Snowden bill targets stalkers Alderman seeks harsher penalties against harassers

December 13, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

He's best known as Annapolis' leading civil rights activist. But these days, Carl O. Snowden has moved to the forefront of

women's issues.

In the "Year of the Woman," the Democratic alderman from the 5th District led Maryland's capital to become the first jurisdiction the state to outlaw sexual harassment. Now, he has drafted a bill that would give women more protection against men who jTC threaten and stalk them.

The measure, which Mr. Snowden plans to introduce tomorrow night in the Annapolis City Council, stiffens penalties against the crime and allows victims to swear out a complaint in District Court.

Patterned after a similar law that takes effect tomorrow in Prince George's County, the measure would double the maximum fines and lengthen jail sentences for those convicted of stalking. Circuit Court judges could assess fines of up to $1,000 and sentences of six months in jail under the new law, up from the maximum state fine of $500 and 30 days in jail.

Women's advocates said victims of stalking often don't receive police or court protection until it's too late.

Michaele Cohen, director of the YWCA Woman's Center in Annapolis, said clients have been relentlessly pursued by ex-husbands, former boyfriends and even strangers.

"It's absolutely terrifying," she said. "Right now, the typical experience is, a woman calls the police and says, 'Someone is stalking me.' And they say they can't do anything until he does something."

The new law would allow police to arrest a suspect who has made a series of threats. But police must still witness the harassing behavior; have clear evidence, such as written threats or phone messages; or determine that the suspect has violated a court order.

Victims of harassment also can bring evidence before a District Court commissioner and swear out a complaint.

Women's organizations have been lobbying the state to upgrade the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. A bill allowing police to arrest suspects more quickly failed in the General Assembly last year.

Ms. Cohen said the stalking law is "a priority issue" on the YWCA's legislative agenda. State Del. Pauline H. Menes, D-Prince George's County, and Sen. Janice Piccinini, D-Baltimore, are working on stalking bills.

Mr. Snowden said he decided to draft the Annapolis ordinance after discussing the issue with Annapolis Police Capt. Casey Gittings during a recent workshop on sexual harassment.

"This allows police to take more pro-active action, rather than be reactive," Mr. Snowden said.

A 9-year-old Annapolis boy was arrested in September after he allegedly harassed an 8-year-old girl by calling her names, following her while armed with a martial arts weapon and drawing a crude picture of her being stabbed.

A month earlier, a 28-year-old Annapolis man accused of stalking his former roommate was arrested when he arrived at her apartment after leaving a series of threatening phone messages. He hanged himself that night with a noose fashioned from his shirt in a holding cell at the Annapolis Police Department.

The Washington area has had at least two deadly stalking cases this year. Mr. Snowden said the incidents have been too close to home to ignore.

In February, Sharon Wiggs, a 34-year-old Clinton woman, was killed while running to get help after a gunman shot her husband at the front door. Police say she allegedly had been stalked for 10 years by a former boyfriend. The man's brother, who has been charged in the slaying, allegedly told police he shot the woman to ease his brother's misery.

Two weeks ago, a 17-year-old Capitol Heights girl was shot to death while sleeping on the couch in her family's apartment. Her former boyfriend surrendered to police the next day on murder charges. The girl's family said he had been stalking her for more than a week.

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