Loved to Death

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"I think maybe she ought to be asking her questions of somebody else," he says of Dana. "Why was he constantly back out on the streets? The DAs give the old excuse: They never question the decision of the jury. The judges give the old excuse: They did everything they could.

"We can't be all things to all people, but we're the easy targets."
According to Detective David Schultz with the Denver Domestic Violence Unit, stalkers often are hard to control because they have no respect for court orders. "Some do get scared off by police action," he says. "Or some get in the system or see a therapist...But with others, there's a mental-illness component, and nothing matters to them except their obsession."

In 1996 there were 64 domestic-violence-related deaths in Colorado. Four involved children; almost all involved stalking. That same year, the state's women's crisis centers received more than 150,000 calls for help. According to Laine Gibbes, director of the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, many of the calls came from women being stalked.

"It's one of our keys to lethality," Gibbes says. "The obsession leads to a very strong correlation to lethality."

Under the Colorado "stalker law" passed three years ago by the legislature, a person commits harassment by stalking if he directly or indirectly makes a credible threat against a person and in connection with that threat repeatedly follows the person or a member of that person's family. A credible threat is defined as something that would cause a reasonable person to be in fear for his life or safety.

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.

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Steve Jackson

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