“Any advice on Prosecution for Assault & Battery and Trespassing”

trespass
Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoPville,

This past Saturday afternoon I was in my backyard uncoiling my hose for spring and my next door neighbor (we share a corner so our yards butt up against each other) came outside, started screaming at me, ran over, jumped over our fence, punched me in the face, and then ran away. This incident was completely unprovoked. It was quite the turn of events and the whole encounter lasted maybe 7 seconds. I almost never see this neighbor and have never spoken to him. We’ve tried to say hello but he has always ignored us. I know he has a wife/girlfriend and toddler but we never see them oustide. None of our neighbors know this family either and we’re not sure if they own the house or are renting. We live in a very quiet neighborhood in Ward 7 so this sort of thing is unheard of. My wife was inside with our baby and dog and they came running out to see what the deal was since the guy was shouting so loud they could hear him from upstairs. By that time he had already run back into his house. Our dog was going nuts and we are all still a little shaken up.

Anyway, we called 911 and he was arrested and hauled off to jail but of course was out by the next day. I also went to the ER and got treated and have had several follow-up medical appointments since Saturday. He came by 4 times on Sunday to knock/bang on our door and we called 911 again and the police came and told him to leave us alone. He told the police he was schizophrenic.

I have zero faith that the DC criminal justice system will do anything. I plan to file a CPO and know about the DC Crime Victims Compensation Program. I was wondering if anyone had any recommendations for a criminal attorney that could assist with the prosecution of this guy. I doubt I can get any restitution through a civil suit but would be more than happy to pay a criminal attorney to make sure this individual receives the maximum sentence under DC law. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

I should also add the obligatory DC police analysis and say that the 6th District officers that responded both times were professional, courteous, and sympathetic to our situation. The police also patrol our neighborhood regularly.”

61 Comment

  • So sorry OP! What a frightening situation.

    You can’t hire someone – prosecution will be by US Attorney’s Office (USAO) and the best you can do is contact them, get the name of the prosecutor and work with him/her to make sure the case gets attention. Stay on them and if you have trouble reaching the attorney, each division has victim assistance liaisons who are usually very responsive.

    • I will also add – although this is a “next time he does it” solution – if you get a TPO/CPO, and he violates it, then the government will be more likely to prosecute. The DV unit has prosecutors specially assigned to that unit, and in my experience, they are much more likely to prosecute than other divisions of the court. They take things like violations of CPO – even “minor” – very very seriously bc they are specially trained to understand that the people who violate CPOs are likely to escalate. They don’t just look the other way (although the police might, sadly).
      .
      You can get a TPO today at DC Superior Court. It’s an ex parte proceeding, meaning the crazy dude does not have to be there or have notice. Your basis for TPO/CPO is stalking (not assault) bc other bases require that the persons be in a domestic relationship. Stalking can be against a third party. Stalking exists when the person, on more than one occasion, does something to harass, etc you. The assault + coming to your house qualifies. After you get the TPO, you will need to serve him (or have police serve him) and there will be a CPO hearing two weeks later, at which crazy will have opportunity to appear and state his case. You may want to consider a lawyer, especially for the CPO – the third party cases are more challenging, IME; if this was domestic it would be automatic. TPO you can likely handle yourself.

      • Your thoughtful, detailed reply is a benefit to the POP community. Thank you.

      • The post above is super helpful. I helped a friend go through the TPO/CPO process, and one additional thing I would add is that you can retain an attorney to help with the TPO/CPO process, since it is a civil proceeding and not criminal. It’s definitely not required, or even necessary, you’d be fine on your own for the purpose of getting the TPO/CPO, but I found it helpful to have an attorney who understood the whole picture and could explain our options and advocate for my friend with the police and to the USAO (I was not admitted in DC then and also don’t do anything remotely related to this). We worked with an attorney named Sarah Connell at the DC Office of the Attorney General who was in the Domestic Violence Section and had a lot of experience with stalking cases. Not sure what their guidelines are for representing victims, but it could be worth reaching out to see if they could help or have recommendations for someone else who can.

      • Presuming the guy actually is schizophrenic, does anybody know what can be done pursuing this from a mental health angle? This is terribly frightening for OP (and I agree on getting a protective order). Presuming he is actually mentally ill, though, is working to ensure he “receives the maximum sentence under DC law” really the right (or just or kind) way to go? Are there other avenues that will both help protect OP and help a mentally ill person?

        • DC AG’s Office Family Services Section also handles cases in which mentally ill people need emergency psychiatric hospitalization, I believe. There are some other options here http://www.dccourts.gov/internet/public/aud_family/mentalhealth.jsf including the mobile crisis center that several people have mentioned below. A member of his family could also petition to have him civilly committed if they recognize that he is indeed a danger to others (not sure if this guy’s wife/girlfriend is aware of the incidents).

  • HaileUnlikely

    I’m sorry that you have to deal with this. It must be terrifying, especially having a small child. I have no recommendations. I’m not sure what the ostensible mechanism is by which a CPO (i.e., a piece of paper) is supposed to cause a mentally unstable person to stay away from you.

    • ah

      If nothing else, it gives the police a basis to arrest him merely for being in OP’s vicinity, as opposed to having to establish he threw a punch or some such.

      • Absolutely. Though I confess I don’t know what the effect would be when the individual lives next door. The typical CPO requires someone to stay 100 feet away, I think – how would that work here? I (thankfully) have no idea . . .

        • He can be ordered to vacate his home. He will have to, unless he convinces a judge to carve out an exception for when he is inside his house. Literally happens every day in CPO court (where, frequently, the persons live together).

        • Also –
          No way of knowing that this guy is a renter/owner of this property. Certainly would not be surprising if he was visiting/staying with family, especially given what sounds like serious mental health issues which often correlate with unemployment, periods of hospitalization and/or incarceration, etc.

  • Unfortunately, that’s not how prosecuting cases really works. It is up to the state to prosecute someone and if they don’t find it worth their time, there is nothing you can do in the criminal legal system to make sure he spends time in jail. You should file the CPO but also consider filing a civil case in the off chance that the threat of monetary sanctions might deter this individual. In the meantime, keep calling the police every time this individual bangs on your door or confronts you.

    Do you know if he owns or rents the place? If he rents, you may be able to file a suit for negligence against the rental company for renting to an unsafe individual if they had reason to know of his violent background (although they are not be able to discriminate if his only issue is mental health issues so this might not be a viable option). I have seen people do that with loud/drunken college neighbors which usually results in a settlement between the rental company and the tenant that they will move out at the end of their lease.

  • I assume you have a firearm in the house for self-defense purposes, yes? If not, I suggest you consider that route. Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 would be my personal recommendation. I’m not at all suggesting you escalate the situation by introducing a firearm, but if you ever find him inside your house and threatening you or your family, you’ll wish you had it.

    • Even though you are far likelier to use a firearm in your house to commit suicide than in a confrontation with any kind of criminal.

      • Statistics don’t work that way.

        • Maybe not to “you” as an individual… but ETG’s point is valid. Gun suicides in the U.S. vastly outnumber cases in which people successfully use a gun to fend off an intruder.
          .
          In this particular case, getting a gun would introduce the risk that the mentally disturbed man next door could wrest it from the OP and use it against the OP.

          • binntp

            I’d be more worried about the baby. Logistically, even if the OP wanted to buy a gun he (?) would likely want to keep it under lock and key and safely out of the child’s way, which would pretty much render it useless when the neighbor’s violence takes place is as little as 7 seconds, as noted in this instance.

        • lol, what? Perhaps Tupac could’ve stated that more clearly, but suicide by gun is by far more prevalent than shooting intruders by gun.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I think his point is that national averages about defense against intruders do not take into account the probability of there being intruders in the first place. Most gun owners who buy guns for “protection” buy them to protect against imaginary hypothetical bad guys who never materialize. Here, we’re talking about a specific potential intruder who happens to live next door, has already attacked the individual in question on his own property, and has tried to gain entry into the house at least once. At this point, knowing the national average probability of that a gun will be used against as an intruder is about as helpful as knowing the national median age is helpful to figuring out how old a specific message board poster named “Anon” is, i.e., not wholly irrelevant but really not all that helpful either. (I still do not recommend buying a gun, but national stats about self-defense is kind of a dumb reason.)

      • I think that for the random person yes, that’s true. But for someone who lives next door to a mentally ill person who has assaulted you once and harassed you at home another time? I think the odds are much higher of using it to protect yourself in an assault vs a suicide.

        Statistics like these are designed to be used in the general, not the specific. Once details of this particular person’s situation are revealed, they don’t apply.

      • “Gee, I have this gun here in my house and gosh golly nobody has broken in for me to shoot in over a month. Guess I should just shoot myself in the face so I can say I used it.”

        I’m sure that’s exactly how it goes in any normal gun owner’s household.

    • “I assume you have a firearm in the house for self-defense purposes, yes?” Why would anyone assume that, especially in D.C.??

    • Yet another case of “feelings” taking precedence over facts.

      • HaileUnlikely

        Fair point as far as it goes, but the facts at play here are crude national averages. I doubt data exist with which to quantify the probabilities of successful self defense and of suicide in the specific case of a person who has been the victim of an unprovoked assault by a next-door neighbor. (Probability of suicide is unlikely materially different from the national average -it might be, but we don’t yet have any evidence for or against. On the other hand, we do have some evidence to suggest that his probability of having occasion to use a weapon in self-defense might be very different from that of the average citizen or even the average gun owner. I’m completely anti-gun, wouldn’t like my own odds of successful self defense with a gun, and would be much more concerned about my own gun being used against me or about blowing my opportunity to escape while screwing around with my gun, my point here is that comparing two numbers both devoid of any context does not yield anything but an average that may or may not be of any use in a given actual situation.)

    • …Who let Virginia in here?

    • HaileUnlikely

      As noted elsewhere, I’m with the “don’t get a gun” group, albeit for different reasons than some. Not that you asked about advice on this front in the first place, but I’d take this opportunity to upgrade my home security with emphasis on preventing him from gaining entry into my house (i.e., not an alarm system, maybe that too, but not just that – crazy man can get in and do lots of bad stuff before cops arrive!) I’d consider getting a metal security door (a custom iron one if the neighbor is really big and strong; a tubular steel one from Home Depot will do fine if he’s not unusually big and strong; and possibly window bars if there are windows large enough to enter that can be reached without a ladder. Maybe also invest in some pepper spray and keep it on you in case you or your wife run into him outside in a situation where you need such a thing.

    • I wouldn’t assume anyone in DC has a firearm, but I’d definitely recommend one in this situation. Hell, even a shotgun with rock salt or a paintball gun would suffice as a deterrent by causing enough pain to incapacitate the dude. I don’t care how crazy you are, a few paintballs to the groin or face at close range will bring down the biggest, burliest men.

      • So OP is just going to do his yardwork strapped from now on?
        Or are you imagining a situation where the neighbor jumps the fence and OP says “Hang on a minute…” and runs upstairs to the gun safe, opens it with the combination, loads it, and then goes back outside to say “freeze mf’er!”

  • OP: Do you mind disclosing what part of Ward 7 this is? Sorry you had to go through that. I will attest that 6D officers are awesome.

  • I’m not really pro-gun, but this sort of event, were I in your shoes, would probably make me consider getting one. The NRA types say this sort of thing all the time, but I do think it has some validity here — a protection order doesn’t do anything to stop “a bad guy” who is intent, for whatever reason, on doing harm.

    • If OP can’t stop someone from punching him in the face, he can’t stop someone from wresting a pistol out of his hand, either. He’d be better off taking some self-defense classes.

      And knowing his neighbors. Even if the perp doesn’t speak, I’ve never met a mother with child who wouldn’t strike up a convo about her kid.

      • ah

        There’s a difference between a surprise punch to the face the first time and the next time he comes over and saying “back off or you get a mouthful of lead”

  • No private attorney can prosecute. However you should stay way way (annoyingly) on top of the USAO. Call 202-252-1900 to find out who is assigned to your case. You’ll need his name. And get the CPO. It can be designed for him to stay off your property and not harass, assault, threaten or stalk you and your family. Any time he violates, you can call the police and he will be charged with violating. File for an emergency TPO while the CPO case is pending — all done at the DV clerk’s office in the main courthouse. Usually, they’ll allow the TPO to stay in place for the pendency of the civil case.

    • I think y’all have your acronyms confused a bit. A CPO is a civil protection order. A TPO is a temporary protection order. When you apply for a CPO a TPO is (generally) granted for 2 weeks before the hearing for the CPO, a one year order. An ETPO, emergency temporary protection order, is only granted in extreme cases when the court house is NOT open, so you would not go to the DV Clerks office for that.

  • Personally, I’d at least check real estate records to see whether he owns the house he’s occupying before assuming he is judgment proof and foreclosing the civil litigation route.

    • HaileUnlikely

      I see where you’re going with this, but would not do that myself. I don’t see how my getting my neighbor’s money would improve my safety, especially if he’s mental. If he’ll punch me for absolutely nothing (literally nothing, completely unprovoked), I don’t want to think about what he’d do to me if I dragged him into court to get a civil judgment against him. I don’t want his money; I just want him behind bars or institutionalized or far far away, not still next door and now mad at me for a reason.

      • I understand where you’re coming from. I guess I view a civil suit as less confrontational than a criminal suit, but there may be good reason to view it otherwise here in the District!

      • Presumably OP would want until after the criminal conviction to file a civil case so he wouldn’t waste his money suing someone who was going to be found mentally unfit, and (if he is found mentally fit and sentenced) could use all the testimony presented in the criminal case for his civil suit.

  • In addition to protecting you & your family and as he has admitted to having mental health issues to the police, have you considered contacting DC’s Mobile Crisis Services? (202) 673-9300. https://dbh.dc.gov/service/emergency-psychiatric-services

    Perhaps getting him health care instead of punishment may be a better long-term solution to your problem.

    • +1 If he’s a danger to himself or others he can be involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, which it sounds like he could really use.

      • Right. Didn’t quite work out that way for the mentally ill woman who recently almost killed Capitol police by driving into them and their car near the Capitol a week ago. Her family had tried to get her “help,” but our laws give a VERY wide birth to the mentally ill- protecting them from hospitalization at the expense of people’s safety every day.

    • houseintherear

      Yes, thank you. This is a much better option that getting a gun, potentially shooting an admittedly mentally ill man and spending the rest of his/her life remembering that event and probably never getting over it.

  • Wow, so sorry OP, that must have been so scary and probably is more so now that he’s come back.

    Is there any way you can work with him (after he’s properly medicated), his case worker, family, etc rather than against him? I say this because if there’s any way you can stay off his radar as being “against him”, you may want to try that. If you can convince him (even if you have to feed into his delusions on occasion) that you’re on his side, then he may not want to hurt you again.

    The only advice that I’m sure of is that you should not take this personally, he clearly wasn’t in his right mind. Good luck and please let us know how the situation changes. Everybody should be able to feel safe in their own homes.

    • This sounds like a terrible experience. I know I would be sick with anger and stress. My schizophrenic half brother has repeatedly been involved in violent altercations after which courts placed him in involuntary treatment. After a while, like a few months, he is released to an open facility. Then it happens again as his treatment program stops matching his needs six months later. My family has worked hard, with the courts, with treatment facilities, and with him, to try to stop this cycle for about 15 years without success.

      I don’t have any tips for you other than to say that it can be tough to “win” this situation based on just your legal rights. If he does have a demonstrated history of mental health problem, he will be released sooner than if he doesn’t. Depending on your conflict management skills, escalating the tension through repeated confrontation (with police or courts as proxies) may not make you and your family safer in the long run. I don’t know if you are hungry for justice – most people, including me, are – but envisioning an outcome and being practical about getting there always works better. Mobile Crisis Services recommended by others sounds like a great next move.

  • If he is mentally unstable and violent I would consider your life or at least your well being in danger and not rely on the system to help you at all. It’s hopeless in these situations. I would also act accordingly with that in mind.

  • I’m not sure a criminal defense lawyer is what you need. General practice, personal injury, etc. You can’t bring criminal cases in court, you can only bring civil ones.

    Perhaps people can recommend those types of lawyers and those lawyers can help you more. But, this is sort of in the category of how much justice can you afford? It can be expensive and you said you don’t think damaged will yield much.

  • This is terrifying, glad OP is more or less okay for now, but given this person is mentally unstable and violent I’m extremely worried. I would recommend getting a CPO so that you can better document future issues, and calling (as someone else recommended above) DC’s Mobile Crisis Services at (202) 673-9300.

  • So sorry that this happened to you. Agreed that you can’t really hire your own attorney to prosecute this person. But you can hire a civil attorney to sue him for assault and/or battery. Whether that is a worthwhile route to pursue is your call.

  • Did you try giving him a pepsi?

  • As a victim of assault in D.C, here are my thoughts
    1) Agree with most of the comments – US Attorney’s Office will handle the prosecution of the criminal case. As for the likelihood of this individual spending (any) significant amount of time in jail – very minimal.
    2) Ability to hire a personal injury lawyer correlates to the defendant’s net worth (including any insurance coverage). Not many attorneys are willing to take a case with limited payout potential. Most of them in this space operate on a contingent fee basis.
    3) You could go through Small Claims Court – DC increased the limit from $5k to $10k. Relatively simple to file, but once again depends on the individual’s ability to pay
    4) DC Crime Victims Compensation Fund is very effective. Took me less than 30 days from filing paperwork to receiving a check that covered some of my medical expenses. You’ll hear the police/doctors mention a $25k payment through CVC, but keep in mind that includes a $6k funeral cost amount, and a multitude of other items, which do not normally apply to most surviving victims. You could expect payment of up to $5k for medical & dental expenses.
    5) Research any prior convictions for this individual, not only in D.C but also in other states, starting with the neighboring states. Once you find out, make sure you communicate it to the prosecutor. In my case, the US Attorney’s office did not include a dozen plus convictions of the defendant in Maryland.
    6) Go the court every time there is a hearing for this case and try to get a sense of the presiding judge. It will help you tailor your victim impact statement that you could deliver during sentencing. Like it or not, race plays a big part.
    7) If you think you have a fair chance with a trial, go to trial. US Attorney’s office will try to pressure you to ‘sign off’ to a plea deal. Even if you lose the criminal case, you could still pursue the civil avenues.
    Sorry this happened to you and good luck

  • While I am pro gun, the laws in DC make it a pain. Regardless, mace/pepper spray/self defense sprays might be last ditch resort while this situation develops. You have been physically assaulted once, so that barrier has already been broken.

    From the MPDC requirements, just follow the rules of use/type:

    https://mpdc.dc.gov/page/mace-pepper-spray-and-self-defense-sprays

  • This post should be read as a companion to yesterday’s post from the person whose property was entered twice by someone without permission. The OP in this thread, who was the victim of an assault and battery, should pursue whatever criminal and civil remedies are available to protect himself. And the person who posted yesterday should not have to wait until he or she gets hit in the face by some rando to get the attention of the police.

  • In addition to pursuing legal remedies, consider moving. For real– it will be a huge pain, and you should not have to be the one to go because YOU didn’t attack anyone, but as you say, the dude isn’t right in the head and unreasonable, and it appears the authorities can’t do much to keep him away from you or your family. I see some Mr. Big Macho Man is suggesting you get a gun, (if you do, for God’s sake keep it away from your baby) but I suspect that ends in you going to jail for threatening/shooting a mentally ill person, or getting hurt again yourself because, again, this guy isn’t right in the head and who knows what he’d do in response. Even outside of that worst-case scenario, do you really want to have to prepare yourself to blow this guy’s head off every time you go out to water the lawn? A last resort, maybe, but consider removing yourself and your family from this dangerous/untenable situation.

  • I recommend contacting NVRDC (Network for Victim Recovery of DC). It is a great organzation that can provide you with resources (including help walk you through the victim’s compensation process) and advocacy. Their case workers may also be able to help guide you regarding what’s the best (i.e., most healing for you and most likely to protect your family) measures that you can take, especially given that this person is your neighbor. I am sorry this happened to you.

  • What sort of fence do you have? Among other suggestions already mentioned, I’d consider a 6ft privacy fence. Might stop any triggering event for the dude – like seeing you minding your own business in your yard.

  • This story is frightening. I don’t have much to add to the other comments, but I would not trust “the system” to correctly identify and properly treat a mentally ill person. I have seen it in the news, and unfortunately, I have seen it in real life too many times (including a friend’s schizophrenic mother, who authorities were warned about time and again, and who ultimately went on to shoot dead her mother and father very calmly one night).
    .
    In terms of a gun, I would only get one if you are properly and thoroughly trained. I would not buy one without a lot of careful thought. That said, if you are willing to receive the proper training, then yeah, I would consider getting one if I was in your shoes. But more importantly, I would think about getting away. Besides not trusting “the system” to deal with the mentally ill, I also wouldn’t trust the DC judicial system to protect you in the event you had a very reasonable self-defense reason for shooting this man. You have a lot more to lose presumably (i.e., assets) than this individual. I am scared for you. I hope you all remain safe.

  • A couple of additional thoughts about protection:

    –If your dog is big and protective, keep him nearby when you’re outside. If he’s not, consider getting him a companion who is. That can work wonders as a deterrent (speaking from experience).

    –Have very visible security cameras.

    –If your friends with your neighbors and they’re willing to assist, have a couple on speed-dial in addition to the police.

    –I’d be frightened to have weapons (guns, mace, etc) in the house with a toddler.