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Caught on Tape

One day, anti-stalker Michael Newell became a TV hero. But not everyone was happy about it.

The TV news show 48 Hours portrayed former Denver cop Michael Newell as a hero two weeks ago for his efforts to protect women from the obsessed and often dangerous men who stalk them. Specifically, the CBS crew concentrated on the story of Newell's "rescue" of an Aurora woman named Laura from her ex-husband, an ex-felon who allegedly broke her arm.

But 48 hours after the story aired, Newell says, he was being painted as a villain by Aurora and Arapahoe County officials, who felt stung by the show's intimation that they were slow in responding to the woman's plight. An Aurora newspaper, quoting an outraged mayor and police chief, even labeled Newell a vigilante.

Now Newell says he's the victim of "political retribution" after being hauled into court and threatened with jail if he didn't cooperate by turning over evidence in the case. All they had to do to get his cooperation, he says, "was ask."

Mike Knight, a spokesman for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office, says that "in no way, shape or form" were representatives of that office trying to get back at Newell.

"I saw the show," Knight says, "and I have no complaints with it. If anything, it was an indictment of the system as a whole."

Knight concedes that there are concerns about what happened to a purported audiotaped confession--and why Newell, as a former cop, didn't get it into the hands of the Aurora police--and about the refusal by 48 Hours staffers to reveal during the taping of the episode the whereabouts of the ex-husband.

Newell formed Stalking Rescue, a nonprofit organization, about a year ago ("Loved to Death," April 3, 1997). He drives a car with EQLIZER license plates, a reference to a 1980s television show in which the hero bends the rules to see justice done. 48 Hours made a point of identifying Newell with the fictional character.

Along with classes in self-defense, the main focus of Newell's group is to teach victims of stalking how to make a case against their assailants that essentially forces the system to act. This can include tape-recording threats and keeping a diary of contacts that violate restraining orders. Newell assists his clients by "stalking the stalker."

Last fall Newell was contacted by 48 Hours, which had learned of his work through advocates here. He says it was pure coincidence that Laura was referred to him by her therapist the day before the television crew arrived in Denver to tape his work.

Laura's ex-husband, Christopher Garcia, an ex-felon with convictions for burglary, assault and drunken driving, was allegedly stalking and threatening her.

Laura told Newell that her ex had shoved her head through a wall, tried to break her back so that no one else would want to be with her, punched her in the stomach repeatedly and once knocked her out with a blow to the head. Then, on November 7, he allegedly shattered her arm. The Aurora police had taken a report from Laura in which previous assaults were noted, but they had not found Garcia.

Four days after the assault that broke her arm, Laura met with Newell. Garcia still had not been arrested. A police department spokesman would later tell a 48 Hours interviewer that the cops were waiting for a judge to sign the arrest warrant.

"I was afraid he would kill me or hurt the kids," Laura said on camera.
Newell moved Laura and her two children to a safehouse and began stalking the muscular Garcia to construction sites where he worked and to motels on East Colfax Avenue where he was thought to be living. On November 15 Newell located Garcia and called the Aurora police for backup so that he could safely serve a restraining order against Garcia. He says he was told that no help would be coming.

So Newell followed Garcia to a gas station, where he served him with the restraining order. Garcia pulled a screwdriver from his coat and began to walk after Newell until he noticed the television cameras across the street.

Noting that it had been a week since the attack on Laura, Newell told the television cameras that the process was "frustrating...There's an obvious bad guy over there...with a warrant pending...waiting for the signature of a judge...Now it's up to the authorities to hold up their end of the bargain."

But ten days after the attack, Laura was still waiting to hear that the police had arrested Garcia so that she could move back home. "I can't go outside," she said. "I'd be scared he'd be right behind me."

"What's taking the Aurora Police Department so long?" 48 Hours correspondent Erin Moriarty asked the police spokesman on the tenth day.

The response was that the police were too busy. The department spokesman asked what good it would do to "rush out...haphazard...and lose the case?" However, he admitted that the Aurora police had waited a week before even applying for the arrest warrant. The spokesman told Moriarty that there were complications, such as knowing where to find Garcia.

"No problem for the Equalizer," Moriarty said. She noted that it took Newell five hours to find Garcia at a Colfax motel, "where he's been all along."

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