ATF agent fearful: Blogger Strom arrested for stalking
The woman who spent a month in jail for publishing the address of an undercover officer has been arrested again, this time for allegedly stalking an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent since February 2008, according to the complaint.
Elisha Strom, 35, was arrested August 30 in Charlottesville on a charge she believes was filed to intimidate her and shut down her I HeArTE JADE blog.
"I'm absolutely denying the charge," says Strom. "I haven't even laid eyes on the man in over a year."
ATF Agent John Stoltz filed the class 1 misdemeanor stalking complaint in Greene County on August 24 for events that took place between February 16, 2008, and August 17, 2010. In the complaint, he asserts that Strom published his photo, a photograph of his car, license plate, residence, and the distance from the JADE office to his home.
He quotes Strom from past bloggings about the activities of the Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force: "If law enforcement officers who work at JADE didn't want to put their lives and families at risk, they should have obtained different jobs." And he says that Strom fired a handgun at unknown persons in 2007.
Strom, who gained notoriety in 2007 for testifying against her white-supremacist husband in a witness intimidation case, says the handgun incident was purely defensive after someone fired at her, but Stoltz alleges that she's a potential menace.
"Do [sic] to Strom's postings, I fear she or someone viewing the website will locate and kill or harm me and/or my family," writes Stoltz in his complaint.
"This is very unusual," says legal expert David Heilberg. "I have never seen anyone put a two-and-a-half-year range of events for stalking."
If, as Strom claims, the photos on her website are old, one could argue the charge is stale and exceeds the one-year statute of limitations on misdemeanors, Heilberg says. On the other hand, he adds, "Those photos are her own proof that she was following him."
And if she was following Stoltz without his knowledge and causing fear–- hence the relevance of the 2007 handgun incident–- "A judge is going to want to protect a police officer and won't say the First Amendment trumps protecting a police officer," says Heilberg. "What they're really trying to do is shut down her website."
According to iHeArTe JADE, ATF agents in four cars came to see her July 28 about her alleged stalking of Agent Stoltz. "They had four guys from Washington come by–- it's clearly intimidation," Strom says.
Neither the ATF agent who left his number with Strom, which is posted on her blog, nor Stoltz returned phone calls from the Hook.
Strom also complains that the Charlottesville detectives who arrested her erased the recording she made of the arrest and confiscated her laptop, cellphone, camera, GPS, scanner power cord, and camera card–- all without a search warrant.
"My lawyer says it's an illegal search," she says.
Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo did not return a phone call from the Hook.
Strom contends that Stoltz went "magistrate shopping" to find someone to issue a warrant for the alleged stalking. Magistrates in Orange and Albemarle refused to comment on that allegation, but the magistrate in Orange, who declined to give her name, says Orange handles complaints and issues warrants for Greene County, which issued the complaint. Greene Sheriff's Major Randall Snead had not returned a call from the Hook at press time.
Strom was arrested last year for publishing the address of an officer, a class 6 felony. The ACLU said such a law is unconstitutional, and offered to defend Strom. Despite that backing, she pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, a misdemeanor, and was ordered to stay away from JADE. Strom was arrested in March for allegedly violating that order, and goes back to court September 22 on that charge.
Her blog led to a Delegate Rob Bell bill that allows law enforcement officers to petition courts to get their personal information, such as property records, which both Charlottesville and Albemarle post, removed from online government records.
Strom is out on $3,000 bond, and will be in court in Greene County September 8. And she's convinced she's being "deliberately targeted," she says.
"I have never, ever threatened anyone," says Strom. "It's ridiculous. In no way have I ever threatened [Stoltz] or even gestured at him. These guys are a bunch of cupcakes."