The woman might never have known the disturbing fact about her neighbor if she hadn’t stepped out to gaze at a meteor shower.
That innocent act led to a criminal case in which home security cameras captured key evidence.
It was August 2013, around 11:15 p.m., and her husband and children were sleeping. She sat on her front porch step on a cul-de-sac of $300,000 houses in northeast Wichita. It was trash night. Wind rustled plastic bags of yard clippings set out for pickup. She noticed her neighbor’s silhouette in his open garage a couple of houses down and across the street. He stuck his head out, stepped back into his garage and grabbed a hooded jacket just inside the door.
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She just wanted to appreciate the stars.
In the darkness, she watched him walk up the driveway next door to her house and pull his hoodie up over his head.
He never looked at her. He continued between the house next door and her house. She moved behind a pillar, waiting to see if he was leaving, slipped into her house, turned off the bathroom light and carefully lifted a blind in a front closet window to look for him. A landscaping light under the window went dark as something moved over the light.
Something rustled the shrubs just outside the window, and it scared her.
She started keeping mental notes about what was just beginning to unfold, an experience that she and her husband shared with an Eagle reporter this past week.
The Eagle has recently been reporting on how home security cameras are increasingly common in Wichita and about how residents are getting video of suspicious people walking up to their homes in the night.
For the woman’s privacy and because she was a victim of what authorities said was a sexually motivated crime, The Eagle is not identifying her or the neighbor.
Push to install cameras
Later that night, after she had retreated into her house, she saw her neighbor’s garage door close and assumed he had gone home.
If he had been a stranger, she would have called police immediately. But because he was a neighbor, she wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, she said.
Still, it took her a long time to calm down. She didn’t want to wake her husband. The next morning, she told him. At first, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
The same morning, she called police and was told that she didn’t have much recourse unless officers caught her neighbor trespassing.
Her husband delicately placed mulch around the landscape light by the shrubs to see if it would be disturbed. A couple of days after she saw her neighbor walk over, they saw that the mulch had been scattered.
The husband decided to buy security cameras. Late at night, the couple hid in their house with the lights off so it looked like everyone was asleep.
They watched the same neighbor walk over in the dark. One night, he put on his hoodie and went to the opposite side of their house, where their children slept. Another night, something obscured the landscape light again.
The husband spent a Sunday afternoon and evening working to install security cameras. To wire in the devices, he had to crawl through the attic, drenched in sweat and coated with insulation. He installed night-vision, high-definition cameras. He picked small cameras so they would be difficult to notice. One of the cameras captured the view from the couple’s house back to the neighbor’s.
One night, they saw the neighbor go to other houses on the street but couldn’t see what he was doing. He didn’t seem to stay as long at the other houses.
The husband kept a minute-by-minute log of every observable action by his neighbor over the nights. Later, authorities would refer to the log and match it to the man’s movements on video.
In two weeks, the couple saw or recorded that he had been to their house eight times.
They hoped it would just stop.
They kept their late-night, stealthy work from their sleeping children.
The husband felt it was time to tell an adviser what they were seeing. Because of his religious beliefs, the husband felt reluctant to take legal action against his neighbor – a fellow Christian, a man with a family and a good job.
But one adviser emphatically told him that it wasn’t a religious issue – it was a matter for police to investigate, and that it couldn’t wait.
The police stakeout
So the husband talked with Wichita police about their problem.
The husband remembered what one of the cops told him, something like: “If he’s doing this … with this frequency … do you really think he’s that far from stepping into your house and attacking your wife, your kids?”
Fifteen nights after the woman first saw the neighbor walk over in the hoodie, police staked out the house.
After the couple put their children to bed, the husband drove to a parking lot where two armed police officers, dressed in black and wearing protective vests, got into his SUV and rode back with him behind tinted windows. The husband pulled into his garage and closed the door. In the house, the officers methodically checked doors and windows, familiarizing themselves with the layout. They had the couple close all the blinds.
In the couple’s bedroom, police watched on a DVR some of the video the husband had captured from previous nights.
The officers informed the couple that other police were in an undercover car on the street behind them. Additional police were stationed in marked units ready to respond, along with a K-9 team.
The four waited, even relaxed a bit, chatting about football.
Then something appeared on the live video monitor – the neighbor in the dark, heading toward their house.
‘We have a visual’
As the cops went on alert, telling the couple to remain calm, one of the officers spoke into a radio. Cop-speak broke out: “White male, hoodie, shorts. …. We have a visual.”
One of the two officers in the house seemed to be in charge. He told the others to wait before they moved in. They wanted enough footage of the suspect at the couple’s house.
Then the officer on the radio yelled a command, and he and the other officer scrambled out separate doors.
The couple watched and heard it unfold from their bedroom: the neighbor running; officers converging; police yelling “Freeze,” “Stop”; the neighbor putting up his hands.
And at around 11 p.m. on the cul-de-sac where she had gone out to see the meteor shower 15 nights earlier, Wichita police had her neighbor down spread-eagle in his shorts and hoodie.
Later, authorities told the couple that their neighbor denied wrongdoing.
Then police told him they had video.
The footage collected by the couple showed that he had spent 15 to 45 minutes a night outside their house, they said in their interview this past week.
He was in view part of that time. One clip showed him crawling up a slope on the side of their house.
Another video revealed him pressing his ear to the side of their house.
“They (police) said his focus was on her,” the husband said.
Investigators said the neighbor had specific fetishes.
The couple said they realized how easy it was to look into their house. Even with the blinds drawn, someone could see through the little slots that carry thread through the blinds.
What was chilling, the husband said, is how nonchalant the neighbor seemed as he approached their house.
Police met with residents to talk about the arrest. The neighbors were upset and angry over what the man had been accused of doing.
And for the next several days after the arrest, the woman who had been the man’s focus felt terrified.
How system handled it
Two days after the arrest, she filed for a protection-from-stalking order in Sedgwick County District Court, writing in the petition that on Aug. 13, 2013, she saw her neighbor “walk from his house to our house and hang out by one bathroom and closet windows, standing in shrubs in front of window. Several subsequent events of looking in our windows late at night. (Surveillance) camera evidence obtained.
“The frequency/nature of this behavior suggests that our/my safety could be in jeopardy,” she wrote.
A couple of weeks after the neighbor’s arrest, prosecutors charged him in Sedgwick County District Court with one count of misdemeanor stalking. The charge said that on the night police arrested him, “he did then and there unlawfully engage in a course of conduct targeted at a specific person” – the woman – knowing that it would put her in fear for herself or her family’s safety.
He was released on a $2,500 bond and ordered not to have any contact with witnesses, including the woman.
In March 2014, an assistant district attorney filed a notice that prosecutors were requesting that the crime be designated as sexually motivated.
The next month, the neighbor pleaded guilty to misdemeanor stalking. He served some time in jail, records show. The court put him on probation for two years and ordered him not to have any contact with his victim and to undergo a sexual-offender evaluation and mental-health evaluation and follow the recommendations. He had to submit to GPS monitoring for the first year of his probation and a curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
He eventually moved from the block.
His probation ended last month.
‘As we know now ...’
After the stalking, the husband put security lights around the house and added two security cameras. His experience showed him the value of surveillance footage.
Since the arrest, the couple have heard of other instances in which people in their neighborhood saw someone lurking outside houses or looking into windows. There’s no proof it was the same neighbor, the couple said. But it demonstrated to them that people saw things and dismissed them or didn’t adequately share them.
Part of the lesson, the woman said, is “to have your wits about you and talk to your neighbors.”
Although her husband had at first wrestled with the moral question of how to respond to his neighbor’s actions, he says now: “I don’t feel the least guilty about him getting what he deserved.”
He still feels compassion: “I’ve been in prayer about this man’s recovery.”
His wife said: “Hopefully, he can get the help that he needs. It’s a wake-up call for him to change his behavior.
“As we know now,” she said, “deep-seated addictions like that don’t go away overnight.”