Colorado Passes No Bail Legislation for Stalking and DV Offenders

DENVER — As of August 2017 domestic violence offenders will no longer be granted bail after conviction. House Bill 17-1150, “No Bail For Stalking and Domestic Violence Offenders,” protects victims from further abuse by some of the most dangerous offenders.

The bill was signed just a year after the fatal Colorado domestic violence case of Janice Nam.

Coverage by the Denver Post states that on the night of May 30th, 2016, Glen Galloway violated Nam’s restraining order by breaking into her Colorado Springs home as she slept. He proceeded to shoot her twice in the head.

Prior to her murder, Galloway failed to appear in court for a stalking conviction Nam had filed against him. Earlier articles from the Denver Post show that Nam had filed “multiple protection orders related to domestic violence cases in 2014.” The case lead Colorado legislators to question the effectiveness restraining orders have of protecting victims against domestic violence.

Lydia Waligorski, policy director for Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in an interview with the Post that stalkers “are the folks that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They are typically not the people who are respecting protection orders.”

Cases like Nam’s are not uncommon. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “Do Protection Orders Protect,” cross-examined the rate of protection order effectiveness of every state in the nation. Their findings showed that for every 100,000 adults, 880 have filed protection orders. Between 84 and 92 percent of these orders are implemented for domestic violence offenses alone. However, almost a fifth of all protection orders go unenforced. Supporters of the new House Bill hope it will eliminate the possibility of further abuse victims often experience once their abuser is set free on bail.

Along with Colorado, 20 other states and DC have implemented immediate arrest laws for domestic violence calls. These laws allow police officers to detain the primary offender without a warrant at the scene of the incident. These laws, along with the denial of bail to offenders, has given new hope to many victims in Colorado.

In an interview with Fox 21 News, Colorado State Representative Clarice Navarro, a main proponent of the new bill, is optimistic for its potential to help victims in the very worst situations.

“This new law will be a sigh of relief to many victims who after enduring the stress of a criminal trial, won’t have to fear retaliation from their attacker,” said Navarro. “I am grateful to all the stakeholders and legislators who participated in this process and hope this new law empowers more victims of stalking and domestic violence to report the abuse they have suffered.”

The new law will take effect August 9.

Two New Additions to the Big Mountain Data Advisory Board

In January of 2015, I was invited at the request of the High Point Police Department, to learn about the agency’s incredible work on domestic violence.  It was a full two-day workshop and law enforcement agencies from around the country attended.  Also present were representatives from The Battered Women’s Justice Project, the Department of Justice, John Jay College, and The Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR).

sandi

Sandi Murphy, Battered Women’s Justice Project, asking the tough questions about the High Point Model for domestic violence offender deterrence.

Sandra Tibbetts Murphy, BWJP

Before I got to the meeting, I met a woman in line at the car rental counter.  We exchanged jokes and pleasantries about the inefficiency (understatement) of the car-renting process.  When I got to the HPPD workshop, I spotted this same woman in our session!   That woman was Sandra Tibbetts Murphy.  She asked tough questions in our workshop, and I made a mental note to be sure to connect with her after the two-day training class was over.

Sandi is a world-class attorney who’s written extensively on scholarly and legislative aspects of domestic violence law.  Many times, I’ve reached out to her over this past year and asked her to clarify aspects of the law I didn’t fully comprehend.  She has always been patient and kind to give me her best insights on her interpretation of the law or the issue I was addressing.

Today, I’m proud to announce Sandi is joining our esteemed Board of Advisors.  She will now be able to engage with our extended team on our enterprise social network, and help guide and inform our understanding of the law.

Retired Chief Marty Sumner, HPPD

martyretirement

Chief Sumner’s May 2016 retirement party in High Point. A still from our film footage.

The second superstar joining our board is someone I’ve come to know and admire since our very inception.  In fact, it was his words spoken on national television in September 2014, that compelled me to jump out of my seat and demand to know more.  At the height of the Ray Rice saga, ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos ran an investigative segment on domestic violence.  I will never forget the words I heard that day:

“In the five years before we began this, we had 17 domestic-related violence homicides.  In the five years since, we’ve only had one.”  – Chief Marty Sumner,  September 2014.

Chief Sumner retired from his 31-year in law enforcement last May.  He has an unparalleled understanding of crime data, and especially domestic violence data. For the past 7 years, he led the initiative to apply focused deterrence to High Point’s domestic violence problem that was once over a third of the city’s homicides.  What has come to be known as the High Point Model has now been recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women, resulting in a $1.6M contract to the National Network for Safe Communities for replication and further evaluation.  The High Point story is the subject of our documentary. It was Chief Sumner who led the effort to perform a thorough analysis of the city’s domestic violence data, make necessary modifications to the law enforcement software, and implement a system of reporting and alerts that established the baseline that fueled the High Point Model’s success.

The addition of these two strong advocates for change have added a new layer of credibility and strength to our mission.

Leveling Up on the High Point Story

HP1079_coverReaders of this blog should know we’ve been working on a film since our inception.  The story, which we have been calling, Turning Point, is a documentary about a city in North Carolina that got serious about its domestic violence problem.  With documentaries, the power of the story sometimes reveals itself the further you get into the process.  This is exactly what happened with our film team. At some point last year, we all came to the same conclusion: This story is bigger than us. We knew we had a tiger by the tail that deserved a mass audience and higher production values.

Today, after a few months of deliberation and putting the pieces together, we’re announcing we’re partnering with a world class documentary filmmaker to produce the High Point story.  We’re starting over to create a feature film with an ambitious budget and with professionals who are expert filmmakers and storytellers. The amazing news is, we will continue to work on this project creatively. Our two directors will be filming and editing the story.  My role will be to continue to advise on the story, and pitch in on fund-raising.

Our partner is The Documentary Group.  The “Doc Group,” as its known in the film industry, is one of the leading documentary filmmakers in the world.  The company was founded in 2006 by core members of PJ Productions following the death of legendary broadcaster Peter Jennings.  The producers and directors were the team behind Jennings’ documentaries at ABC News.  We had our first meeting with the doc group in November, and decided to move forward together to tell this incredible story.  This week, the film team is back in High Point kicking off the first of many on-location shoots.

Our producer on the film, Tom Yellin, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Cartel Land.  Cartel Land is a feature documentary that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.  It has since won a series of high profile industry recognition awards and accolades including the 2015 George Polk Award for Documentary Film.  Next Sunday, February 28, we hope you’ll tune in to the Oscars and wish Tom well.

The High Point story has the potential to make a difference in the field of domestic violence unlike nothing else we could have imagined when we started thinking about fresh, new ways to look at this age-old social problem that results in injuries, broken families, and deaths every day.  We hope you share in our excitement and anticipation for the completion of this game-changing story.

 

Connecticut Law Obfuscates Abuser Accountability

Thanks to a change in Connecticut law, law enforcement agencies in that state may not report the names and addresses of people accused of Top Secretdomestic violence crimes. Supporters of the new state law say the change guarantees confidentiality to domestic violence. In most cases, they say, releasing the name or address of the offender results in the release of the victim’s identity.

Here’s the key section of Public Act No. 15-211, Sec. 24, Section 54-86e: all names and addresses of victims of domestic violence remain confidential “and shall be disclosed only upon order of the Superior Court.”

Although the intention of the law is to prevent re-victimization, Big Mountain Data opposes the move. The law stands in direct opposition to our philosophy: Only by publicly identifying perpetrators and holding them accountable for their criminal actions can we end domestic violence. We support public access to the names of perpetrators as well as statistics about arrests, convictions and other details about domestic violence offenders.

After the policy became law in July, the police department in the town of Redding changed its official policy, apparently becoming the first agency in the state to do so. Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) told The Redding Pilot in November that she supported the Redding department’s move and hoped the decision would spur open discussion of the issue.

“I do support this policy because it offers confidentiality for the victim. We are, therefore, not outing the perpetrator, but from where I sit, offering confidentiality is the stronger [objective],” Jarmoc said in November.

The Connecticut law conflicts with another state law – one that requires identification of anyone who is arrested. Connecticut lawmakers got around this by approving legislation Oct. 1 that exempts law enforcement records from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act under eight circumstances. One is “if they were compiled in connection with the detection or investigation of crime and disclosure would not be in the public interest because it would reveal … the name and address of the victim of sexual assault or risk of injury to a minor.”

Thomas A. Hennick, public education officer for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, told The Easton Courier the dispute reveals “a conflict in interpretation,” adding, “there is no such thing as a secret arrest in Connecticut.”

We’ll keep an eye out to see how this issue evolves. It may take a legal challenge from a media outlet, relative or concerned citizen to push the issue into court. In the meantime, we respectfully disagree with CADV’s Jarmoc that the Connecticut law is a good thing. But we agree with her on this: Let’s debate this issue publicly.

 

NFL Fumbles Again  — This Time On Greg Hardy Case

Another pro football season, another horrific domestic violence case involving an NFL player.

Last year it was Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. This year it’s the aftermath of the Greg Hardy case.

According to a harrowing account by the sports news and commentary website Deadspin, Hardy’s then gNFL-Footballirlfriend, Nicole Holder ran from Hardy’s Charlotte, N.C., apartment in 2014 minutes after “he had, she said, thrown her against a tile bathtub wall, tossed her on a futon covered in assault rifles, and choked her until she told him to ‘kill me so I don’t have to.’”

When a police officer ordered her to stop and asked why she was crying, she gave this heartbreaking response: “It doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to happen to him anyways.” As Deadspin noted, she was, unfortunately, right:

Last year, Hardy was convicted of assault in a bench trial, but the charges were dismissed on appeal and, it was reported yesterday, expunged. He missed more than a season of football, but went on to sign with the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he’s become a bigger star than ever despite (or perhaps because of) a series of incidents ranging from making sexist comments in a press conference to going after a coach on the sidelines. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ billionaire owner, calls him a “real leader” who has the respect of all his teammates and inspires America’s Team.

Once again, a professional athlete – a highly paid celebrity who makes his living from an arguably violent sport – was not held accountable for a vicious attack on his intimate partner. Accountability for the offender is key to our work at Big Mountain Data. If the big guys – celebrities, athletes, wealthy men, cops – aren’t held accountable, it’s unlikely that the Average Joe taking out his aggressions on the woman he supposedly loves will ever pay the price for his unacceptable behavior.

Holder accepted a settlement from Hardy, which means she’s no longer talking about the case. Still, the Hardy case echoes patterns we’ve heard before:

  •             The abuse escalated over time.
  •             Weapons were in the home where the abuse occurred.
  •             The victim underplayed the abuse, saying she “fell down the stairs.”
  •             The victim told police she had not reported previous abuse because she feared the perpetrator.
  •             The perpetrator claims HE is the victim, although photo evidence from the police clearly disputes that.
  •             On the opening day the trial, a judge threw out the case when the accuser stopped cooperating with prosecutors.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has faced criticism for signing and supporting Hardy. In response to Deadspin’s account of the Hardy case, SI.com’s Doug Farrar called on the NFL to take action on domestic violence. NFL leaders had seen the police photos of the Hardy case before Deadspin published them, he noted.

“The NFL needs to come out and say, ‘we have screwed this up royally,’” Farrar said. “The NFL has to do something real, not an empty statement from the leader, but something real.”

Here’s a thought: How about no longer enabling players who beat up women? Stop fumbling your response to domestic violence.

 

Who is Keeping Track of the Dead? This woman.

2015-11-19-1447944639-6154714-ChristineArmstrong.jpgEvery day, for the past fifteen years, Christine Armstrong sits at her computer and scans the overnight news stories for deaths related to domestic violence.  These days, she limits her research time to four hours a day. Well, she tries anyway.

Her quest began in 2000 when Armstrong had a personal brush with domestic violence and then helped a friend escape an extremely dangerous marriage.  At the time, she was living in New York City working in the television business. Her experience prompted her to learn everything she could about domestic violence.  After her research revealed how prevalent domestic violence homicides were around the country, she was surprised she wasn’t able to find any documentation other than a few hundred names on a national organization’s web site. Horrified, and knowing there there were many, many more victims as a result of her own investigation, she began searching them out and documenting them with calendars.

Today in 2015, she has honed a sophisticated practice of conducting news searches that scour the web using over 27 different keyword combinations that turn up homicide stories every day that the media doesn’t always correctly identify as domestic violence related.  This unfortunate practice of “missing” the domestic violence connection to homicides is one that has been well-documented in academic and journalism circles. According to researcher Lane Kirkland Gillespie, assistant professor in the department of criminal justice at Boise State University, “Recent studies find only about one-quarter to one-third of news stories utilize language that identifies the homicide as domestic violence; and a lesser amount, 10-15%, specifically discuss intimate partner homicide in the context of domestic violence as a broader social issue.” (See her academic paper on the subject.)

Soon after she began her record-keeping, Armstong started volunteering in the field educating others about domestic violence.  She kept up the chronicling of domestic violence homicides from 2001 to 2004.  In 2005, she relocated to Alabama and went to work for a local shelter where for the next seven years she would continue to research the stories, keep calendars, notebooks, and spreadsheets of data as part of her day job.  She eventually built a web site, 2015-11-18-1447864608-1178054-f.pngand launched a Facebook page where she could post daily stories for the public.  That Facebook page has grown to more than 28,000 fans with thousands of posts over the last few years.  She left the shelter in 2011, and two years ago she had to take the web site down, as it was difficult to justify the expense and time maintaining the platform.

Yet, her work has continued even though now she is employed outside the field.  Publishing at least a half dozen different news reports a day, she tracks it all: women, men, parents, grandparents, children, neighbors, co-workers, law enforcement officers, and any other bystanders impacted by these crimes.  On average, Armstrong is documenting approximately 1,800 names a year that have been directly touched by domestic violence homicides.  Her spreadsheets contain over 14,000 names.  She keeps a running list of missing and unsolved cases she’s turned up over the years.  The list includes more than 800 missing women where domestic violence is known or is believed to have been a factor in their disappearance. You can see their photos on her Facebook photo albums.

“I do this work because, to my knowledge, no one else is doing it and many of these victims aren’t even included in domestic violence statistics. A lot more people are dying from domestic violence crimes than most people realize. These are real people with lives. Their loved ones have been in touch with me and would like to see some good come from their loss.” – Christine Armstrong

As difficult as this work is, Armstrong perseveres.  What’s most alarming to her is how little things have changed over fifteen years.  She sees the same stories in 2015 she saw in 2001.  The stories reveal how common it is for a domestic violence homicide suspect to have several contacts with the police and the courts with little or no consequence.  She notes that with 18,000 separate police departments and justice systems in the country, progress is sketchy and piecemeal.  The quality of service a domestic violence victim receives largely depends on where they live, and sadly, the majority of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges don’t know how to recognize a domestic violence case when the clues are so obvious.  “Rarely does a day go by that I don’t see a story where some law enforcement officer, prosecutor or judge declined to intervene in a high risk case and now another person is dead,” she says.

Armstrong points out some of the worst to suffer are the thousands of children who have lost one or both parents to domestic violence.  Even worse, many have witnessed the violent deaths of one or both of their parents. Left orphaned, many end up in the custody of the state and in foster homes.

One trend Armstrong has observed is particularly troubling. Her data reveals there are more homicides stemming from dating relationships than married relationships in the past few years. Advocates have long been seeking equal protection in dating relationships, particularly as it relates to protection orders and removal of firearms. Progress has been slow, yet the body counts mount.

As a whole, Armstrong  feels we don’t seem to be learning much from our mistakes.  A lot of the change that does take place, seems to take a tragic death and a high profile lawsuit to make it happen. She’s disappointed and somewhat shocked in light of recent national media attention that there isn’t much unity in our national response to this chronic social epidemic. She says, “While response has improved in some of our communities, much work still needs to be done – an incredible amount of work.”

Armstrong is doing her part.

 

Sneak Peek at Insights from Key Players in “Turning Point”

screenAmong the mountains of programs devoted to addressing the plague of domestic violence, the police initiative in High Point, N.C., stands out for it bold approach to holding offenders accountable. Big Mountain Data will showcase the High Point Model in a documentary debuting this fall. “Turning Point” will tell the groundbreaking story of the program’s success so far. In three years, the city has nearly eliminated domestic violence homicides and decreased repeat offender recidivism.

The story, filmed on location in North Carolina and New York City, features in-depth interviews with the key players who came together to create the High Point Model – an innovative program targeting the root of the problem: the offenders.

High Point began developing the program after domestic violence reached record-breaking highs in calls for service in 2008. After doing research, police detectives discovered that the majority of domestic offenders were also committing violent crimes on the street. Officers began tracking down offenders one by one, to deliver a stern warning: “We know who you are. If you beat your girlfriend again, we’ll lock you up for a long time. And by the way, she didn’t ask us to do this.”

Of the 1,142 offenders who received a deterrence message since the rollout in 2009, only 14 percent have reoffended. Last year, domestic calls for service in High Point dropped by 30 percent. Injuries to women have dropped dramatically, and domestic homicides have nearly stopped. The initiative is now being piloted in four cities around the country, with many more interested.

With film production underway, we’re sharing some highlights from interviews. First, we’ll set the scene in High Point. Future posts will describe the role of the community and specific elements of the High Point Model.

High Point is a city of about 107,000 people; its 50.6 square miles touch four counties. The city’s claim to fame is its history as the “Furniture Capital of the World.” Twice a year, international visitors flood the city for weeklong furniture and finishing markets.

Total violent crime in High Point decreased 72 percent from 1994 to 2007, according to the police department. Murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault all declined since 1997, when the police department partnered with High Point Community Against Violence (HPCAV) and focused on crime deterrence initiatives. Still, In 2012-2013, domestic violence remained the top reason for citizen calls to the police.

jimJim Summey, executive director of HPCAV, told our film crew that crack cocaine began taking its toll on city communities in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The city saw an increase in prostitution, robberies, gun use, and murder.  In response to rising crime and growing frustration, High Point’s then-Police Chief Louis Quijas in 1997 invited the community to dialogue with law enforcement.

“They (the police) were not uncaring; they were just as baffled with how to deal with this as anyone else,” Summey said. The police share “where their concerns all are, where they have knowledge of crime. We’re sharing what we know, what we see,” he said.

The dialogue led to the creation of HPCAV, and the model for holding offenders accountable grew out of that partnership. Through direct confrontation and interaction with repeat offenders, the city saw a drop in crime and a decline in crimes by repeat offenders. But the police department continued to receive high numbers of domestic violence calls. That, Summey said, was the “big elephant in the room.” In 2008, the community worked together to apply focused deterrence strategies in an effort to reduce the rate of repeat offender recidivism.

Domestic violence is an “across the board sickness,” Summey said. “We’ve actually had people of all socioeconomic situations and we’ve told them all it’s wrong. And that’s the power of it. It’s not done to pick on anybody; it’s done because it’s wrong. … It really hurts so many people. And it destroys lives.”

Tech Mogul Previously Charged With 45 Counts of Felony Domestic Violence is Being Sued, Again

Gurbaksh “G” Chahal is back in the news. Though previously labeled as one of “The World’s Richest and Fittest” by Men’s Health and featured as one of Extra’s Most Eligible Bachelors, in recent years the tech mogul is most widely recognized for his startlingly bad reputation. It comes as no surprise then that Chahal is being sued again. This time in federal court.

After being ousted as CEO from RadiumOne for a domestic violence conviction, Chahal started a competing company Gravity4. The lawsuit alleges Chahal, worth upwards of $200 million, pressured an employee, 20-year-old Yousef Khraibut, to take prescription drugs and illegal substances, spied on him and other employees, perpetuated a misogynist and racist working environment, and asked Khraibut to lie to police about details related to his second reported domestic violence offense. Chahal is also currently being sued by Erika Alonso, a former marketing executive at Gravity4, for gender discrimination and illegal surveillance.

Chahal

The details outlined in the most recent lawsuit filed by Khraibut are sordid and horrifying even without the mention of domestic violence, though both incidents are indeed included. The executive previously faced 45 felony charges after security footage from his penthouse apartment allegedly showed him threatening to kill his girlfriend while hitting and kicking her 117 times in the span of half an hour. According to police, the girlfriend said it was not the first time. However, Chahal was able to cut a deal for three years probation, 52 weeks in a domestic violence training program, 25 hours of community service, and a $500 fine after the video footage was found inadmissible and the girlfriend stopped cooperating with police. New evidence suggests Chahal paid San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to make the first charge “go away” so as not to threaten plans to raise $100 million during the anticipated RadiumOne IPO. Additionally, according to Khraibut, the victim was paid up to $4 million dollars to be silent. Other notable items from the lawsuit include claims that Chahal admitted to hitting his girlfriend with a pillow while rebutting the District Attorney’s assertion that a pillow can be deadly weapon and that he “just shook her and slapped her [his girlfriend],” but did not hurt her.This was the first reported incident. Khraibut claims Chahal asked him to help cover up the second incident which allegedly occurred while Chahal was on probation for the first.

According to Khraibut, Chahal called him to his penthouse after Chahal’s girlfriend called police reporting that he kicked her repeatedly, grabbed her hair, and pushed her against a wall. Chahal allegedly asked Khraibut to say he was present during the attack and corroborate claims that a bodyguard was also present. According to the lawsuit, Khraibut refused, enraging Chahal which led to further harassment and eventually the unlawful termination of Khraibut. The hearing to determine whether this offense violated Chahal’s probation has been postponed to November 13.

While it’s quite possible Chahal bought himself out of 45 felony counts of domestic violence, perhaps what’s most notable are the familiar circumstances which make this case unexceptional. Chahal is a repeat offender who was able to utilize his resources to manipulate the justice system and silence his victims. Sadly, in those ways, it’s really just like any other case.

When The Batterer Hides Behind A Badge

Advocates often cite fear, shame and stigma as reasons some domestic violence victims hesitate to report their abuse. Turns out those pressures may be even stronger among families with a member working in law enforcement.

Two studies cited by the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), at least 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic violence. That’s four times as high an incidence than in families in the general population.

policebadgeVictims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because their offender has a gun, knows the location of women’s shelters and “knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim, according to the NCWP.  The organization also notes a failure of police department policies and a history of “exceedingly light discipline.”

Family violence by law enforcement is especially heinous because of its misuse of power. When cops refuse to police themselves, it’s the worst example of the Thin Blue Line.

Retired Capt. Donna Roman Hernandez, who served 29 years in law enforcement in New Jersey, bravely shares her abuse at the hands her police officer father on the website corrections.com.

“My fear was that if I disclosed the abuse to my police department, would they question how I could I protect others if I could not protect myself?” Hernandez writes. “Throughout my law enforcement career I never disclosed the abuse. I suffered in silence and hid my bruises and scars underneath my police uniform, guarded my family’s secret and internalized the guilt and shame of the abuse. Ironically, I arrested domestic violence offenders for the same acts of violence I allowed my father to perpetrate upon me.”

She shares a harrowing account of finally standing up to her father after he abused her and her mother for years. Her experience, she writes, “speaks to the global widespread epidemics of child abuse and domestic violence that affect women and men from all socioeconomic groups, races, cultures, religions and professions, including law enforcement.”

She concludes with a core philosophy of Big Mountain Data: All domestic violence offenders must be held accountable – even if the abuser is a cop.

Ruling Fails To Hold Offender Accountable For Facebook Threats

elonsisAdvocates for victims of domestic violence are disappointed the Supreme Court ruled to throw out the conviction of Anthony Elonis, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, who made chilling and vivid threats on Facebook to harm his estranged wife and others.

The Supreme Court on June 1 said it was not enough that an ordinary person would find Elonis’ rap-style social media posts threatening. “The narrow opinion said it was not necessary to address whether the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech protected Elonis’ Facebook statements, the Washington Post wrote. “The opinion also declined to take a position on whether it would be enough for a conviction to show that a defendant had been reckless in making inflammatory statements.”

The justices heard the case of Elonis vs. United States on December 1, 2014. Elonis is challenging a 44-month prison sentence he served for Facebook that appeared to threaten his wife with violence. Even after a restraining order, Elonis continued to post. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison.

He claimed the posts were meant as jokes and are protected under the First Amendment. Further, he contends that under the federal threat statute, the jury must find that he intended his Facebook posts to be threatening. (The ruling did not address the First Amendment question.)

His wife clearly considered his posts threatening. “I felt like I was being stalked,” she testified. “I felt extremely afraid for mine and my children’s and my family’s lives.”

The National Network to End Domestic Violence criticized the ruling, saying, “We believe a reasonable person standard is appropriate for conviction of threatening under the statute at issue.”

The organization noted that Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “[t]hreats of violence and intimidation are among the most favored weapons of domestic abusers, and the rise of social media has only made those tactics more commonplace.”

But advocates for victims of domestic violence worry the ruling will make it difficult for victims to find protection from online threats.

“The Internet is the crime scene of the 21st century,” Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, told the Washington Post. “The laws governing social media require swift interpretation to keep pace with the ever-advancing criminal activity in this space.”