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Man found not guilty of stalking; judge advises ‘be vigilant,’ woman who filed charge says

By Kimberly King

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — The criminal charge of stalking may bring to mind a pattern of obsessive behavior that puts a victim in fear for their safety.

One case that caught the attention of News 13’s Investigative Team involved a homeless man accused of repeatedly stalking women in the Montford Area Historic District of Asheville last fall.

After the outcome in court left one victim shocked, News 13 took a deeper dive into what exactly constitutes as criminal stalking and why experts say it’s so hard to prove.

The case under scrutiny by some involves Bruce Haddock, a homeless man who was charged with stalking a woman July 22, 2022 on Broadway Street. Buncombe County court records showed his address as 19 Ann Street which is the address is for the AHOPE Day Center. Last year, News 13 reported that women living in the Montford area were claiming Haddock was stalking them.

“What makes me concerned is when it’s obvious he’s going in the opposite direction I’m going and then all of a sudden he’ll be right behind me,” Montford resident Esmee Dorf posted online in 2022. “I kind of get off the greenway if I’m going in that direction. I don’t think it’s out of bounds to be concerned.”

Dorf and other women posted on Montford’s community Listserv page. One female resident posted, “He’s followed me home several times, and then circled the block and stared at my house.” Another wrote “my teenage daughter was followed by him.”

Thirty-year-old Heather Halstead works as a stylist in a salon on Broadway Street. Her case involving Haddock was officially charged with warrants issued August 2, 2022.

“Until like maybe about five years ago, I felt safe walking by myself basically anywhere,” Halstead said. “It’s definitely different now. ” Halstead alleged Haddock on two separate occasions stalked her and followed her outside her salon.

“He was like standing right here,” said Halstead pointing to the window at her station. “I’m assuming waiting on us.”

Haddock was charged with criminal stalking and trespassing. “He stood right outside this window staring at me, and my client. And I was doing hair for at least 45 minutes. She was scared, I was scared. We both ended up crying. Me and her both decided to call the police. “

She said Haddock was acting erratically, weaving back and forth. On one occasion, Halstead said she felt compelled to escort her co-worker to her car, fearing for their safety. She said Haddock followed them down the sidewalk in the direction of the vehicle, towards downtown. Halstead said her friend’s car was parked about 1000 feet from the cocktail lounge Little Jumbo which is on the same block as the salon.

“Me and her both walked across here to get away from him. I was shaking.”

She said Haddock continued to leer and follow her. She said she ran to the other side of Broadway crossing four lanes of traffic to get away. Halstead said she had nothing with her to protect herself if something happened.

ourt records obtained by News 13 show Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams’ office wanted Haddock’s bond raised to $25,000 since the records stated, “multiple women reported the defendant has followed them.” The request to raise the bond stated Haddock had an active 50C restraining order to stay away from one alleged stalking victim.

The records are part of Halstead’s case that went to court. She grew up in Asheville and says she was aware Haddock had been homeless in the city, but felt compelled to file charges, out of concern for her own safety and the future safety of other women.

“I felt that it did meet the criteria,” said Halstead. She said law enforcement assured her the case qualified. Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams’ office prosecuted the case February 14, 2023 before Buncombe County District Court Judge Julie Kepple.

North Carolina’s statue for stalking states it must be two or more acts “in which the stalker…follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates…to a person, or interferes with a person’s property.” and causes “substantial emotional distress.”

“I gather that he has mental health issues,” said Halstead. “At the minimum, I was like maybe take him to a psych ward.”

But Buncombe County District Court Judge Kepple didn’t do that, said Halstead. Court records obtained by News 13 confirm Kepple ruled Haddock was “Not Guilty” of stalking.

Halstead said Kepple gave no explanation but called her and her co-worker, also involved in the charges, to the bench and then offered unsolicited advice.

“She basically gave a sentencing not guilty, and then she looked at me and my co-worker and she was like ‘ladies this is Asheville, you should be vigilant,’ and I was absolutely baffled,” Halstead told News 13.

Halstead said she thought she gave compelling testimony.

“I was just stunned. I couldn’t even believe she said that to us. Like we were the problem.”

Judge Kepple declined News 13’s requests for an interview and did not provide any comment on Halstead’s statement regarding her alleged advice.

Kepple’s response by email came through her assistant, stating “Judge Kepple chooses to have no response.”

News 13 asked Halstead if Haddock walked from district court without penalty or recommendations: “Yes, he did.”

“As an advocate, it feels a little bit disregarding for someone’s emotions,” said Lauren Wilkie, executive director of Safelight Family Advocacy Center in Hendersonville.

Wilkie has no knowledge of the specific evidence around Halstead’s case against Haddock, but was responding to statements made by Halstead that the judge, in her ruling, gave no explanation for her decision. Prior to her position at Safelight, Wilkie ran a shelter in South Carolina for homeless people in Columbia. She said she’s seen similar cases of what is perceived as stalking by victims.

“A lot of what we saw was street homelessness,” said Wilkie. “And folks who would be followed. They would kind of talk or engage people on the street. Similarly, not acts of violence, that were occurring.”

Wilkie said in those cases, the crime of stalking doesn’t rise to the level that would result in a criminal conviction.

“Not usually,” she said, but she added that she empathizes with Halstead and the fear she had of Haddock. However, she said when it comes to a criminal charge, the bar to prove stalking is higher than just typically following a person down the street.

“It’s clear to me there usually has to be something more than just a feeling of being threatened,” said Wilkie. “There has to be something that has occurred, you can put with it to show that threat of harm does exist.”

Wilkie said women who are followed and feel their safety is at risk are often surprised to learn that in court, it’s hard to prove the stalking charge. She said she can’t speak to Halstead’s claims about the judge’s unsolicited advice, but that she understood why the lack of explanation about the verdict was so upsetting.

“What I am hearing from this case and so many others is, we’ve got a situation involving someone with mental illness that needs support, and our community doesn’t have enough to be able to supply those services,” said Wilkie.

Longtime Asheville-based defense attorney Mike Edwards is a former prosecutor. He’s tried numerous stalking cases and listened to Halstead’s account. “I see the pain that she’s feeling,” said Edwards. He watched some of Halstead’s account.

“Maybe one day it’s going to escalate into something more serious,” said Halstead on the video Edwards watched.

But when it comes to criminal prosecution of stalking, Edwards said it’s tough.

“It’s very hard to prove in court,” he said. “You’ve got to be 99 to 100% certain that the elements of the statute have been committed.”

To prove a stalking case, Edwards said the proof has to be incontrovertible.

“Would that make a reasonable person be in fear of their safety? And I think if the answer is yes, then it satisfies the elements of the statute.”

Yet Halstead’s case did not result in a conviction. Edwards agreed with Wilkie, that in court there typically has to be other aggravating factors, like text communications or verbal threats to get a stalking conviction.

Halstead, meanwhile, is left unnerved about the state of justice and what the point of prosecution is when there is little explanation afterward.

“It makes you feel that victims are not valued,” said Halstead. “If that happens to this case, what else happens that I don’t know about?”

News 13 found there were more than 20 pending criminal stalking cases in Buncombe County courts. One is more than two years old and still pending. Nearly all are tied to domestic partner cases, not alleged stalking by a stranger, as was Halstead’s case.

News 13 wanted to see how many stalking cases were charged in Buncombe County in the past four years that resulted in a conviction. But the Buncombe County courts, the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office and the State Administrative Office of the Courts that’s in charge of compiling criminal case data don’t do detailed tracking of specific case adjudications, which made it impossible to accurately report any stalking conviction and dismissal rates in local courts.

Victim advocate Lauren Wilkie said the case involving Haddock could have been referred to Buncombe County’s Family Justice Center as a case study to analyze what could be done.

For Heather Halstead, it’s left her feeling there’s no recourse for someone who felt their safety was in danger. Her hope was at the very least Haddock would get some intervention by her decision to take her case to court.

“That he would be put into a place and would help him through those issues,” she said. “The state of Asheville is honestly tragic, in my personal opinion.”

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