Jillian Schroder, Esquire Deputy Attorney Genera Deputy
Attorney For The State of Delaware
Benjamin Gifford, Esquire Law Office of Benjamin S. Gifford
Attorney for Defendant
LETTER OPINION AND DECISION AFTER TRIAL
H. Surles Judge
defendant, Justin Hayes (hereinafter the
"Defendant"), stands charged with Harassment and
Violation of a Protective Order. A non-jury trial was
convened on June 12, 2017, at the conclusion of which the
Court reserved decision. This is the Court's decision
trial, the Court heard testimony from Kathleen Eldridge
("Dr. Eldridge"), John Donnelly ("Dr.
Donnelly"), Colleen Durkin ("Ms. Durkin"), and
Corporal Thomas Lukach of Delaware State Police Troop 6
("Corporal Lukach"). The Court also received
documentary evidence and the Defendant's prior recorded
statement. The Court, in its sole duty as the trier of fact,
finds the relevant facts as follows.
Defendant and Dr. Eldridge had previously engaged in a
romantic relationship. During the course of that
relationship, Dr. Eldridge sent the Defendant a picture of
herself topless. After the relationship ended, the Defendant
became angry and, in December of 2016, posted a scathing
review of Dr. Eldridge on the Christiana Care Internal
Medicine Residency Facebook group (the "Christiana
Facebook group"). Dr. Eldridge sought and obtained an Order
of Protection From Abuse (the "PFA"), which was
granted on January 6, 2017. The PFA included, inter
alia, a clause prohibiting the Defendant from contacting
Dr. Eldridge and from mentioning Dr. Eldridge on all social
February 7, 2017, the Defendant sent a message to the
Christiana Facebook group containing the topless picture of
Dr. Eldridge. The message was seen by Dr. Donnelly, who
contacted Dr. Eldridge about the photograph after recognizing
the Defendant's name and profile picture from the prior
post on the Christiana Facebook group. Dr. Eldridge confirmed
the photograph was the picture she had previously sent to the
Defendant and that she had not sent that photograph to any
the Defendant's recorded interview, the Defendant
admitted to posting the first scathing review of Dr. Eldridge
on the Christiana Facebook group. The Defendant claimed he
was very upset, as he had recently been fired and was then
dumped by Dr. Eldridge. He went into a deep depression,
started drinking, and eventually attempted to commit suicide.
The Defendant initially did not recall receiving the naked
photograph from Dr. Eldridge; the Defendant was significantly
evasive and forgetful on this topic.
Later in the interview, the Defendant admitted to receiving
the photograph, but could not recall any unique identifying
marks. The Defendant did not remember if Dr. Eldridge had any
tattoos and, if she did, the Defendant could not remember
where they were located or what they looked like.
Specifically, the Defendant claimed he did not recall Dr.
Eldridge as having a rose tattoo encircling her nipple.
Furthermore, the Defendant did not recall sending the
photograph to the Christiana Facebook group and, if he did,
he did not mean to do so. The Defendant was significantly
evasive and "forgetful'" throughout the
entirety of the recorded interview, even when the
interviewing officer made specific references to Dr.
Eldridge's tattoos. The Court finds the defendant to be
wholly without credibility.
an Information dated March 21, 2017, the Defendant was
charged with Harassment, in violation of Title 11, Section
1311(a)(2) of the Delaware Code, on the theory that the
Defendant, with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm,
communicated with Dr. Eldridge in a manner which he knew was
likely to cause annoyance or alarm. The Defendant was also
charged with Violation of a Protective Order, in violation of
Title 10, Section 1046(e) of the Delaware Code, for sending a
naked photograph of Dr. Eldridge to the Christiana Facebook
group after being Court-ordered not to mention Dr. Eldridge
on social media, pursuant to PFA Order number 0097003.
order to find the Defendant guilty of Harassment, the State
must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant
communicated with Dr. Eldridge in a manner that the Defendant
knew was likely to cause annoyance or alarm and that he did
so with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm. To find the
Defendant guilty of Violation of a Protective Order, the
State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a protective
order was in effect and that the Defendant violated that
Defendant argued, inter alia, that the State has
failed to prove that the Defendant communicated with Dr.
Eldridge. The Defendant argues the evidence, if believed,
would only establish that the Defendant sent a message to the
Christiana Facebook group and that the message was only
viewed and viewable by a limited class of administrators,
consisting of one or two individuals.
Court finds that the Delaware Harassment statute is violated
when a defendant sends messages to the Facebook group managed
by the intended victim's employer, and does so with
intent to harass, alarm, or annoy. The Defendant intentionally
directed a communication at a Facebook group belonging to Dr.
Eldridge's employers and administrated by Dr.
Eldridge's coworkers. The Court finds the Defendant's
purpose was a vindictive one, with the manifest intent to
harass, annoy, and alarm Dr. Eldridge by disseminating a
compromising picture to her coworkers. The Defendant sent the
picture knowing, and intending, that his doing so would cause
Dr. Eldridge annoyance and alarm.
Next, the Court is satisfied that the State has met its
burden with respect to the charge of Violation of a
Protective Order. The Court finds the Defendant communicated
with Dr. Eldridge via Facebook, in spite of the prohibition
contained within the PFA that he "not
contact or attempt to contact [Dr. Eldridge] in any way,