Calif. Police Officer Relentlessly Harassed after Jaywalking Ticket

May 27, 2024
A Fresno police officer has filed a lawsuit against a man he claims subjected him and his family to a "cyber campaign of hate and revenge" for nearly a month after receiving a jaywalking ticket.

For nearly a month, a Fresno police officer and his family were the targets of a relentless campaign of harassment and revenge by a man furious over being given a ticket for jaywalking, according to a civil lawsuit.

The officer, who is identified in the lawsuit as John Doe, was on duty Oct. 25, 2019, about 2 p.m. when he spotted a man, later identified as John Christopher Spatafore, illegally crossing the street in downtown Fresno near Fresno City Hall and the railroad tracks.

The 55-year-old Spatafore worked in information technology for Community Regional Medical Center and was about a block away from his workplace. A police report described Spatafore as “extremely confrontational” during questioning, but he took the ticket and both men went on their way.

The encounter should have been over at that point, but what followed was a series of bizarre events that the officer’s lawyer, Brian Whelan, called a “cyber campaign of hate and revenge” against the officer, his wife and daughter.

The officer is suing Spatafore and the hospital for, among other things, invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision of an employee.

The officer is seeking no less than $5.5 million each for himself, his wife and daughter. Punitive damages are to be determined by a jury at trial.

A pre-trial discovery conference is scheduled for June 6 and a trial potentially later this year.

Harassment against Fresno police officer and family

Court records and police reports detail the lengths Spatafore took to carry out his plan of revenge. A few days after writing the jaywalking ticket, the officer began receiving password reset codes, indicating someone was trying to hack his email account.

The attempts continued at least 10 more times over the next several days. Then the phone calls, emails and text messages began.

Spatafore had unleashed thousands of information requests to car dealers, solar companies and retailers, according to the lawsuit.

In one day the officer received 100 texts to his personal phone.

“Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, and Maserati dealerships started to deluge John (the officer’s pseudonym) with calls ‘responding to your request’ concerning online orders and online inquiries that John never made,“ according to the lawsuit. “Further, there were also indications of attempted intrusion into Plaintiffs’ wireless internet which suggested that Spatafore lurked outside Plaintiffs’ home at all hours of the day and night to hack into Plaintiffs’ wireIess internet and was within the short radius of the wireless internet’s reach.”

In a deposition, Spatafore denied hacking into the officer’s email account. Still, the harassment escalated.

He filed a false police report accusing the officer of being involved in a hit-and-run on Oct. 1, 2019. In the narrative portion of the police report, Spatafore wrote: “Police motorcycle riding on sidewalk without lights or sirens. Appeared intoxicated on drugs all while laughing aloud.”

An investigation by Fresno police found that the incident didn’t happen, and a search warrant later revealed the online report was tied to Spatafore’s IP address at the hospital.

Spatafore filed a second false report, this time alleging the officer’s wife was the victim of domestic violence. He also told police the officer’s sister-in-law had photographic evidence of the abuse. Although a police investigation found the report to be false, it took a toll on the couple.

“The humiliating false reports of false domestic violence spread in the community and in the Fresno Police Department and John and Jane have been humiliated and forced and compelled to refute defamatory claims,” according to the lawsuit.

Fresno hospital fires IT worker

Despite the fear of getting caught, Spatafore was relentless in his “vindictive attacks.”

The officer and his wife received a message indicating their personal computer’s camera had been hacked and the hacker had compromising videos of them that he threatened to release unless his demands were met.

“I require your 100% attention for the up coming 24hours, or will certainly make sure you live out of guilt for the rest of your life span...I know nearly everything about you ... ” Spatafore is alleged to have written, according to the lawsuit.

While some of the harassment was threatening, other incidences were infuriating. Spatafore allegedly tried to get the officer’s water and trash services turned off on Thanksgiving Day. The officer was forced to intervene with city staff to stop it from happening.

Nearly a month after he began his online harassment, Spatafore was arrested by Fresno police on Nov. 21, 2019. He was driving within a mile of the officer’s home when police pulled him over. Inside his car was a loaded .38 caliber revolver that was not registered. Spatafore also didn’t have a license to carry the handgun and denied being the owner.

The hospital fired Spatafore on Nov. 21, 2019 after finding he used the organization’s equipment, including laptop computer, to carry out his revenge plan.

During an interview with police, Spatafore admitted to the online harassment, adding that he used public information websites and Facebook profiles to gain information, not hospital records.

Hospital officials declined to comment on the civil lawsuit.

“Because this case is pending, we are unable to comment,” said Michelle Von Tersch, senior vice president, communications and legislative affairs.

Criminal case suspended

Spatafore was charged with two counts of unauthorized use of personal identifying Information, one count of having a concealed firearm in a vehicle, one misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property and one misdemeanor count of making a false report.

There was also a restraining order issued against him by the court, forbidding him from contacting the officer or his family.

But the criminal case against Spatafore was suspended after his lawyer, Corina Burchfield, was successful in getting him into a mental health diversion program.

The program is designed to provide treatment for defendants with mental health issues instead of sending them straight to prison. Treatment can last up to two years.

Burchfield, a senior associate attorney with the Sawl Law Group in Fresno, defended the decision to have Spatafore treated for mental illness, saying “he was not in the right mental state at the time.”

She said Spatafore is a changed man who is active in his church and is also a grandfather.

“When all of this happened, when he was arrested, he apologized and has been remorseful and apologetic,” she said. “He lost his job of 17 years over this. It was very out of character for him. It ruined his life.”

Burchfield, however, also understands the incident was traumatic for the officer and his family.

“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 he (Spatafore) got the help he needed, and he is no danger to anybody.”

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