News

The new forms of stalking and what you should know

Posted at 8:28 PM, Sep 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-14 22:45:23-04

MACOMB COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — “I love my kids and want to see them one day,” said Tom Markaj who is currently facing stalking charges.

Tom Markaj lost custody of his children because of a stalking case he has in Macomb County.

Markaj vented in a way that you might describe as passionate or obsessive, depending on your perspective.

He blamed his ex’s attorney for comments made in court that he says were not true.

A judge issued a restraining order telling him to leave her alone and charged him with stalking after the attorney complained about his unwanted contact, protests outside her office and social media posts.

Tom says he was shocked that his posts might be included as evidence of a crime.

“That platform gives the sender and receiver the ability to block someone. Nobody blocked me or said don’t message me on the internet,” Markaj said.

He now is scheduled to face trial next month. His attorney, James Galen, will argue he is being punished in violation of his civil rights.

“For exercising constitutionally protected speech,” said James Galen, Markaj’s attorney.

Legal experts, however, say it is important for people to learn free speech does not mean you have the right to say whatever you want, whenever you want.

7 Action News reached out to the presiding judge of the family division at the Wayne County Circuit Court, not to talk about any specific case, but to talk about what we all need to know about our rights.

“It is very hard to determine when it crosses the line from someone's constitutional right to free speech and into the avenue of what we consider cyber stalking,” said Melissa Cox, Presiding Judge, Wayne County Circuit Court Family Division.

To be clear, cyberbullying is illegal in Michigan.

Posting in a manner that involves a continued pattern of harassing or intimidating behavior that injures the other person can be a crime.

“Harassment is really looked at as it relates to the victim and how it makes the victim feel,” Cox added.

In 2006, two years after Facebook was launched and before Twitter, there were 576,000 restraining orders or personal protection orders registered in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

In 2015, there were 1,638,712.

It is not clear whether this is because of social media or because of technology improvements in how communities communicate nationally.

The basic advice is - if you are in an emotional state, be careful before you post.

“Find a therapist, talk to a friend, but under no circumstances release that information to social media or the whole world,” Cox said.