'Pest' control? Jailed blogger claims official mistreatment
The woman with a knack for getting under the skin of law enforcement is back in jail, and she claims the Albemarle Commonwealth's Attorney is "manipulating the system" to keep her incarcerated.
Hook readers may recall that Elisha Strom was arrested in late August for allegedly stalking an Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, but that's not the charge that landed her in jail near the end of September. Instead, the incarceration stems from her chronicles of JADE, the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement task force.
Ever since Strom debuted her blog, I HeArTE JADE, in late 2008, she's found herself a target. Last year, she was jailed for publishing the address of an officer, something Virginia considers a Class 6 felony. (Noting that the information was publicly available, the ACLU claimed the law was unconstitutional.) Strom ultimately pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of obstruction of justice with a six-month suspended sentence. On October 15, 2009, she was arrested for violating the terms of that plea and convicted in May. She appealed.
Thinking that the penalty for violating a court order is 10 days and believing that the 30 days she had already spent in jail would count as time served, says Strom, she withdrew her appeal.
'When [Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford] found out I wasn't going to jail, she amended the charge," says Strom. "It's really manipulating the system."
Commonweath's Attorney Lunsford did not return repeated phone calls from the Hook.
In two hearings last week, a judge sentenced Strom September 24 to five days in jail over the next few weekends starting September 25. "It's absurd," says Strom.
A court-appointed lawyer expressed shock that his client has been sent to jail when the norm is that defendants get credit for time served.
"I would hope they don't treat her vindictively because they think she's a pest," says attorney Adam Rhea.
Rhea, defending Strom on the Greene County stalking charge, has filed a motion for the return of Strom's laptop, cellphone, camera, GPS, scanner power cord, and camera card, all of which were seized when she was arrested August 30 and have not been returned.
"The Supreme Court has tried to curb that practice," says Rhea, of police seizing items and getting a search warrant after the fact.
"Some of the stuff they seized, I don't see how they can claim an interest in," says Rhea. "A power cord? It seems they're trying to render things so she can't use them."
More worrisome to Rhea about the warrantless seizure and sidestepping of time served to put Strom in jail: "If they can do it to someone they consider a pest," he says, "they can do it to anyone."