A court may issue a Washington protection order based on stalking behavior. (RCW 7.92.100) Stalking includes repeated actual or attempted contact with the victim, tracking the victim, monitoring the victim’s actions or following the victim. The respondent’s conduct must serve no legal purpose and be conduct that the respondent knows or reasonably should know would intimidate, frighten, or threaten a reasonable person. (RCW 7.92.020) An ex-husband recently challenged a protection order issued against him, arguing his wife had not alleged behaviors that constituted stalking.
The ex-wife petitioned for an order of protection six months after the divorce, alleging her ex-husband was stalking her. She claimed he hired a private investigator to follow her. She also alleged he accessed her bank accounts and social media accounts through her old phone. The trial court issued a temporary restraining order.
The ex-wife testified at the hearing that her ex-husband had accessed her Ancestry account and read her private messages. She said he also accessed her social media accounts and read her private messages. She also thought he accessed the account where her employer reimbursed her expenses. She testified he had hired a private investigator who followed her for about four weeks. She said she felt afraid and threatened.
The ex-husband testified he had created the Ancestry account, but his ex-wife changed the log-in to her own email address to use the service. He said he changed the log-in back after the divorce. He also said he had her old phone repaired, and started receiving notifications from her bank regarding the payments from her employer after it was fixed. He also accessed her social media accounts through the phone. He said he hired the private investigator to find out where the children were and monitor them.
At the hearing, the ex-wife asked that he return the phone. He said he planned to reformat it and refused to give it back.
The trial court found the husband’s actions constituted stalking, particularly the activities related to the phone. The trial court noted that his refusal to give back the phone damaged his credibility. The court entered a stalking order of protection. The ex-husband appealed, arguing the acts alleged by his ex-wife did not constitute stalking.
The appeals court pointed out that the husband had still not reformatted the phone six months after the divorce was finalized. The trial court had not found credible his statements that he had stopped accessing the ex-wife’s accounts through the phone once the divorce became final. His testimony showed he had repeatedly accessed her accounts. The appeals court found the testimony was substantial evidence of “repeated monitoring that would cause a reasonable person to feel frightened, threatened, or intimidated” and that the ex-husband reasonably should have known it would do so. He did not offer any lawful purpose for his action. The appeals court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court and affirmed the trial court’s order.
This case shows that repeatedly accessing someone else’s electronic accounts without permission can constitute stalking and support a protective order. Whether you are seeking or fighting a protection order related to stalking, you should have an experienced Washington civil protection order attorney advising you and helping you through the process. Blair & Kim, PLLC, has extensive experience in both family law and criminal law and we can advise you on how a protection order may affect your life and your family. Call us at (206) 622-6562 to set up an appointment.