By Ryan Gonzales
On February 15, 2017, Judge Paul K. Richardson presided over the preliminary hearing conference for the People v. Benjamin Prowell. Mr. Prowell, who was in the United States Navy for nine years, is being charged with a felony count of stalking his ex-girlfriend, from April 2016 to January 2017.
“V,” who is the ex-girlfriend of the defendant and the complaining witness in this case, testified that she was in a relatively short casual relationship with Mr. Prowell, that they met only a couple times a week and mostly contacted each other through phone.
However, Mr. Prowell had a different understanding of their relationship.
V told the court that the relationship “ran its course,” thus she broke up with Mr. Prowell in the month of February 2016. Although at first Mr. Prowell seemed to handle the breakup well, V stated that the following week after the breakup, he refused to accept it, which led to the nine months during which V said he harassed her.
During this period, Mr. Prowell had sent 150 emails to V’s work email, 57 to her personal email, and 33 Facebook messages. V described these emails to contain uneasy descriptions of their relationship, and stated that some of the messages made her fearful. For instance, V testified that one email had Mr. Prowell stating that he had friends coming into town and hoped that they didn’t run into her. Another contained the message that if V had seen Mr. Prowell’s car in her neighborhood, it was because he was dating someone who lived close by.
In one instance, Mr. Prowell had sent a box to V’s workplace that contained a cologne-soaked journal, which contained a variety of statements about why he felt wronged and other narratives, such as original poems.
In response to this constant bombardment of emails and the journal, V testified that she changed the access code to her work, blocked Mr. Prowell on all social media outlets, and covered up her house windows with black sheets. As the emails continued, V eventually felt that she couldn’t protect herself anymore and she feared for her life, thus she sought to involve law enforcement.
However, during cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso inquired whether the emails explicitly showed threatening language, and if Mr. Prowell had ever physically assaulted V during their relationship, causing her to fear for her life. V responded no, not explicitly.
Furthermore, Mr. Borruso inquired as to why V took all these steps of blocking him and contacting the police, but never filed for a restraining order or protective order. V responded that she took the advice of the investigating officer, Joshua Helton of the Davis Police Department, who said that if she were to serve such orders, it could exacerbate the situation.
As the examinations concluded, Mr. Borruso began his argument as to why the charges should not stand, and/or should be reduced. Mr. Borruso believed that no credible threat was ever made within the emails, thus V’s fearfulness is not an element to be considered for the felony charge of Penal Code section 646.9(a). Simply, he believed that Mr. Prowell was emotional over the breakup and sent intoxicated messages that had no threatening intent, thus if the court found sufficient evidence to hold the defendant to answer, it should consider reduction to a misdemeanor charge.
“I’m not saying this should be the way to treat someone, but it is not criminal action,” concluded Mr. Borruso.
However, the prosecution rebutted that the complaining witness was targeted and became fearful. Since fear stems from a threat and V’s emotion was subjective to her, the prosecution moved to deny the motion to suppress.
Although Judge Richardson took into consideration Mr. Prowell’s military background toward his credibility, the judge concluded that, due to the volume and variety of ways Mr. Prowell contacted V and the content of certain emails – such as Mr. Prowell being in V’s neighborhood, he believed that her fear was credible. Therefore, the court held the felony count.
Judge Richardson set Mr. Prowell’s arraignment date to March 1, 2017, in Department 13.