Witness Testimony Concluded in Felony Stalking Trial

By Kelsey Landon

The jury trial for Benjamin Prowell, who is facing felony charges of stalking a Yolo County woman, resumed Wednesday morning.

The morning began with the continuation of Officer Joshua Helton’s witness testimony that began on Tuesday.

Testimony opened Wednesday with Helton’s description of several interviews he had held over the phone with the defendant from October of 2016 to January of 2017.

These phone conversations were held after the alleged victim and an Empower Yolo—a non-profit organization that provides refuge for victims of domestic violence as well as other related services—representative notified Helton that Prowell was persistently contacting the victim against her wishes.

Helton was in contact with the alleged victim from October through the end of the year, during which time she provided copies of numerous emails sent to her by Prowell, as well as a couple of direct messages sent on Instagram.

However, even after Helton’s conversation with Prowell, the defendant continued to contact the victim.

The alleged victim provided Helton with 25 different messages Prowell had sent her since his first phone call with Officer Helton in October. Prowell had ignored Helton’s instructions to stop contacting the victim.

The attorney representing the People then played a recording of a phone conversation Helton had with Prowell on January 3, 2017.

In this conversation, the officer tells Prowell that he was going to write a report to send to the district attorney’s office. Helton warned Prowell that the district attorney’s office might
proceed to charge Prowell with a crime.

In the same conversation, Helton mentioned an Instagram username that included the word “stalker.” This user had sent the victim’s boyfriend a message, to which Prowell immediately denied any involvement.

Helton also mentioned that the defendant had sent him 11 emails in the two days following their first phone call.

According to Helton’s testimony, Prowell continued to contact the victim, sending 18 emails by mid-January following Helton’s second phone conversation with him. The victim forwarded all emails to Helton.

“She just kept getting them and they didn’t stop,” stated Helton.

Following these events he filed an arrest warrant with Yolo County Superior Court. Helton felt there appeared to be a threat to the victim.

On January 27, 2017, Prowell was arrested and his phone was confiscated with a search warrant, which would later be used to mine the device for data.

Several relevant conversations were pulled from this phone.

One of the conversations included Prowell and a former coworker discussing the victim and another coworker. In this conversation, Prowell describes his contact with the victim, as well as other ideas about “taking down” the business the victim worked at.

Prowell sent a later message to this same coworker, implying that he wanted to “take down” every male figure in the victim’s life. The coworker did not reply.

The cross-examination by the defense counsel began by clarifying with Helton that Prowell was terminated from this job in April of 2016, and that the business he was talking about bringing down was the same one in which he had been employed.

Prowell had also met the victim at this job.

The detective explained that this case was rather rare, since Empower Yolo contacted him directly—it had only happened once or twice in his 11 years of law enforcement.

Cases similar to Prowell’s usually go to patrol first, but, considering the circumstances, Helton chose to deal with the case directly.

On October 20, 2016, Helton presented several options to the victim, including an emergency protective order, which would make contact with the victim a crime.  An emergency protective order would be in effect for a week within five business days of being filed.

Helton testified that he did not recommend this option since it can be a very dangerous thing to do because of the risk of upsetting the perpetrator.

The officer told defense counsel that there was no legal effect of a law enforcement officer telling Prowell to stop contact with the victim.

Helton had no indication that Prowell had been physically near the victim.

Prowell had been employed to do maintenance on the building where the victim was employed, during which time he and the victim developed a relationship.

The victim had never been physically abused during the relationship and no such event had ever been disclosed.

Prowell had been cooperative with officer Helton, but according to Helton that is not uncommon with the kind of people with whom he deals.

After being contacted to look into the victim’s concerns, Helton looked over emails spanning from February of 2016 to October of 2016. Helton called Prowell that same day.

Prowell did speak to Helton about having OCD and ADHD during that phone conversation.

After speaking to Prowell on the phone in October, Helton was surprised at the number of emails he received from the defendant in the following days. Most of the content of those emails was Prowell trying to justify his actions, according to Helton.

Helton chose not to file an arrest warrant for probable cause that day, but chose to make an arrest on January 24, 2017, because the content of Prowell’s emails to the victim on January 19 appeared to be particularly threatening.

In the People’s redirect, the attorney asked whether Helton had worked with domestic/sexual assault survivors a lot in his career. Helton said he had and that he had seen arrests put victims in more danger, rather than make them safer.

According to Helton, stalking conditions had been met in Prowell’s case, yet the victim did not want Prowell arrested. Helton tried not to exacerbate the situation.

Helton explained that criminal threats are not the same as stalking.

In the defense’s second cross-examination, the deputy public defender clarified with Helton that Prowell was arrested for a credible threat, not criminal. Helton also confirmed that he had not received any notice from the victim that she had been contacted by Prowell after January 24, 2017.

Officer Helton was then dismissed as a witness. The People had no more witnesses.

Next, the defense counsel called their first witness to the stand. The witness was a character witness for Prowell, and a housemate at the time of the events. The witness testified that he is a current friend of the defendant.

The witness spoke to Prowell about his work and relationship at the time the events took place.

According to the witness, the relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim appeared to be that of a normal romantic relationship before their breakup.

The witness stated that Prowell and the victim broke up around mid-March of 2016, during which time Prowell began to show signs of depression.

In his testimony, the witness stated that before the breakup, Prowell was generally happy. After the breakup, he would not leave the house.

The witness claimed that Prowell at least doubled his drinking habits after the relationship ended. The witness had never seen Prowell get violent before.

After concluding that he and the defendant were still close friends, the witness was dismissed without further questioning.

The jury was dismissed until Thursday, November 30, 2017, at 8:30 am when they will receive their further instructions.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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