She describes herself as "a hard-drinking, trash-talking, pool-shooting, Redskins-loving D.C. native" whose life was ruined by a stalker.
A young man she barely knew pursued, harassed and threatened her for four years, even vowed to shoot her in the face, she says. But despite repeated complaints to District police and answering-machine tapes of his rambling threats, the 30-year-old woman says, she was repeatedly told that there was little the authorities could do--despite the fact that the man had been charged with illegally possessing a handgun.
So the downtown bookstore employee wrote about her harrowing tale for Washington City Paper, using the pseudonym Theresa. At 6 a.m. Friday, the day after the paper hit the streets, the alleged stalker, Todd A. Witte, 27, of Gaithersburg, surrendered to police. He is being held in D.C. Jail on $100,000 bond on a charge of felony threats, and the police department's No. 2 official yesterday apologized for the slowness of the official response.
The woman described her ordeal in an interview as "this horrible feeling you have from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed. He's infiltrated every cell of your body. You think at any moment you're going to be attacked. It almost turns you into an animal that feels the need to defend itself.
"I can't sit with my back to the door at any restaurant. It's the tiny indignities you suffer every day because this person has taken away your ability to function smoothly. It's just awful. You get used to being absolutely terrified all the time." The Washington Post is withholding her name because she agreed to be interviewed only on condition of anonymity.
At one point, according to a detective's affidavit, Witte left a phone message saying, "I could walk into the bookstore and blow a hole right into your [expletive] forehead and get out of court." He also threatened to kill the woman's sister, the detective wrote.
D.C. police Chief Charles H. Ramsey and Executive Assistant Chief Terrance W. Gainer told the woman yesterday that the department will work to protect her. "My concern is twofold," Ramsey said. "If we dropped the ball, to find out. And if this guy gets out, that this woman is safe."
Gainer said that if Witte is released on bond, prosecutors will obtain a court order directing him not to contact the woman. "I apologize that it took so long to get this kind of resolution," he said.
Witte's attorney and his father did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The woman says the harassing calls and letters began in August 1995, after Witte was briefly employed at the bookstore where she works. The affidavit said he was fired after three weeks.
In 1997, court records show Witte received a criminal citation in Gaithersburg for public drunkenness and causing a public disturbance.
As the threatening behavior continued last year, the woman said, she was infuriated by the refusal of D.C. police to seek a felony arrest because of the wording of the threats.
"What was frustrating about the police was that they were such sticklers for linguistics," she said. Whatever the stalker said, "it's not good enough, it's not hard enough, it's not threatening enough." When the man told her answering machine he would shoot her in the face, the woman says, police told her that did not amount to a threat to kill her. When he said "I will kill you," the woman says, police told her that was not the same as saying, "I'm going to kill you."
But Ramsey said that interpretation was wrong: "You can't threaten to shoot someone, period."
David Carr, the City Paper's editor, said the bookstore employee contacted him in response to a blurb in the paper seeking first-person stories. She submitted 20,000 words, which he edited to 13,000.
"I knew from the start that what she was saying was true, but because I was granting anonymity all around, I needed to get with her and do a full pat-down," said Carr, adding that he listened to the phone tapes and reviewed her files. "I did due diligence to make sure there weren't two crazy people involved in this story."
Carr said he worried about publishing the story because "sometimes even when the media try to do something good, it turns out bad. In this case, the bad part might be her being found dead." When the story went to press, he said, "I felt like throwing up the whole night."
At a hearing Friday, D.C. Superior Court Commissioner Ronald A. Goodbread, who had a copy of the City Paper article, rejected a request from Witte's attorney that he be released without bond.
The woman, who has been undergoing therapy, said the prolonged stalking has caused her to suffer from panic attacks and vomiting. "The part of me that wanted to feel sorry for him was just completely destroyed by this guy," she said.
When the harassment began, she says, the stalker repeatedly came to her bookstore and sometimes to a bar where she worked part time. But while the D.C. police were courteous, she recalled, they said he had committed no crime. "People have no idea how poor the protection is in Washington for this kind of thing," she said. "I felt I was beating my head against a brick wall."
On Aug. 12, according to the police affidavit, Witte called the woman six times. By then, the woman said, things had begun to change because a female D.C. detective took an interest in the case. The detective, working with a prosecutor, obtained an arrest warrant on a felony threats charge Aug. 24 after discovering the handgun possession charge. D.C. police, working with Maryland authorities, made at least two unsuccessful attempts to arrest Witte at his home.
The U.S. attorney's office has won some convictions against stalkers, said Robert J. Spagnoletti, chief of the sex offense and domestic violence division. In one recent case, a lawyer was convicted of a misdemeanor for stalking a woman via the Internet. A man who admitted assaulting a woman has called her 445 times from the D.C. Jail, Spagnoletti said.
"We only get reports or requests to approve warrants in 25 to 30 stalking cases a year," said Spagnoletti, adding that most stalking cases involve domestic disputes.
Ramsey and Gainer said they have launched an inquiry into the woman's contention that police officers were slow to take seriously the threats against her.
Referring to the City Paper article, Gainer said: "The issue is not just her. We have to make sure there's not another victim out there who's not as good a writer as she is. What about all those people who don't have that forum?"
CAPTION: Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer apologized for the department's delays.