, the original SPO was granted without a mandatory hearing at which Foster could contest it. His court appearance on January 26 was the first time he was able to speak for himself in a judicial proceeding. Rather than permitting Foster the opportunity to tear apart the specious case against him, the presiding judge attempted to fashion a modified order under which Foster would be granted the supposed privilege of a judicial hearing before the “victims” – Officers Patnode and Hughes – could arrange for his arrest.
The Sunriver PD faction refused to drop the charges against Foster because, as they explicitly told the judge, they were concerned that he would sue the department for the taxpayer-subsidized harassment he has experienced.
Assuming that his persecutors could be held personally liable, rather than socializing the costs of their criminal foolishness, Foster would be entitled to sue them into penury: During the past two years he has spent more than $200,000 contesting the patently false and unambiguously malicious accusation that he had been stalking the local police.
In sworn pre-trial depositions, neither of the “victims” of Foster’s purported stalking was ever to describe an instance in which he did or said anything so much as suggesting violent intent. The same is true of former Sunriver Police Chief Michael Kennedy
, who – as we will see – has since lost his position
and offered several key disclosures regarding what can only be called a criminal conspiracy against Foster.
Foster’s supposed victims are armed individuals claiming a license to use lethal force at their discretion – and who supposedly dissolve into puddles of petulant panic at the sight of him. Pedro Erazo’s victim, by way of contrast, was a senior citizen named Kathryn Reitz, whom he repeatedly harassed, threatened, and physically assaulted at the Goodwill convenience store in Hillsboro, Oregon.
Over the course of two years, Erazo and his cohorts would descend on the thrift store in pursuit of severely discounted books to re-sell online. Three times a day, employees would wheel out large bins full of merchandise, including books. Heedless of rudimentary courtesy, Erazo’s group would shove aside other shoppers – and, on occasion, store employees – in order to scoop up armloads of books whose barcodes would be read by a handheld digital scanner. Any potentially valuable volumes would be piled in a cart.
Reitz attracted Erazo’s malign attention by voicing disgust over his behavior. He retaliated by following her around the store, barraging her with insults and threats.
“You should be afraid of me,” Erazo sneered at the terrified 64-year-old woman. “They’re not going to stop me. I can do whatever I want.”
As it happens, the thrift store chain’s management did stop him: Erazo is now banned from 40 stores in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. At Reitz’s request, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Donald Letourneau imposed a stalking order against Erazo, who was one of several people to complain about the tactics he employed.
Another frequent shopper who testified on behalf of Reitz recalled that Erazo had instructed his goons to “shadow me, follow me. If I would go here, then [he told them] `go with her,’ and then a person would come and … just follow me wherever I would go … stand right next to me, elbow me, make it incredibly uncomfortable.”
Despite the fact that Erazo and his gang had clearly engaged in aggressive and violent behavior, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the stalking order
. Oregon state law requires at least two “contacts” in which the victim would have a “reasonable apprehension” regarding his or her physical safety. While Erazo had physically assaulted Reitz on one confrontation, and assailed her with insults and threats during numerous others, a second violent “contact” would be necessary in order for his behavior to qualify as “stalking” under state law.
In a similar case from 2010 (Swarringim v. Olson
), the Court of Appeals dealt with a neighborhood dispute that escalated to property damage (vandalism to the petitioner’s home and automobile) as well as violence and death threats. In one confrontation, Swarringim’s 14-year-old son was knocked flat on his back by an Olson’s 18-year-old son, Matthew, who also warned that he knew people “who will slit [the boy’s] throat.”
Stipulating to the facts as related by the Swarringim family, the Court of Appeals threw out the stalking order, maintaining that the evidence was insufficient to establish that the actions of Olson and his son had caused “reasonable apprehension for personal safety” on the part of the victims.
Obviously, it is difficult to make a stalking order stick in the State of Oregon, even when the subject of the order has committed acts of criminal violence and made explicit death threats. The designation of “stalker” is reserved for truly dangerous people like Bob Foster, whose sole offense was to make the police uncomfortable.
Foster was a prominent opponent of both the SROA and the proposed Special Services District (SSD), which was created in 2008 and inflicts an annual cost of several million dollars on Sunriver home owners.
Sunriver – although a lovely place — isn’t really a town; it is a shopping mall with a thyroid condition. The Census Bureau considers it to be part of nearby Bend. Until 2008, its streets were not considered “public conveyances,” but rather private roads accessible to the public. This meant that the Sunriver PD couldn’t write traffic citations, much to the frustration of those who coveted the revenue.
In 2007, the SROA successfully lobbied Oregon State Rep. Gene Wisnat to sponsor H.B. 3445
, a bill custom-tailored for Sunriver that extended police “authority” to include roads and streets on “premises open to the public that are owned by a homeowners association….” The following year, the SROA enacted a special multi-million-dollar tax assessment for a special service district
(SSD) it had created in 2002. The SSD now included a fully functional police department, which immediately became a huge nuisance to local business owners and the visitors upon whom the local economy depends.
“The police constantly harassed people in my parking lot,” recalled Connie Hutcherson, former owner of RJB’s restaurant, in an interview with a private investigator
. “They would do drive-throughs looking for DUIs…. I lost a lot of business because of them. Customers would tell me, `We’d love to come in more, but we’re scared.’”
On more than a few occasions, an aggravated Hutcherson confronted the officers in her parking lot. “They didn’t care for me much,” she wryly observed.
In her interview with the investigator, Danyl Dahl described
a March 2009 episode in which the deli delivery van she was driving was stopped by two Sunriver officers who – in response to a trivial traffic infraction – approached her with guns drawn and faces drawn taut with irrational rage.
“Do you want to get arrested today?” one of them snarled at the perplexed and terrified woman. “Do you want to go to jail today?”
“These people were hired by the Sunriver Owners Association,” Dahl pointed out. “They think they can do anything they want.”
The Sunriver police were just as inhospitable to visitors – something Shawn Vickers, who was stopped for speeding, witnessed first-hand. During the traffic stop, a tourist riding a bicycle stopped and began taking photos of the police vehicle.
“The officer lost control,” Vickers related to the investigator
. “He was like, `Halt! You do not have my permission to take my picture! Freeze! Do not move!’ And then he … was very agitated, he did not know what to do…. At some point, I thought he was going to draw his gun.”
“Are you kidding me?” exclaimed an astonished Vickers, who was still seated behind the wheel of his vehicle. This provoked another outburst: “He was like, `Freeze! Put your hands where I can see them! Do not move!’ He moved about 6-7 feet from me. He never turned his back to me.” As it happened, the bicyclist was a visiting sheriff’s deputy from Los Angeles County who collected photographs of police vehicles. Upon learning of the tourist’s identity, the officer regained at least a portion of his composure. For several anxious moments, however, “I thought this guy was going to lose it and draw down on one of us,” Vickers reports.
A Sunriver resident who identified herself only as “Vicki” told the investigator about asimilar incident she witnessed
in October 2010 involving three Sunriver police officers who swarmed a car containing an elderly couple “with guns drawn and pointing at them.” The elderly couple weren’t armed fugitives; at worst they had committed a minor traffic infraction. Yet they were threatened with lethal violence by a police department perversely determined to manufacture work for itself.
April Gossling, who operated the Villagio Espresso
shop, recalled anApril 2011 incident
in which three Sunriver Police officers pulled over a group of teenagers who were found with alcohol and marijuana. She overheard the police “threatening them – telling them how much trouble they were in, and how they needed to report to them” regarding drug and alcohol use by other kids.
One of the officers wasn’t satisfied merely to cultivate a group of informants: He prevailed on one of the underage girls to supply him with her phone number in a conversation involving the suggestion of “sexual favors,” Gossling testified. During this lengthy encounter, Gossling overheard an emergency call on the police radio that was blithely ignored by the officers.
Unremitting harassment by the Sunriver PD led at least one resident to flee the town.
“I was a victim of such continuous harassment by the Sunriver PD that I eventually simply moved,” former Sunriver resident Jared Lewis told Pro Libertate. “I was so fearful of them every time I left my house…. I was routinely followed, harassed and stopped by Sunriver PD for absolutely no reason for a period of three years.”
In some cases, Lewis reports, Officer Kasey Hughes – one of the two gallant defenders of the public weal who filed a stalking order against Foster – followed him “for miles at a time before stopping me.” In one particularly crowded day, Lewis was stopped four times by four different Sunriver PD officers.
The most disturbing aspect of this was that after dozens of stops per month, I finally reached a point of approaching the (now former) chief to complain and was not only rebuffed, but it was revealed to me by the chief that none
of my stops was recorded. He essentially told me that his officers had never stopped me and that I was a liar.”
Obviously, many Sunriver residents recognized that the police department – and the quasi-private municipal cabal running it – constituted a large, festering problem. However, only Bob Foster was willing to confront those responsible for it.
In public meetings, Foster denounced the Service District as an unnecessary expense that consolidated the grip of the village’s insular ruling elite. He proposed abolishing the District and contracting with nearby La Pine for emergency services – an arrangement that would have saved Sunriver home owners a great deal of money and reined in the power of the SROA.
Kennedy wrote that letter to file a grievance with the Commission after being fired on February 16 in what he described as an act of retaliation by a corrupt and unaccountable municipal government whose official dealings are as opaque as the proceedings of the North Korean Politburo.
“The Sunriver Owners Association has pressured the Sunriver Police Department as well as me to perform unlawful and unethical acts … which we have refused,” wrote Kennedy. “It is my firm belief that my firing was a direct result of my refusal to act on their unethical requests.”
The conspiracy to railroad Bob Foster on “stalking” charges was prominent among those “unethical” acts to which Kennedy refers.
After growing weary of what was described as Foster’s “unwanted attention,” Kennedy approached the SROA and requested “that Bob Foster be trespassed from the SROA/Police building,” the former Chief recalled. This would mean that Foster wouldn’t be able to attend public SROA meetings, or file a police complaint, without being subject to arrest.
Kennedy’s suggestion, if act on, would have been an act of petty, officious retaliation, but it wasn’t a criminal conspiracy. What the SROA suggested does meet that description.
“After meeting with the board, the SROA board president, Bob Nelson, and Bob Wrightson, who are both also on the Service District board, came to my office and told Sergeant Patnode and I [sic] that they would not be trespassing Bob Foster…. [H]owever, their legal counsel had a better solution….. A short time later, our legal counsel advised that we would be filing a stalking order against Bob Foster…. At the request of legal counsel, I contacted Sergeant Patnode and Officer Kasey Hughes to see if they would be willing to have the stalking orders filed on their behalf. They subsequently agreed and the stalking orders were filed.”
Unfortunately for the SROA, Bob Foster “didn’t immediately roll over,” Kennedy recalls. Instead, he gave notice that he intended to file lawsuits against the SROA and the Service District – which, as Kennedy points out, are essentially the same entity.
“The current management structure of the Sunriver Service District puts entirely too much control in the hands of a small segment of the community,” Kennedy explained to the County Commission. “The end result is that a private home owners association has effective control over the operations and funds of a public taxing district.” (Emphasis added.) That same entrenched cabal uses the Sunriver PD as its enforcement arm and revenue-extraction mechanism.
Seeking to limit the potential damage from the lawsuit, the SROA “appeared to be attempting to withdraw Service District protection from the two officers” it has used to file stalking orders against Foster.
In an executive session, SROA Board President Nelson “said something to the effect of `Why is the Service District financing these stalking orders, when this is clearly a civil matter between these two officers and Bob Foster,” Kennedy recalled. “I reminded him that we had asked those officers if they would be willing to file the stalking orders at the request of legal counsel…. I advised him that if asked, that is how I would have to testify in court. After that, SROA appeared to further distance themselves from the case, even though they were the ones who initially started us down the path of filing the stalking orders.” (Emphasis added.)
In those paragraphs, Kennedy made at least three critical admissions:
*The private SROA, in defiance of conflict-of-interest laws, controls a public taxing district and the police department – just as Bob Foster had predicted it would.
*The stalking case against Foster was instigated by the SROA, with the connivance of the police department; it had nothing to do with any criminal conduct on Foster’s part.
*The SROA and Service District were using funds extracted from Sunriver tax victims to finance its vendetta against Foster.
Kennedy’s final performance evaluation by the SROA commended him for taking the lead “in seeking to support and protect [his] officers when harassment by a stalker reached the point where legal action had to be taken.” The SROA’s assessment of Kennedy changed abruptly after the predictable scene in which the Chief told them, in effect, “If I go down, I’m taking you with me.”
After Kennedy was cashiered, he was reportedly given a severance package of $100,000 – a rather extravagant amount for a minor bureaucrat who managed a tiny police force in a tranquil resort community with a permanent population of fewer than 1,000 people. If the SROA’s intention was to buy off Kennedy, they badly underestimated the price of his silence – and misunderstood the magnitude of his admissions against interest.
Kennedy insists on being reinstated as Sunriver Police Chief. He also demands the resignation of five directors of the SROA, and the disbanding of the special service district. That last demand is another vindication of Bob Foster, who made the same proposal five years ago – thereby provoking the lengthy and expensive campaign of criminal harassment in which Kennedy eagerly participated until it became personally risky to him.
Disbanding the service district is necessary but insufficient. The only adequate remedy would be to add Sunriver, Oregon to the lengthening roster of small towns
that have been relieved of the burden
of a municipal police department. Chances are, Kind Reader, that the city in which you live would benefit from the same kind of “neglect.”