Gov. Jay Inslee signed a new stalking-protection law Saturday at Tacoma’s Birney Elementary School, just a short distance away from the spot where teacher Jennifer Paulson was shot and killed by an obsessive stalker three years ago.
The new law, titled “The Jennifer Paulson Stalking Protection Order Act” in Paulson’s memory, is an effort to increase protection for people being followed or harassed by strangers.
“No citizen of our state should have to live with a dark shadow, and that’s what a stalker is,” Inslee said in a brief address before the signing ceremony. “This will finally shine a red light on a serious crime.”
Stalking is already illegal in Washington, but most attention goes to protecting victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
The main recourse for those stalked by strangers has been an anti-harassment protection order, a document that supporters of the bill said is not taken seriously by law enforcement agencies.
“Frankly, an anti-harassment order isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, who spoke along with Inslee to a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the school for the signing ceremony. Goodman is a Kirkland Democrat.
The new law creates a civil protection order for victims who don’t qualify for domestic violence or sexual assault protection orders. It also expands categories of behavior that qualify as felony stalking and increases penalties for felony stalking.
“Now,” Goodman said, “when creepy, sick people are watching someone for years, as was Jennifer Paulson’s case, law enforcement will take it seriously.”
Inslee and Goodman both praised Paulson’s father, Ken Paulson, for his determination over the past three years in advocating for a tougher stalking law.
Jennifer Paulson, who taught special education at Birney, was 30 years old when she died in February 2010. She and her killer, Jed Ryan Waits, met when they were both students at Seattle Pacific University. Both graduated in 2003.
The two never dated, but Waits obsessively fixated on Paulson, according to court records. Paulson complained that he followed her and sometimes called her as many as 10 or 15 times a day.
Paulson requested and received an anti-harassment order, which theoretically prohibited Waits from coming within 1,000 feet of Birney Elementary School or Paulson’s home.
About 20 minutes after he shot Paulson, Waits died during a confrontation with a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy. He shot himself in the head as the deputy fired at him.
Art Jarvis, who was superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools when Paulson was killed, said Saturday that the new law gives some relief to Paulson’s many friends and co-workers.
“It was a morning that changed many of our lives forever,” Jarvis said. “This gives closure to those of us who wondered afterward, ‘What could we do? What are the lessons that are learned?’ ”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693