During the past decade, the Elizabeth Park Valley, a historically crime-infested neighborhood tucked 250 feet below what Akronites call the Y-Bridge, has been transformed from a certifiable hellhole into something better.
Just how much better is debatable. But there’s no denying the neighborhood has been upgraded since tens of millions of dollars in private and public money fueled a slew of new single-family homes and apartment complexes.
Among them: Zion Terrace, a $4.5 million, 40-unit senior complex built in 2003 between the bridge and the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath.
That’s where Connie Moore lives.
Or, at least she did until Tuesday.
“It took me a long time to find a place that I felt good about and could afford, because I’m low-income and the choices are not that many,” she told me six months ago. “Although the neighborhood is considered bad, this building has been good.
“It’s very nicely maintained. I always felt safe here. I do now — except for this one person.”
That person, she said, had made her life a nightmare. And because of him, the 65-year-old woman moved out last week.
Although Moore’s story seems like a textbook case of stalking, she was unable to get a restraining order against the man, who lived on the same floor, or to persuade the apartment’s management to evict him.
After Moore and I first talked, she decided she didn’t want to aggravate her stalker by making the situation public. And she was determined to gut things out rather than move.
Standing her ground was more than just the principle, although that was part of it. A few days before her move, as she was sitting in her small living room on the third floor of the bright, clean facility, she spelled out her reasons.
“This is the most stability and security I’ve had in a number of years,” she said. “I lived in a homeless shelter six months before I got this place. Moving here was the most wonderful thing that could have happened to me.”
But eventually the man simply wore her down. After more than a year of struggling to get someone in authority to take her seriously, she turned in her 30-day notice in September.
When we met, Moore had started to box up and cart away her smaller belongings. On Tuesday, a moving van came for the big stuff.
To pay the movers, Moore took out a six-month loan for $410. Annual percentage rate: 270.74 percent.
Seriously. She showed me the contract.
“I didn’t want to give in,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “I didn’t want him to win, because he didn’t deserve to. But it’s just, after more than a year, it’s more than I can deal with.”
No problem at first
The whole thing started innocently enough. Her nemesis arrived in 2011, a year after she did, and she was just trying to be neighborly. They chatted casually, perhaps half a dozen times, before he started to frighten her.
“He came off as a very likeable person, very laid back,” she said. “Then, when he started doing these things to me, and he was questioned about it, he said awful things about me and tried to put the blame on me.”
She said he made overtly sexual remarks and kept asking why she wasn’t with a man.
When she would enter the elevator by herself, he would force his way in and stand so close that she could feel his breath. He would try to get her alone in the laundry room and hallways. He would stand outside her door and eavesdrop.
At one point, he knocked hard on her door and, when she didn’t answer, kicked it repeatedly.
Immediately after that, she contacted the management company, East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp., and complained. When he was told about her complaint, he went after her in a hallway, jumping out and cursing at her, threatening to attack her.
Fortunately, unbeknownst to him, another man was in the hallway and witnessed the incident.
“That was the first time in six months I had a witness,” Moore said.
That incident forced her stalker into a mediation session attended by police. The cursing and threats stopped after that, but the stalking did not.
Wherever she was, he tried to be. Stalking experts say that’s an intimidation tactic known as “smothering.”
Moore changed her schedule, leaving her apartment only once a week for groceries and errands. She started doing laundry very late at night so she wouldn’t encounter him.
Early this spring, as she watched a TV show about stalking that featured New Franklin resident Cameron Wallace, she felt an instant kinship.
Although there’s no evidence that Moore’s stalker is anywhere near as demented as the man who haunted Wallace for more than a decade before being sent to prison in 2007, Moore felt many of the same emotions that Wallace reported.
Fear. Uncertainty. Anger. Frustration. A huge shadow hanging over her entire life.
Wallace’s case led to a new state law that enables judges to back up restraining orders with electronic monitoring. But the new law didn’t help Moore.
When she filed a police report and went to court to try to get a restraining order, she was referred to Victim Assistance. She said a worker there told her state law does not allow a restraining order to be issued against someone who lives in the same building because that would force an eviction.
That simply isn’t true. Why she was told that is anyone’s guess.
Yvette Lester has a guess.
Lester is a private-practice counselor who previously worked for 12 years at Victim Assistance. While there, she said, she felt pressure to serve as an unofficial screener for the magistrates to try to hold down the caseload for restraining-order requests.
Leanne Graham, executive director of Victim Assistance, strongly denied that her agency feels pressure to screen cases for the magistrates. “Not our job,” she said.
When told a former longtime Victim Assistance advocate said she felt that pressure, Graham, who assumed her position in January, replied, “If that’s true, it’s scary and unfortunate. I never heard any advocate say that. I can say that’s not happening today.”
The person who talked to Moore is no longer with the agency.
Graham said that since her arrival, “I have made a lot of changes. I’m holding our staff more accountable, and we’re definitely stepping up our game.”
In fact, she said, she recently staged a training session with a judge and a magistrate to ensure “we’re all on the same page” and the staff is “providing accurate information to clients.”
All of which is great, but none of which helps Connie Moore.
Managers sit tight
Moore also struck out with the organization that runs the apartment complex.
She produced copies of letter after letter she sent to various officials at East Akron Neighborhood Development Corp. Then she handed me a copy of her housing contract.
She had starred the paragraphs that say “threatening and intimidation ... shall cause the immediate termination of tenancy” and “a single violation shall be good cause for termination” and —notably — “proof of violation shall not require a criminal conviction, but shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.”
That wording seems to give the agency plenty of leeway. But EANDC chose not to exercise it.
Executive Director Grady Appleton initially said the agency was not aware that a police report had been filed. When given an incident number and the date — Oct. 12, 2012 — and told about photocopies of letters sent to various EANDC officials over an 11-month period — most of them mentioning the police report — he said that he wanted to research the matter further.
After consulting with others, he said no action was taken because EANDC’s attorney wanted more evidence.
A police report and an eyewitness aren’t enough?
“We asked her to get [other] residents to come forward,” but she did not, Appleton responded.
Moore said other residents wouldn’t come forward because they’re afraid of the man.
Two other men at Zion Terrace were evicted this year for intimidating women. When asked how those cases differed from Moore’s, Appleton said that in both cases multiple people came forward to complain.
So multiple residents have to complain before action is taken?
“It helps to have witnesses, yes.”
Appleton said the eyewitness testimony for Moore wasn’t sufficient because the witness refused to put his observations in writing.
Moore said there is good reason for that: The witness lives right across the hall from the stalker, and if her eviction bid would have failed, the witness’ own life would have become miserable.
But at this point, as far as Moore is concerned, the whole issue is one gigantic moot point.
Attorney general helped
Fortunately, one group did take her seriously. Moore proved her case well enough to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office that it is footing her $1,305 bill for psychological counseling.
Documents from the AG’s office say it determined Moore “sustained emotional trauma” because she was “the victim of menacing by stalking.”
Her counselor is none other than Yvette Lester, the woman mentioned earlier who formerly worked for Victim Assistance.
Lester said Moore did the right thing by moving out. Her stress level had been so high, and the conflict had gone on for so long, that she was risking both psychological and physical damage.
Lester said the stalking had “escalated” recently, probably because the stalker knows that “no one is doing anything about the situation.”
Could Moore have done something different when this first began?
“I think she did everything she could have that was within her control,” Lester responded. “There were things that did not happen that probably should have.”
Lester’s advice to folks who find themselves in similar circumstances: Get counseling and “document, document, document everything.”
Sometimes, that works.
Sometimes, it doesn’t.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.