California Man Arrested For Trolling Father of Parkland Mass Shooting Victim

August 18, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Florida and Federal Law take stalking very seriously. When people think of stalking, they tend to think of movie tropes involving a person following someone else and watching their every move. Nowadays though, most stalking occurs online between past lovers who’ve fallen out of the relationship.

Online stalking can occur in other situations as well. Last month California Man James Catalano was charged with one count of Cyber Stalking under 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)(B) for sending over 200 harassing messages to the father of a teenage girl who was murdered during the Parkland mass shooting of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

We will explain below James Catalano’s story, Florida’s Cyber Stalking law, as well as its Federal counterpart.

California Man is Arrested by the FBI

Originally reported by the Daily Beast, 61 years old Fresno resident James Catalano was arrested and is awaiting trial for federal criminal charges in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Federal Complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida by U.S. Magistrate Judge Hon. Jonathan Goodman charges James Catalano with one count of Cyber Stalking for sending over 200 messages to Fred Guttenberg.

Fred Guttenberg is an active gun-control activist whose daughter, Jaime Guttenberg, was one of the 17 victims of the Parkland Mass-Shooting committed by Nikolas Cruz. The Nikolas Cruz trial is currently still in the penalty phase, with many people advocating for the death penalty after Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty in October.

To read more about the jury selection process for the Parkland shooting trial, visit our blog here.

Since the attack and tragic death of his daughter, Guttenberg has been advocating for Gun Safety and has created a webpage to help spread his message. Per his Twitter account, Guttenberg is an outspoken supporter of the Biden administration and backer of anti-Trump allies, which seems to have angered the Fresno resident James Catalano who started sending Guttenberg a slew of harassing and demeaning messages last December. James Catalano used the website that Guttenberg had set up to send him his threatening and demeaning communications. Unbeknownst to him, Guttenberg had set up an I.P. tracking protocol to see, catalog, and track the barrage of messages he was receiving from him.

The messages James Catalano sent were meant to demean, attack, and insult Guttenberg’s beliefs, and political affiliations, and included graphically demeaning acts and offenses at and about his deceased daughter, going as far as accusing Guttenberg of molesting her before her passing. He would sometimes include praises to former President Donald Trump, with explicit insults for current President Joe Biden.

On Wednesday, July, 20th 2022, the FBI showed up at James Catalano’s home, where he waived his Miranda Rights and spoke to the agents. He admitted to being the only person with access to his computer and admitted to sending the messages shown to him by the FBI. In the complaint, the FBI agent states that James Catalano said he was sending these messages because of his perceived notion that Guttenberg was using his dead daughter to push his political agenda.

James Catalano is currently awaiting trial, but it’s still early to know what will come of this alleged criminal violation. James Catalano has had to sign up counsel in California as well as a South Florida attorney to help him in these proceedings.

Federal Cyber Stalking Crime

When the stalking or harassing actions of a person occur online, the crime can be charged as a federal offense if the behavior crossed state lines like the case above.

Under 18 U.S.C. § 2261A(2)(B) a person commits the felony of Stalking under U.S. Federal Law when they use the mail, any type of electronic communication or computer service, or telephone and act with the intent to kill, harass, intimidate, injure, or place another person under surveillance in order to:

  • Place them in a state of reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury. This includes harm to the person, an immediate family member, a pet, service animal, emotional support animal, a horse of that person, or their spouse/intimate partner.
    • Per § 115 of the U.S. Code, an immediate family member includes a spouse, parent, brother or sister, or any person living in that person’s household that is related to him by blood or marriage.
  • Cause, attempts to cause, or could reasonably be expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person, an immediate family member of that person, or their spouse/intimate partner.

For a person to be charged under Federal or State law, the violation must involve an act of Interstate Commerce. The federal anti-stalking law expressly states that use of an electronic communications systems such as a telephone, the Internet, or even regular mail constitutes an act of Interstate Commerce.

A Federal Prosecutor can prove the Intent element of the offense by introducing the person’s threatening voicemails, emails, texts, or Online posts such as Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat video messages.

This Offense can be punished in most cases by Five years in prison but depending on the situation a person could face as much as life if the alleged violation results in the alleged victim’s death, 20 years in prison if the alleged victim suffered some type of permanent disfigurement or life-threatening bodily injury, or even 10 years if they suffered serious bodily injury or the alleged offender used a dangerous weapon.

Florida Cyber Stalking Law

Under Florida Statute § 784.048(1)(d) a person “cyberstalks” another when they:

  • Engage in “conduct to communicate, or to cause to be communicated, directly or indirectly, words, images, or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at or pertaining to a specific person.” 
  • This includes an attempt to access, or conduct that accesses “the online accounts or Internet-connected home electronic systems of another person without their permission,”

So long as either of the above conduct serves no legitimate purpose and it causes substantial emotional distress to the person the conduct is directed towards.

While cyberstalking is a unique form of stalking, as it includes text messages, e-mails, social media posts, blogs, internet forums, or as in the case above, through the content of a website, it must still be directed at a specific person in Florida.

This means that content directed at a group of people, a political team, or sports group would not be considered stalking in Florida so long as the behavior is not directed at any specific person or affiliate of that group. 

This type of violation does not take into consideration the intent of the alleged offender, and instead focuses on the alleged victim’s perceived substantial emotional distress. Under the Statute, this is a first-degree misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

Aggravated Cyberstalking in Florida

Alleged offenders can be charged with aggravated stalking in Florida when their actions include any of the following:

  • Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalk an alleged victim and make a credible threat to that alleged victim;
  • Knowingly, willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalk an alleged victim after an injunction for protection against repeat violence, sexual violence, dating violence, or domestic violence, or after any other court-imposed prohibition of conduct toward the alleged offender or that person’s property;
  • Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks a child under 16 years of age;
  • Willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly cyberstalks an alleged victim after having been sentenced for sexual batterylewd or lascivious offenses, or prohibited computer transmissions and was prohibited from contacting the alleged victim of the offense under an order of no contact.

When the behavior of the person rises to that of a “credible threat,” they could be facing a third-degree felony that is punishable by up to Five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

You can learn more about Cyberstalking in Florida by clicking here.

What is an Injunction Protection?

Under Florida law, an injunction is a court order that directs a person not to have any contact with another person and while this could be granted for a short period of time, depending on the circumstances this restraining order could stretch out indefinitely.

Depending on the situation, the other party may not need to notify you before getting a “restraining order” against you. Under Florida’s Rule of Civil Procedure 1.610, the person seeking the injunction does not need to notify the other party when:

(A) it appears from the specific facts shown by affidavit or verified pleading that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to the movant before the adverse party can be heard in opposition; and

(B) the movant’s attorney certifies in writing any efforts that have been made to give notice and the reasons why notice should not be required.

In many of these petitions, the allegations contained in the petition can be false or exaggerated. An attorney can represent you at the hearing and show reasons why the court should dismiss or reverse the action, and not grant the injunction.

To learn more about Responding or Defending a Restraining Order, click on our blog here.

 Finding A Stalking Defense Attorney in Tallahassee

Whether you’ve been charged with Stalking or Cyberstalking in Leon County, contact the attorneys at Pumphrey Law to discuss the specific facts of your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney in Tallahassee can find applicable defenses to your charge or any other mitigating circumstances.

Our team of attorneys has represented those accused of misdemeanor or felony charges in Florida and will aggressively fight your criminal charge. Contact Pumphrey Law today at (850) 681-7777 for a free consultation about your alleged cyberstalking offense.

Written by Jesus Lozano

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