By John W. GOODWIN JR.
and Elise Franco
Police say they’ll do all they can to protect anyone who is being stalked, but it’s also important for victims to do as much as possible to ensure personal safety.
“Document everything and keep all records yourself. Record the activity if you can and pursue [protection] orders because there has to be a boundary line with that person,” advised Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley.
The chief said a stalking victim must record any violation of the order using a video or audio device if necessary. He said being apathetic will give the stalker more power to affect the victim’s life.
When Robert P. McLaughin, 64, of Painesville killed Stacey Sutera on Feb. 8 outside her Canfield condo, he was on probation for felony charges stemming from harassing and stalking her.
Police said McLaughlin had been harassing Sutera, a teacher at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, since March 2010 by sending emails threatening to reveal personal information about her, as well as creating and distributing defamatory websites to educators across the Mahoning Valley.
McLaughlin was sentenced Nov. 29 to five years’ probation and 500 hours of community service and fined $2,500. The conviction required him to register as a Tier I Sex Offender with his county sheriff’s department annually for 15 years. Additionally, Judge Maureen A. Sweeney of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court ordered McLaughlin to take anger-management classes and have no contact with the victim.
In a civil case filed exactly a year before Sutera’s murder, McLaughlin was under a civil protection order from Magistrate Eugene J. Fehr of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, effective until Dec. 27, 2015, barring McLaughlin from having a firearm or from having any contact with the victim.
In her affidavit in support of that order, Sutera said the criminal charges then pending against McLaughlin “all relate to his course of conduct designed to cause me mental distress and/or fear of physical harm.”
Austintown Detective Sgt. Kathy Dina, who deals mostly with juvenile and domestic-violence cases, said most of the time a protection order serves its intended purpose.
“I think protection orders are effective in a lot of cases — I’d say most cases,” she said.
Dina said sometimes, however, no amount of precaution will matter.
“You’re always going to have that person who, far and beyond, nothing’s going to stop him,” she said. “So, are protection orders effective? Yes, but if somebody really wants to do something, they’re just going to do it.”
Maj. Leonard Sliwinski and Detective Jeff Allen of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office have said victims are encouraged to seek police intervention for telephone harassment or anything that may lead to menacing by stalking.
Allen said victims are told to obtain an order against a suspect when the harassment is persistent or begins to increase in frequency or type of harassment. A protection order gives officers the authority to make an arrest if the person continues to harass or threaten the victim.
Boardman Sgt. Rick Balog said that in specific instances, where police are working to build a case against someone, protection orders are very beneficial.
“A lot of times it helps to show a pattern for the complainant and gives the case a little bit more teeth,” he said.
Dina said she thinks McLaughlin exhibited signs early on that a violent attack would only be a matter of time.
“I know there were a lot of issues. I mean, there’s evidence that he killed her dog,” she said. “He showed signs of violence in a progressive manner.”
Whether Sutera had a concealed-carry gun permit is not known, and law-enforcement officials are torn on the issue of civilians carrying weapons.
Capt. Mark Milstead of the Youngstown Police Department said victims are definitely encouraged to seek protection orders and call police if the suspected stalker violates that protection order, but there also are other options.
“If you are physically able, you have a right to protect yourself. Maybe it would be possible to look into a concealed-carry permit,” he said.
Ohio permits residents who are at least 21 years old, pass a background check and undergo firearm training to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm for personal protection.
Dina said that in some circumstances she thinks it could be risky for a person who’s taken out a protection order to carry a gun.
“A person like that could already be on edge because they have to have a protection order,” she said. “I’d be afraid that they might be too quick in pulling that weapon if they run into that person in a public place.”
Balog, however, said that his stance on concealed-carry depends on a person’s situation.
“I’m not opposed to someone who’s being stalked having a weapon, as they go through the proper training and don’t just go out and get a gun,” he said.