Middlebrooks to introduce stalking bill

February 11, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Councilman Edward Middlebrooks said he has seen it all too often in his law practice: A relationship ends, but one person does not want to accept it. Or a person becomes the object of obsession, is followed and receives threatening letters or phone calls.

As a remedy, Mr. Middlebrooks, a Severn Democrat, is drafting a stalking bill that he will introduce to the County Council next week.

"A lot of this stems from relationships, when you have one party that doesn't want to let go. To the person who's going through this, it's traumatic," Mr. Middlebrooks said. "What I'm trying to accomplish with this law is to prevent a situation where someone would put themselves in a position where they would do harm to another, to prevent it before it happens."

The bill would make stalking a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. It is almost identical to legislation passed last month by the Annapolis City Council. Prince George's County is the only other local jurisdiction in Maryland that has a stalking law.

The bill would prohibit the continuing harassment of a person by sending threatening cards or letters, by issuing direct threats or by following the person.

Several stalking bills are pending in the General Assembly this session. Mr. Middlebrooks said any state law would not take effect until Oct. 31, and his bill would provide citizens with protection until then, or in case the state bills are not passed.

The state bills would make stalking a felony, which would please women's groups that have lobbied for it.

"We'd like to see it become a felony, because it's such a serious crime," said Michaele Cohen, director of the YWCA's Woman's Center. Ms. Cohen, who also directs the YWCA's Battered Spouse Counseling and Shelter Program, welcomed the proposed county ordinance as a good interim measure. Stalking is "frustrating to the police," she said. "There's nothing they can do until the person actually does something."

County police officials said they now deal with stalking cases through the state's harassment law, which makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.

A stalking law would be "something concrete that puts some teeth into the current law," said Capt. Michael P. Fitzgibbons, who heads the county police Criminal Investigation Division.

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