Survivor’s Advocacy Sparks Policy Change: Court Responds to Kidnapping Case

Survivor's Advocacy Sparks Policy Change Court Responds to Kidnapping Case

Northeastern Michigan — Samantha Stites, who was kidnapped and survived, was featured on UpNorthLive on Monday. Her assailant received a 40–60 year prison sentence.

Sam decided to file a lawsuit in 2014, feeling that she had to after years of being hounded by her eventual assailant. After her college graduation, she thought the stalking would stop when she moved. He would instead apply to the same graduate program in a different state that she was enrolled in. She sought assistance from the Antrim County courts at that point, and a personal protection order was given to her.

Sam attempted to get a new PPO from Grand Traverse County courts in 2020 after the first one expired, but his request was turned down.

So many of you have inquired, “Why?”

In Antrim County, Hon. Judge Norman Hayes was contacted by UpNorthLive after he initially gave Sam a PPO ten years prior. He claimed it to be the longest personal protection order he had ever granted, not including domestic orders.

“Based on the petition and the length of time that he had been stalking her, I felt six years would hopefully be enough to make him realize he can’t engage in that type of behavior,” said the judge.

Survivor's Advocacy Sparks Policy Change Court Responds to Kidnapping Case (1)

Judge Hayes claimed that during his tenure in probate court, he has reviewed hundreds of PPOs. According to whether or not the parties involved have a relationship, he clarified, the burden of proof varies.

“A lot of times they’re not issued because it’s a neighborhood fight, or it’s a property line dispute, that sort of thing,” commented Judge Hayes. “That’s not what a PPO is about, but better safe than sorry.”

Nevertheless, Judge Hayes had heard the argument that a PPO was only a piece of paper.

This sheet of paper is all that it is. Because law enforcement may not always be able to assist you, you must take precautions to keep yourself safe. According to Judge Hayes, “It does provide for the respondent to be arrested if they breach the PPO. I usually tell folks that there’s no way of knowing. As it goes unreported, we’ll never know how many times a PPO has halted behavior afterward.

Sam’s situation, according to Judge Hayes, demonstrates the value of a PPO. Sam was never approached by the man in the years that the PPO issued by Judge Hayes was in effect. until he suddenly appeared at a recreational league soccer match she was participating in in 2021.

Sam’s victim impact statement stated that “He had been tracking my locations for months, yet hadn’t approached me or asked to speak with me since 2014 when I was granted a PPO.” Sam made this statement before her attacker’s sentencing.

After relocating to Grand Traverse County, Sam filed for a new PPO because her old one had expired. In larger counties like Grand Traverse, referees evaluate PPOs and provide recommendations to the judge, as Judge Hayes clarified. Judges analyze the petition.

The Grand Traverse County Circuit Court denied Sam’s PPO request.

Undoubtedly, it ought to have been released. “That further PPO not being issued still bothers me,” Judge Hayes remarked. Does that mean that what he did would not have happened? We’ll never know, but I do know he entered to check if the PPO had been given.”

Court officials stated in the denial that “it’s very unclear what’s going on here as alleged” and “the petitioner and respondent have a complicated history.”

“When he found out that it had been denied that’s when he went into action against this petitioner and that’s just terrible,” stated Judge Hayes. “It worked for six years, him not taking that step or that action, you know in a sense this does prove that PPOs can work.”

It is not fearful to go to court and request a PPO, according to Judge Hayes. As he put it, having something documented is preferable to having nothing.

“I try to not have any regrets about how I went along with life when I suspected he may be following me, but no one ever wants to assume the worst,” Sam Stites stated. We could never have imagined that something as horrible as this would occur. He may try to reach out to me or give me a call, or he might just show up at my house and knock on the door.”

When it comes to Sam going forward, what does justice look like? UpNorthLive wondered.

“The word justice is kind of tough, I can’t rewind the clock and not go through that experience,” Stites commented. Resolving these issues so they don’t occur is what justice requires. supporting the judicial system in identifying and rigorously examining its weak points when it comes to granting PPOs.”

For Stites’ legal and mental health support costs, a GoFundMe page was set up.

Hon. Judge Kevin Elsenheimer was contacted by UpNorthLive to explain. In July 2022, Stites released court documents with UpNorthLive, indicating that Judge Elsenheimer, a member of the 13th Circuit Court, denied her PPO petition. Judge Elsenheimer declared that judgments are made by the court and that he is not permitted to discuss cases he was involved in in public.

His intention is for the public to be aware that Grand Traverse County Circuit Court policy was altered in October 2022 as a result of what transpired with Sam. If the petitioner refers to a prior PPO in their submission, the reviewer must dig up the specifics of that order before recommending whether to approve or deny the petition.

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