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IT worker sued over ‘vengeful’ cyber harassment of policeman who issued a jaywalking ticket

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 30 May 2024, 11:04 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

In an ongoing civil lawsuit, an IT worker is accused of launching a "destructive cyber campaign of hate and revenge" against a police officer and his family after being issued with a ticket for jaywalking.

The allegations against John Christopher Spatafore, who worked at Fresno's Community Hospitals of Regional Central California (CHCC) at the time, are broad. They include digital harassment, sextortion, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, and defamation against the unidentified officer's family. The family is seeking $16.5 million in damages and fees.

The saga began on October 25, 2019, when Spatafore was issued a ticket for jaywalking. Per the civil complaint's account, police bodycam footage of the arresting officer, the main plaintiff, showed the IT worker becoming upset before asking strange, personal, and "vaguely threatening" questions focused on the officer's home address and whether he had children. He also allegedly asked the policeman if he was aware that many officers die of suicide.

Over the following two weeks, the officer - identified only as John Doe - said he believed Spatafore was trying to break into his personal email and Xfinity accounts. Doe received at least 13 password reset emails during this time, which led to his assumption that the defendant was launching a cyberattack against him.

What followed was a barrage of emails, calls, and text messages sent to Officer Doe from all manner of companies with which Spatafore allegedly registered the officer's details, making false inquiries about luxury car purchases and solar panel fittings. The original complaint [PDF], filed on October 19 2021 alleges that Spatafore contacted "thousands" of companies and that contact attempts persisted up until the complaint was filed.

John Doe also alleges that there were "indications" that attempts to break into his home Wi-Fi and router were made, suggesting the defendant was within close proximity to the family home.

Per the complaint, Spatafore is also alleged to have filed three false police reports. The first impersonated the plaintiff, using his home address, date of birth, email address, and all three phone numbers (home, mobile, work). It included details of a hit and run committed by the officer, riding a police motorcycle on a sidewalk while appearing to be intoxicated on drugs and laughing aloud. The events were found to be untrue following an internal investigation.

The second false report was made impersonating the officer's sister-in-law, purportedly filing the report against Doe on behalf of his wife, alleging domestic violence. The false reports led to another investigation during which the officer's wife, identified only as Jane Doe, was questioned. The complaint asserts that the "humiliating" story spread throughout their community and John Doe's workplace, the Fresno Police Department.

The details of the third false report were never revealed to John Doe by his supervisor, which the complaint suggests was a measure taken to protect the officer.

According to the complaint, all three reports were traced back to an IP address at CHCC, which the plaintiff claims suggests Spatafore had used his employer's computers to file the reports.

According to Doe's complaint, based on the information included in the reports combined with the nature of Spatafore's employer, local law enforcement suspected the defendant to have also accessed John and Jane Doe's medical records either by himself or with assistance from hospital staff. 

The plaintiff goes on to allege that CHCC investigated and confirmed the reports were made using its computers, as were the thousands of fake inquiries to various companies, but said it couldn't determine if medical records were accessed. The complaint went on to claim that CHCC also told Fresno Police that Spatafore had heightened privileges in his role that allowed him to access medical records.

A second amended complaint [PDF] filed on August 31 2022 suggested that Fresno Police confirmed Spatafore had accessed the medical records, but doesn't mention the CHCC confirming this.

The complaint alleges that Spatafore then began a sextortion campaign that directed threatening messages to John and Jane Doe and their daughter. The messages suggested their personal computers and webcams had been compromised and that sensitive videos would be published online within 96 hours unless a payment was made. 

The plaintiffs say the messages were set up using an app and they were still being transmitted at the time of the complaint being filed.

The filing claims Spatafore also posed as John Doe when speaking to the City of Fresno, requesting essential services such as water and trash collection be terminated on Thanksgiving Day - November 28, 2019. The family had to spend time explaining it was an impersonation and get the services reinstated. 

The defendant was arrested a week earlier, on November 21, while driving within a mile of the Doe family household. The complaint says a black bag in the passenger-side footwell of Spatafore's car contained an unregistered revolver handgun for which he had no license to carry. A subsequent search of his property also found drugs, the complaint alleges.

The plaintiffs claim CHCC informed them that Spatafore's employment was terminated on the day of his arrest.

Spatafore later waived his Miranda rights and confessed to "nearly everything" he was accused of doing to the defendants, or so the complaint alleges. He also wrote an apology to the Doe family, who are seeking $5.55 million in restitution for each of the three plaintiffs.

CHCC is also being sued by the plaintiffs, mainly due to allegations of negligence and what was couched as its failure to curb Spatafore's actions sooner. The complaint alleges that CHCC was or should have been aware of Spatafore's actions since he was so open about it in the workplace and staff's online activities were monitored. 

CHCC denies each and every allegation leveled against it, according to its legal response [PDF]. It has also made repeated requests for discovery responses [PDF] from the Doe family which have not always been met, even with deadlines extended.

The Register approached CHCC for comment but it declined, saying: "Because this case is pending, we are unable to comment."

The next important date in the calendar for the case is June 7 - a pretrial discovery conference - which should offer all parties the opportunity to disclose any evidence they believe should be provided.

Completed treatment

Spatafore previously faced criminal charges in addition to the civil lawsuit the Doe family are pursuing against him. However, the criminal case was placed on hold after his lawyer, Corina Burchfield, had him placed in a mental health diversion program.

Completion of such programs can lead to the dismissal of criminal charges and the sealing of arrest records if defendants qualify and complete the full course of treatment, which can last up to two years. 

According to court records which The Reg has seen, he "successfully completed ... [the] diversion program, after which the criminal counts were 'dismissed'."

Burchfield told local news outlet The Fresno Bee that Spatafore, a grandfather and regular churchgoer, wasn't "in the right mental state at the time."

"When all of this happened, when he was arrested, he apologized and has been remorseful and apologetic," Burchfield told the publication. "He lost his job of 17 years over this. It was very out of character for him. It ruined his life."

Speaking to the claims made by the police officer, Burchfield said: "He was incredibly upset because this crossed over into his family life and he is using every possible outlet to punish my client and get some sort of compensation," she said. "But [Spatafore] got the help he needed and he is no danger to anybody." ®

 

https://www.theregister.com//2024/05/30/it_worker_defamation_lawsuit_police/

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