Loved to Death

Jim Garner wanted to murder his wife, Dana. Even from the grave, he may get his way.

A first offense under the stalking law is a Class 6 felony punishable by up to eighteen months in prison. A second or subsequent offense within seven years is a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to three years.

Last August, Dana Garner's lawyer notified the city of her intent to sue the department for a million dollars, claiming the police acted negligently and improperly. "Ms. Garner repeatedly asked, begged, demanded or pled with various police officers to arrest Mr. Garner, and in doing so provided the officer with a location where Mr. Garner could be found," attorney Jay Freeman claimed.

"Each time, the officer either refused or failed to go and arrest and incarcerate Mr. Garner. Indeed, and in response to Ms. Garner's request that an arrest be made, the officers were rude, demeaning, and insulting.

"Each time, the officers were made aware that a restraining order had been issued, and that Mr. Garner was violent in nature."

The female detective who interviewed Dana over the telephone knew of the weapon and the passport, "a classic sign of an explosive situation," Freeman noted. "However, and yet again, rather than go and arrest Mr. Garner, an easy option, the detective simply sought another arrest warrant--and not for theft or stalking, but for...trespass."

Although Dana admits she could use the money, she says it's more important that the department change its ways--or at least follow its own policies. She wants officers to listen, really listen, to a woman's story. Grimly, she points out that the money order she'd reported stolen, a report the Denver police discounted, was cashed by Jim's brother-in-law in Tennessee--in exchange for the gun Jim used to shoot her.

If Dana does follow through with her suit, it will be an uphill battle. Government employees in Colorado, including police officers, are protected by strong immunity statutes. Another legal firm that Dana had contacted declined to take the case, noting that she would have to prove the officers' conduct was "willful, malicious, or intended to cause harm.

"We know you think that changes need to be made," the attorneys wrote, "and we agree with you, but it is our opinion that trying to change the law, in this case, through the legislature is a better option. This would also allow you to avoid the emotional heartache and public access to your personal life, in a case that would probably be unsuccessful anyway."

Even police spokesman Wyckoff suggests that Dana ought to take a hint from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "They got sick and tired of seeing guys getting off with three and four DUIs," he says. "So they started putting the heat on the judges by showing up at sentencing."

Dana hasn't given up on finding an attorney willing to take on the police. But in the meantime, she's actively helping women to help themselves. She's joined with security consultant Mike Newell, a former Denver cop and an expert in "stalker suppression," to form the nonprofit Crisis Action Network, doing business as Stalking Rescue.

Newell's practice is to stalk the stalker, monitoring his activity and building a case to get him into the justice system before he strikes.

Like most dangerous stalkers, Jim Garner gave plenty of warning, Newell says. "He repeatedly violated restraining orders, meaning he felt omnipotent and above the law," he notes. "He followed her to work. He was constantly checking with friends, associates and family members to track her lifestyle. He threatened her verbally on numerous occasions.

"Hell, for years he read books on how to murder people. He lived vicariously through the killers he met in those books until he decided to act himself."

The police lack the manpower, especially when it comes to followup, to deal with stalkers adequately. "You need someone who can see the pattern over time," Newell explains. "This is not just a trespass or a burglary or a phone harassment. It's a pattern of escalating criminal activity. Right now, with the antiquated justice system, there's not much in the way of consequences for the stalker, which is giving these predators tacit approval to escalate what they are doing."

According to Newell, there's only one "cure" for stalkers: isolation. "Get them away from the local bar and their good buddies who tell them that they're right," he says. "Give them time to see that their behavior is wrong. Most of these guys, I believe, are changeable. They don't start off wanting to hurt or kill the ones they love--it just escalates."

And if authorities don't help the victims, victims have to help themselves. The Crisis Action Network, with Dana Garner as its executive director, plans to show how they can. "We want to provide, at little or no cost, training for victims of predator abuse," says Newell. "That includes case management and development--including how to communicate with police, district attorneys and judges, optimum use of the justice system, self-awareness, personal protection/self-defense and emotional recovery."

But the network will step in only after a victim requests a temporary restraining order. "They have to take that first step," says Newell. "Until they make that commitment to themselves, we're unable to help."

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