Editors note: Strange things have been happening to The Rock River Times staff lately.
The incidents could be chalked up to coincidence, but too many have occurred for it all to be chance. In fact, the mishaps have been piling up. We have been hesitant to write about them because we know we are in a tough business, and its part of the job. We have a sign saying, No whining!
However, after recent legal developments, recent phone problems, etc., and after this weekends events, we thought our readers should knoweven if this is all by chance. Accordingly, please bear with the length.
The first incident happened on May 12.
Imagine a very loud Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! on your front door, jolting you out of a Friday night nap on the couch. Groggily you get up and run to the door thinking, Its only about 7 p.m. God, what is this? Trouble down at the shop? Then caution takes over and before opening the door, you ask, Who is it?
Police! Open up! is shouted out on your front porch, through the door.
Naturally, you open the door quickly, and six to eight policemen are on your front porch, the porch steps and in your front yard. Every one of them exhibits a state of professional readiness, with hands on or hovering near their guns. As many squad cars are parked every which way in the street. Neighbors are coming out of their houses to look.
Do you have a gun? demands an officer, quickly looking you up and down through the screen door.
You changed into your gym trunks when you got home, thanking God the week was over, ate dinner in front of the tube, snoozed, and then, Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Yes, youre still in your gym trunks, standing in front of six to eight policemen.
So you turn around slowly and say, Do I look like I have a gun? What the hell is going on, Officer?
A woman called 911. She said you were her boyfriend. She said shes in there with you, and youve been fighting. She says you have a gun and are threatening suicide, the policeman replies warily.
Im here alone. I dont have a girlfriend (durn), and you just woke me up from a nap. There must be some mistake.
Why would someone call, giving your address, and say that, then? asks the officer.
Either its the wrong address, or someone is trying to cause me grief, comes as the natural reply.
Nonetheless, a 911 call has been made. You know these fellows are doing their job. A report of someone with a gun is very serious, so you let them come in without a search warrant and look in each room of the house.
If this happened to you once, youd have a good story to tell, now and then. Saying at first you were in shock to see all those policemen ready to draw on you if necessary, then how incredulous the whole situation became, and then after it was over, how anger and the victim mentality set inbut hey, youre an adult, chalk it up to …
However, since all of this really happened to yours truly on May 12, 10 other crank 911 calls of a similar nature have been made to my home address. Of the total of 11 false 911s to my house, six happened last week. Of that series, the first was near midnight on Wednesday. The second was Friday morning, just before I was leaving for work. I was putting on my necktie.
Once again, it was the same drill. Everybody on the porch ready to go. Same phantom girlfriend, gun, etc.. Let em in. They look around, and we end the tour upstairs in my bedroom. They are satisfied no one else is there and that Im not waving around a gun.
Glad I made the bed, today, I joke. The officers are familiar now and sort of at ease.
Imagine you are them, and you have to go to a call where someone supposedly has a gun. Youd be a bit jumpy; and hey, the guy owns a newspaper! But what the heck, you now know that this has happened before, so you talk about who might be doing this.
Could be someone you know, might not be. Might be someone who was angry about a story in The Rock River Times. Could be a nut. Once again, Who knows, you all agree.
But I see the officers glancing at some of the various martial arts equipment around the house. They know Im getting angry about this syndrome. Yet they are professional and courteous. They know Ive told them this is the last tour of the house without a search warrant. I am fed up. Things are still a bit tense. As the four officers go downstairs and out the front door, and the last one slips on some magazine on the steps. I grab his arm to catch him, but hes fine. They leave. I close the door.
Then it hits me. I remember trying to catch the officer as he slipped on the stairs. What if I made the wrong move? Police have been known to make mistakes. I could be shot!
I must say that is a far-out scenario, but accidents do happen.
I must also say that every time Rockford Police Department officers have been at my house, they have been diligent, thorough, firm, polite and understanding. They have not slipped up once in any way. They are very professional. These are 911 calls.
I was angry after three or four of these visits, complete with the banging on the front door, all the squad cars, all the 20 questions and all the tours of the house by armed men. It was intimidating and an invasion of my privacyover and over again. But I went out of my way to try to be polite to the officers.
So I went to work and began my Friday with a call to Police Chief Jeff Nielsen. He was not available. I explained my situation to his secretary. She connected me with Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro. I explained the situation to him. I also explained that I had investigated the methodology to solve this problem and given the information to the sergeant I spoke with back in May, after the first instance. Why had this situation not been solved?
Does it sound like Im being vague? I am. I do not want to hinder in any way the investigation of this case by giving away any of the particulars; however, I am not going to put up with any more Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! on my front door, complete with Police! Open up!
As Iasparro and I agreed on Friday, I do not fit the profile the caller has repeatedly drawn. The calls are obviously crank calls!
As of Friday, after my conversation with Iasparro, and after Community Relations Sergeant Mike Booker left my office, I was satisfied that Rockfords finest had my case flagged, and the syndrome was over. I finished the day out and packed up my briefcase and left at around 6 p.m..
I was taking the weekend off. I usually stop down for at least an hour on Saturday, sometimes I work longer. Sometimes I work on Sunday. But this was a tough week, so I was looking forward to sleeping in and getting some projects done at home for a change.
I went home. Ate. Puttered around the house. Watched some television. Set up projects for the next day (two new books to read and a room to empty out into four new bookcases).
Saturday morning, 9 a.m. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! on my front door, complete with Police! Open up!
I was in a deep sleep, and flew out of the bed. Fumbled for the infamous gym trunks, top and stumbled down the stairs. Opened the front door. Nobody there. Heard officers banging on the second-story door around the side of the house. I was really angry. Other squads are now pulling up.
What the hell is going on! I shouted.
Once again, 911 call. Man with a gun. Girlfriend. Fight. Suicidal.
I explained the conversations with Iasparro and Booker. Still, it was a 911 call; they had to respond.
Twenty questions started again.
Whats your name?
Whats your date of birth?
Gentlemen, you already have that information (from each of their other visits), Ive had enough. Goodbye.
I went inside. So much for the weekend off. I tried to cool off. Laid back down, scenarios floating through my head. Got up. Ate. Read. Watched TV. Putzed around. Took a nap.
4:55 in the afternoon. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! on my front door, complete with Police! Open up!
Same drill. Only now, I am told Iasparro gave the orders to respond. 911 call. Yes, they must be there. They dont want to be there.
Tell your detectives to get off their asses. I know they have a huge work load. I dont know who is doing this. I own a newspaper. Do you know how many people I irritate in a week? Thats my job. I am a pain in the ass to some people. Leave me alone! I was rude. Telling the truth is rude sometimes to the hearer, especially if its about yourself and your misdeeds.
3:50 a.m. Sunday morning. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! on my front door, complete with Police! Open up!
I wont even describe getting up.
This time, there is only one officer, complete with a duty sergeant.
Sorry we had to wake you up. We had another 911 call.
Yes, they must be there. Yes, they dont want to be there. Iasparro had now given orders for just a sergeant and a patrol officer.
9:00 a.m. Sunday morning. A polite knock.
Who is it?
Another 911 call.
I knew him. Sergeant Doug Block, head of the police union. Another officer was along and left. We talked. Alderman Dick Goral was doing a ride-along with Block. We talked.
We all agreed somebody obviously has it out for me.
Does somebody want you to move? asks Block.
I reply, I dont think so.
The property next to me was just sold; and when they did the survey, I lost half of my back yard. The home has been in the family since the early 1950s. Ive lived here since I was three years old. I bought the home after my Ma died in the mid-80s. I knew there were screwy property lines. Thats how my Ma as a single mother was able to afford to buy the property because the garage behind the house, plus what I thought was a small garden and parking space, belonged to the property next door. I always thought the back yard was mine. I maintained and landscaped the back yard, and the garden and parking space. The last two owners never used those areas. I built a retaining wall and path with the old limestone from NAT. Now they tell me half of its not mine. I am supposed to meet with the new owner. He seems like a nice fellow. I think well work it out. But my property is in question.
As to neighbors, no hard words or times. Always a wave or a nod. In fact, just a few weeks ago another neighbor and I tried to help one of the neighbor women get her car started. She knocked on my door late at night. After a lengthy effort and the onset of rain, we were unsuccessful because the car had severe mechanical problems.
In the 80s, other neighbors and I had started a neighborhood watch program because of trespassing and drug houses, but that association had disbanded. Still, some of us still call problems in to the police.
As Goral and Block and I spoke about the situation and the weekends events, I realized several things. These illegal 911 calls have been going on since May. From the start, I have spoken to patrol men and women, sergeants, and detectives. Until Friday, no real action had occurred by the detectives or administration.
The case load on the detectives is unreasonable, and they have all they can do to just manage the paper work. Thats the administrations problem.
Nonetheless, I have a pretty good idea of what would happen if I made crank 911 calls. Since this case has been around since May, and I have been calling on it, I have to conclude that the response to my house only has to be a)poor management, b)willful neglect, c)incompetence, or d)harassment.
After this weekend, it certainly feels like harassment.
On Monday morning, I came in and told my staff of my weekend experience and that we were running all of our stories.
Although I thought my case had been put under Iasparros wing, Chief Nielsen had called.
Before I returned his call, I called Mayor Scotts office to voice sentiments a, b, c and d. His secretary Ruby was very polite and understanding, and said she would tell the mayor after he came out of a meeting.
Detective Phillip Ledesma called and asked when I was available. We met in the afternoon. I related the history of the case, the weekends events, and how angry I was. He handled me pretty well, and said he would go to work on it.
Oddly, in the middle of our meeting, Chief Nielsen called. Our conversation was not a pleasant one.
I began by saying that I wanted to be very clear that the officers I had dealt with over the weekend had been very courteous and professional.
However, when I related sentiments a, b, c and d, we began to tangle.
I said after my conversations with Iasparro and Booker, that I was angry with Iasparro because of the full-fledged response twice on Saturday, plus the Sunday wake up calls.
He noted that 911 calls must be responded to; and if the police didnt respond to my call of a person with a gun at my address, Id really hang him out to dry.
He also said with three shifts, it takes time to inform all the dispatchers and officers. I thought Iasparro had done that on Friday, guess not.
Ledesma said that officers were informed at Mondays roll call of the fake calls to my address.
Nielsen and I reached our loudest point of disagreement as to whether or not the police showing up at my house en masse constituted purposeful harassment. To summarize, he said such a concept was lunacy.
Ledesma was uncomfortable about the shouting that went on between his chief as he put it and myself. But we parted amicably, and hes working on the case.
My staff was glad to go home Monday night, as was I. I returned to work on this story after dinner.
About 3 a.m. a black male wearing a high school letter jacket, with sleeves a different color than the body, tore up all the papers from the top rack of the stand in front of The Rock River Times and walked away. I called 911. The dispatcher took my information, and I said it looked like the fellow who had been stalking me since we first took on the Lincoln Hotel issue. He used to live at the Lincoln. The officer who responded said this man was released from jail. It was time for bed.
On Tuesday, Mayor Scott returned my call, and I complimented him on the patrol officers. I also said it was a good thing he was returning my call a day later because I had cooled down considerably.
I also told him the platoon of policemen showing up at my door had to stop. I also told him of some of the other harassing phone calls and incidents weve been getting at the paper. More on that later.
Scott was very cordial and said the department was doing their best.
I told him things were adding up in such a way that the saying, Just because youre paranoid doesnt mean theyre not out to get you, really rings true. He laughed and said he had used that saying recently himself.
Later, Iasparro called, and we came to an agreement on how such calls would be handled in the future.
As of Tuesday night, the case has not been solved.
As I have been relating this to you, our readers, the staff at the paper kept bringing up other strange, unsolved occurrences at the paper.
Lisa Palmeno, queen of sales at the paper, brought up the letter that was sent to Milbury Cadillac, saying that our paper was a lousy example of journalism and that our coverage of 9/11 and Bush was unpatriotic. Our contract with Milbury expired, and they did not renew. The sales manager said we did not fit in the current budget, but he would advertise with us later. No such luck so far.
She also noted her blowout on a radial tire that was only six months old, as well as my two flat tires in one week last month.
We didnt report those to the police. Just coincidence.
We did report a series of phone calls Molly Fleming, our receptionist and calendar gal, took and wrote down.
Notice the date is very close to when I received my first crank 911 call, sending a platoon of police to my home.
May 23, 2002. Approx. 9 a.m.
NOTE: Not direct quotes, but written down directly after the call.
CALLER: Hi, I just wanted to let you know that your articles on Bush (spec. the current ones by Frank Schier & Joe Baker) are outrageous misinformations. You can tell that redneck, hillbilly editor that he should leave the news to the professionals, and that there are some people out there who dont agree with the opinions of some guy out of a hick town like Rockford.
Molly: Well, sir, would you like to leave your name and number so that the editor can call you back?
CALLER: No, I DONT! (loudly). You just tell that misinformed hick what I said. (hangs up)
June 6, 2002. 8:52 a.m.
CALLER: I just want to let you know that because of all your articles against our president of the United States, I am dumping your papers every time I find them.
Molly: …uuuum, all right, sir. You are aware that that is illegal?
CALLER: Its not illegal if I dont get caught. So Im being a good little fascist and dumping your papers.
Molly: Well, you have a right to your own opinion, but it is still illegal. Perhaps youd like to address this issue with our editor?
CALLER: Yeah, maybe Ill do that. Is he in?
Molly: No, sir, he will be available at about 9:30.
CALLER: Well, you can tell your yellow-bellied editor that this fascist will call him, and Ill still be dumping your papers. (hangs up).
These statements are as accurate as possible, and recorded to the best of my ability within 10 minutes after each call.
September 6, 2002
I recorded this message for Frank Schier
after completing a personal phone call at work:
Frank, at 11:45 a.m., while talking to my mother, the call was interrupted 3 times by a triple, staccato ringing/buzzing noise. Just thought youd like to know. A tap, maybe?
This sound was also noted by other employees on various outgoing calls in the same day, and on various other occasions since then.
The May 23, 2002, and June 6, 2002 cases have been reported to the Rockford Police Department and remain unsolved.
As we were working on deadline, a Realtor friend called. I said, Can you hear that loud clicking?
She said, Yes, thats what its supposed to sound like when your phone is tapped.
Last month we had advertisers faxing us because they called for three days in a row and just got the busy signal. Were busy, but not that busy.
So we called Choice One, our phone provider, and a serviceman from Ameritech showed up because they handle the lines. He said he couldnt find anything.
The next day, another Ameritech serviceman showed up and said he was here to check the line. He went outside and said it was just a little problem with a slight loss of power in the line. He found one line that was split.
A friend in the know told me that kind of split is where tapping devices are placed.
Chris Bowman received an e-mail from us that was a virus bomb. Our provider told us someone had to know our password to send an e-mail in our name.
Weve had a variety of viruses, even with the Norton Anti-Virus program. They seem to be getting in through the back door in Windows Internet Explorer. Such fun. Its just a coincidence.
In this issue, Ill close with the incident of my car being shot in the drivers side door with a paint ball gun. Please note the picture on page 10. Symbolic? I discovered it when I came out to go to work in the morning this summer.
To whoever is doing all this, I will still come out to go to work every morning, as will all the staff at The Rock River Times. We are a vehicle of free speech and will not be intimidated or silenced.
Our long-time friend and employee, editor, writer, typesetter, Jon Bystrom, put it the best.
He said, This is a First Amendment issue. Thats why we are bringing light upon the Bush administration, the USA Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. We dont want a police state. I lived in Argentina and it was a police state. Rights mean nothing.
I have experienced what its like to have a police state on my front porch. I hope you never have to face a bunch of policemen at your door, after being shocked out of a sound sleep by, Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! complete with Police! Open up!
God bless the Constitution of the United States and your right to write to this paper and tell us what you think. We will print it, even if we disagree with you. God bless free speech.
Would you extend us the same courtesy and right?
To be continued … more strange occurrences at The Rock River Times, including distribution problems, more weird phone calls and letters, computer hacking, missing files, vandalisms, legal challenges that have beset Jon Bystrom and the rest of the staff at The Rock River Times.