A protective order against a dissatisfied customer who used social media to “ruthlessly” attack a political activist was proper, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled, agreeing with the trial court that the customer had stalked the activist.
Petitioner D.V. and respondent P.D. first crossed paths in 2019, when P.D. secured a ticket for a political gala organized by D.V., an activist. P.D. had purchased her ticket from Jenny Erickson, who had purchased a table from D.V.
The gala was later canceled and P.D. sought a refund, then took to social media to disparage D.V. when she thought it was taking too long for her to get her money back. P.D.’s social media campaign accused D.V., a Navy veteran, of faking her military service and her PTSD diagnosis. P.D. also created a private Facebook group and a hashtag against D.V.
D.V. eventually issued a refund to Erickson, who then refunded P.D. But the social media attacks continued, and P.D. began contacting D.V.’s family members and speakers scheduled to appear at other political events planned by D.V.
D.V. hired a lawyer, who sent P.D. a cease-and-desist letter with a copy of her Naval Reserve discharge summary. The summary included D.V.’s home address, which was posted online. P.D. stopped posting about D.V. on social media while the latter was represented by legal counsel, but began again when D.V.’s lawyer left the case.
D.V. filed for a protective order in December 2019, testifying that she’d been forced to change her phone number because of P.D.’s tactics and saying she felt “scared” and “desperate.” The Tippecanoe Superior Court granted the protective order, concluding P.D. had stalked D.V., going so far as to share photos of the gravestones of the deceased children of D.V.’s husband.
P.D. appealed the protective order but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Wednesday in P.D. v. D.V., 20A-PO-1860.
“… (T)he trial court’s conclusion that a reasonable person would feel at least threatened or intimidated by P.D.’s actions was supported by the evidence because these intrusions into D.V.’s personal life went far beyond the scope of the limited, business-related contact that had occurred directly between the parties,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for a unanimous appellate panel. “The flippant words that P.D. attached to her … tweet of the image of D.V.’s Twitter cover page and the gravestones, along with the call to others to spread them, would also cause a reasonable person to feel threatened or intimidated, as a person who feel comfortable with making light of dead children and using those images for tactical purposes demonstrates limited restraint and a willingness to be ruthless.
“In addition, D.V. testified that P.D.’s action did, in fact, frighten and scare her because P.D. appeared to be vicious,” Riley continued. “In light of the facts, the trial court’s determination that P.D. stalked D.V. was supported by evidence in the record, and we conclude that it was not clearly erroneous.”