Polk County Sheriff Investigating Cyberstalker of Atheist Activist
Lakeland, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd does not take internet bullying of its residents lightly, even if it involves EllenBeth Wachs, the former Vice-President and Legal Affairs Coordinator for Atheists of Florida and current President of Humanists of Florida Association, who recently asked the sheriff to investigate a relentless case of cyberstalking aimed against her.
Judd assigned a Special Investigations detective to investigate a North Carolina man who has, for almost two years, employed an arsenal of social media such as Facebook, Youtube, Google+ and Twitter, to conduct a relentless campaign to harass and abuse Wachs.
According to Florida statutes the term “cyberstalk” means “to engage in a course of conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose.”
Such activity is a first degree misdemeanor or, if a credible threat is conveyed, a third degree felony. Earlier this month, sheriff detectives arrested two Polk County men under the Florida cyberstalking statute for harassing a 15-year-old high school student via Twitter.
Deputies in Forsythe County, North Carolina, are also on the case investigating the numerous websites and Facebook pages created by Wachs’ internet tormenter. In some of these sites, the cyberstalker has impersonated Wachs. The websites include images of Wachs that the cyberstalker has taken from legitimate websites including her personal Facebook page and Twitter account. “Social media outlets are complicit in the behavior when they don’t remove the impersonating profiles after requested to do so multiple times as in the case of a phony Youtube account in my name,” said Wachs.
North Carolina laws make it a Class 2 misdemeanor “for a person to electronically mail or electronically communicate to another repeatedly for the purpose of abusing, annoying, threatening, terrifying, harassing, or embarrassing any person.” According to a University of North Carolina School of Government website, over 1200 people were charged with cyberstalking in 2010 under North Carolina law.
A federal law, “18 USC § 2261A – Stalking,” includes the use any “interactive computer service” to engage in conduct that “causes substantial emotional distress” to a person.
A curious aspect of this story is that the detective, whom Judd assigned to the cyberstalking case, was not unknown to Wachs. “Of course, I was leery when Sheriff Judd assigned this detective to my case. I certainly recognized the name from the failed sting, but, thus far, she has been nothing but professional and courteous to me.”
In March 2011, Wachs was arrested and her home searched by a SWAT team of sheriff’s deputies several weeks after she had requested from Sheriff Judd, citing the Freedom of Information Act, records concerning his transfer of jail sports property to local area churches. Wachs, a retired attorney, had signed her name with “ESQ” prompting her arrest for allegedly practicing law without a license, a charge that prosecutors would later drop. In light of her history with the detective, Wachs is concerned that her repeated phone calls and email to the detective inquiring about the status of the cyberstalking investigation have gone unanswered. __________________________________________________________________________
Sources: “Cyberstalking.” http://nccriminallaw.sog.unc.edu/?p=2955
“Tweets Lead To Arrest of Twins On Stalking Charges.” http://www.theledger.com/article/20121101/NEWS/121109955