Stalking victim says court case barely scratched the surface of 6-year battle with abuse
It started with phone calls. Almost every day for two years starting in 2012, Johanna Alperin says she would receive them from an unknown number, sometimes 12 times a day. The person on the other end never said anything, but she could hear him breathing.
It was the beginning of what would become an unremitting deluge of threatening, at times anti-Semitic bile directed at her via email, text and social media from an array of aliases. Later, she says, it would escalate to bogus accounts impersonating her in an effort to destroy her credibility and scuttle employment opportunities.
“Not only did his aggression advance, but also his computer skills,” Alperin said in an interview on Friday. “By 2014, I was getting almost daily death threats, rape threats and messages telling me to kill myself.”
Eventually, she says, she was being followed, receiving messages with photos of her parked car wherever she went.
It would take years of effort by private investigators, computer forensic experts, the Breckenridge Police Department and Alperin’s attorney to learn the identity of her stalker: former neighbor and acquaintance John Dailey McCallister.
He pleaded guilty in January to felony stalking and misdemeanor harassment, although he initially faced a total of 19 counts for what Alperin’s attorney described as a “campaign of terror.”
“Not only has the impact been everlasting, but it has also been pervasive and relentless,” District Court Judge Mark Thompson said in court before sentencing McCallister to 90 days in jail and four years of probation. “The allegations in this case and the evidence are almost unbelievable in their disturbing and disgusting content.”
But in Alperin’s account, the evidence presented in the case was barely the tip of the iceberg in a multifaceted and concerted effort to alienate her from friends and family and destroy her life.
She said that McCallister impersonated her on men-seeking-women sites, even using photos of her from her Facebook account, and stringing potential suitors along for months until passing along Alperin’s real contact information.
“There was a time when I was in the Frisco post office and a man I had never seen before walked up to me and said, ‘Hey it’s you, are we still on for tonight?’” she recalled.
Alperin also claims that he sent her photos of her car at an apartment she had recently moved into before calling the landlord and saying she was a drug addict.
That incident and others like it demonstrated how the attacks undermined Alperin’s credibility and alienated her from friends, family and even prospective employers.
When her friends started to be victimized as well, Alperin shut herself off from the world, staying in her home all day and only venturing out at night to grocery shop.
“For years no one would help,” she said. “They thought I was paranoid, delusional or a drug addict. I was alone.”
That struggle — to convince people that she was under attack almost every day of her life — isn’t necessarily unique to Alperin’s case.
“Part of the challenge for someone in Johanna’s situation is how do you fully convey in a 15 minute interview with police or a lawyer what’s been happening to you over the past several years, day in and day out?” said Alperin’s attorney, Bob Gregory. “The twisted emotional toll that it took on her has been hard for me to wrap my head around, and I think it’s hard for most people, too.”
For cyberstalking victims, the pursuit of justice can also be an uphill battle. Breckenridge police closed their initial investigation into the harassment for want of leads. They reopened it after Gregory handed over new evidence he had acquired through subpoenas to tech companies in a civil case, which Alperin eventually won last year.
“If we hadn’t filed the civil case we would not have gotten the criminal case reopened,” Gregory said. “If she hadn’t had the ability to fund the civil case we wouldn’t have gotten here. Unfortunately, there are probably a lot of people who can’t afford that and are unable to initiate something that could lead to justice.”
Gregory praised the Breckenridge police for eventually delivering McCallister into custody. But some advocates say that police departments and judicial systems nationwide still have a lot of catching up to do in handling this uniquely modern and sinister class of crime.
“I hate to say it, but it’s kind of luck of the draw — you have to have a police department that knows the law and understands the severity,” said J.A. Hitchcock, founder of national advocacy group Working to Halt Online Abuse. “It blows my mind because this has been going on since the 1990s.”
Alperin and Gregory both said that the case — one of the first of its kind in this community — was a learning experience for the investigators, prosecutors and victim advocacy groups involved.
“I absolutely think that people know now how to investigate these things, how to talk to victims and how to manage these cases,” Alperin said.
McCallister was ordered to pay roughly $2 million in damages in the civil judgment, although Gregory said Alperin is unlikely to ever see a dime of that. She is more likely to collect on the $36,000 in restitution McCallister was ordered to pay in the criminal case.
But to get there, Alperin had to spend around $150,000 for private investigators and legal fees. Taken together with the lost job opportunities over the years, the ordeal has left her nearly destitute. Friends and community members have started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her and she tries to re-enter the community after years of private struggle and ostracization.
“Is there a sense of relief? Not really, no,” she said. “I’m very proud of myself for getting through this, but all I really want to do now is give people hope and give people a chance. No one should have to be stuck in that kind of situation.”
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