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‘Incredibly scary’: Stalking victims recount fear, legal difficulties

Updated May 17, 2023 - 1:57 pm

Katie Lafetra split up with her boyfriend of almost three years because they wanted different things out of the relationship. It was an amicable breakup, she said, but within a few weeks Lafetra was fearing for her life.

“Shortly after I broke up with him, he started showing up at my apartment unannounced,” Lafetra said. “I would see him driving around my gated complex.”

Lafetra said he placed a tracker on her car, which she discovered after hiring a private investigator, and her ex-boyfriend, who is 50, would follow her around town. She finished rock climbing one day and found her tires slashed.

Lafetra, 36, had become one of millions of people nationally, and hundreds locally, who authorities say report being victims of stalking.

She moved into a new home in January, and within two weeks, a rock flew through her bedroom window, leaving her covered in glass, she said, and someone had spray painted an epithet on her garage door.

“Now I was really starting to get scared,” she said. “He never exhibited overt violence and aggression like this.”

Lafetra tried unsuccessfully to get a temporary protective order served. She called the Metropolitan Police Department the night the rock was thrown and filed a report, but a detective told her that without video of her ex throwing the rock, he would not pursue the case.

Metro records show that the department took 577 reports last year for aggravated stalking involving a hate crime, stalking against a protective order and stalking over the internet. In the same year, 97 stalking suspects were arrested.

Lafetra contacted Ashton Packe, a private investigator who founded Vanguard Intelligence Group. Packe said he has worked dozens of stalking cases as a private investigator and during his 20-year career as a Metro officer.

Packe said Lafetra’s ex-boyfriend has hired an attorney and is now the subject of an open criminal investigation on potential charges of aggravated stalking. Details on his attorney and any possible charges were not immediately available.

“Stalking, at the end of the day, is about power and control and someone’s ability in what is their pitiful life to maintain control over their victim,” Packe said. “It is the idea that I can relentlessly mess with you and do all this stuff and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Pregnant and scared

Liz Ortenburger, CEO of SafeNest, a shelter for victims of domestic violence, said most of the stalking cases she sees involve exes who want to exhibit control.

“The stalkers’ motivation is what we have to focus on,” she said. “It’s power, fear and control. They get enjoyment from that. Survivors in this situation are innocent bystanders of someone’s else’s desire to have power, control your emotions and instill fear in you.”

Ortenburger said her priority when victims come to SafeNest is getting the victim to a safe place and exploring possible legal avenues.

“It is an incredibly scary situation and it’s also an incredibly difficult situation to prove,” she said.

Jennifer Peterson faced a year of online stalking before she reached out to Packe. Her stalker, Packe said, is now the subject of a criminal investigation as well.

Peterson was seven months pregnant in August 2021 when an anonymous account started messaging her on Instagram claiming her husband cheated on her, they had evidence they would drop off at her address and that she should abort her baby.

“I didn’t feel safe being home alone at night,” Peterson said.

She would later discover that the person who was stalking her was dating her husband’s friend. The woman sent text messages to Peterson and made four accounts on Instagram threatening to kill her baby and telling Peterson hateful things about her marriage, her body and her child.

“This is the kind of behavior that plants seeds of doubts and causes divorce,” Peterson said, noting she was confident her husband had not cheated on her. “This is the type of behavior that pushes a woman in postpartum depression further into it and potentially toward suicide.”

Peterson’s marriage was not affected, she said, but she did suffer from a “complicated” postpartum with long-term bleeding, all while receiving hateful messages on her Instagram account.

According to the most recent data from the Department of Justice, roughly 3.4 million people 16 or older were stalked nationwide in 2019. About 29 percent reported the crime to law enforcement, despite 67 percent fearing they would be harmed or killed.

The Department of Justice defines stalking as targeted conduct that would make someone fear for their life. Stalking is an escalation from harassment, federal authorities said, which is repeated words or actions to annoy someone.

Unheard complaints

Peterson filed three times for temporary protective orders in the fall, but all three were denied, because the court said she did not have enough information on the woman the first two times, and a third because it had been four months since she last heard from the suspect. Both women are students at UNLV, so Peterson filed a complaint with the Office of Student Conduct in December.

A UNLV spokesperson said the student was no longer taking classes at the university, and declined to provide further details.

“She did have to be interviewed by the FBI which is intimidating, but if there’s no actual consequence, she’s just going to do this to somebody else,” Peterson said. “They might not have the strong support system I have or the resources I have. It kind of feels like my duty to protect the next person.”

While the woman was sending hateful messages to Peterson, Brittany Bennett said the same woman threatened to kill her 9-year-old son, texting her from the same number.

Bennett had dated the woman’s current boyfriend for about six months.

“She called and I answered, but she wouldn’t speak,” Bennett said. “The text messages kept getting more aggressive in the two-hour span. She mentioned my address three different times and said, ‘I have guns. I can come and show you and your son.’ ”

She told her ex-boyfriend, who confronted the woman and broke up with her. But Bennett said she felt like she was not taken seriously by a Metro detective when she reported the threats.

“He told me at one point that Metro has bigger fish to fry and this was not important and he wasn’t going to do anything,” Bennett said. “I was pissed. Someone was telling me my address, the names of my family members and that they’re going to come to my house with a gun.”

Metro officials said in a statement Thursday that anyone who felt an officer did not do their due diligence can report the instance to the Internal Affairs Bureau.

“The LVMPD takes every criminal report seriously and will take every step possible to identify the suspect(s) related to a crime,” the statement read. “In certain cases, a suspect cannot be identified or located based on the information provided or the evidence that has been presented.”

Packe said people who believe they are the victims of stalking should keep a paper log with the dates, times and circumstances when they feel they are being harassed, watched or stalked. They should also make an online log, which can be emailed to authorities. Finally, he encouraged victims to break their routine.

“We love to get up at the same time very day, pour the same cup of coffee and leave the house,” Packe said. “This is the time where you cannot be routine. You have to switch up your movements and be hyper-situationally aware.”

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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