One deputy's nightmare: Dealing with violent stalkers
Dpty. Karen Moss had a reputation as a stolen-car magnet. When she spotted a red Jeep Cherokee with mismatched plates, it looked to be yet another notch on her duty belt. It turned out to be much more: the first shooting of her career, and then, months later, a chilling case of offender revenge.
What 34-year-old Moss learned from that nightmarish ordeal is now helping to keep sworn personnel on her department safer — and might protect you and your family as well.
At about 0100 that fateful autumn Thursday, Moss, patrolling solo, was about an hour into her seventh anniversary with the Clackamas County (Ore.) Sheriff's Office. She was coasting through a seedy apartment complex in an unincorporated area near the Portland suburb of Milwaukie, scouring the parking lots for hot-sheet vehicles. It was a reliable spot for trolling, hundreds of low-income living units that attracted a cesspool of dopers, car thieves, and other lawbreakers.
“Before I found anything that night, I got a call of a shoplifting at a 7-Eleven nearby and started to respond,” Moss recalls. “As I came up on the exit from the complex, I saw this red Jeep Cherokee coming in. I noticed the two license plates were different, and there was a red Cherokee on our hot list, so I spun around to go after it.”
The male driver hauled to a parking lot at the rear of the complex, Moss tromping the gas to catch him. “He took a hard left under a carport and hit the brakes so fast I was on top of him when I skidded to a stop.” With only 3 to 4 feet between the Jeep and the nose of her cruiser, the suspicious vehicle “seemed penned in.”
Drawing her .40-cal. Glock 23, she exited her unit and began shouting commands, but the driver was in no mood to submit. He roared back and rammed her patrol car, then screeched forward into a corner of the carport. Moss darted away from her car, buying distance as the suspect furiously crashed back and forth, trying inch by inch to smash his way to an escape.
“Finally, he got the Jeep turned just enough so he could drive out,” Moss says. “He stared at me, a look I’ll never forget. I was about 10 or 15 feet away from my car. We locked eyes. Then he hit the gas and came at me.”
Moss remembers desperately leaping aside, and the sound of rounds going off. Later it was determined that she fired her pistol three times. “I was lucky to get any shots off,” she says. Two hit the Jeep, one struck the driver in his left bicep.
“He stopped a little ways off,” Moss says. “I was thinking, ‘Get to cover.’ But after just a second, he tore out of the parking lot.”
Although her car was badly battered, Moss managed to drive it and attempted to pursue him, but her attacker quickly disappeared. “I could hear other units coming in response to my radio calls, so I headed back to the scene to wait for my supervisor. My head was spinning.”
The fugitive was captured the next day after detectives were tipped that he was hiding at the home of his parents, a couple of miles from the apartment complex. Barricading himself in a closet, with a bloody rag wrapped around his wound, he refused to surrender peacefully and had to be forced out with “copious amounts of gas.”
At 39, he was no stranger to the criminal justice system. With nearly two dozen arrests on his sheet and 17 convictions for assorted crimes ranging from assault to manslaughter, he was said to be a meth addict and believed to be affiliated with a biker gang called the Outsiders and a white supremacist prison threat group called the European Kindred, which Moss describes as “a pretty nasty little bunch.”
As she had suspected, the Jeep was stolen, as were its two disparate license plates. She speculates that the suspect was coming to the apartments to score some meth or just to hang out with other low-lifes.
The confrontation with Moss occurred on Nov. 30, 2006. Not long after, she received an award as Patrol Deputy of the Year and also was transferred to a multi-agency task force designed to target dope houses and property crimes.
In her work there, Moss cultivated a snitch with ties to the Outsiders, the suspect’s biker “club.” By chance, this informant presently was nailed on a minor meth charge and was detained in the same county jail cellblock where her assailant was awaiting trial for attempted murder.
“This informant started flying kites from jail, trying to get hold of me and my partner,” Moss says. “We were busy and ignored him for about a week. Then I got an email from a jail staffer saying that this guy really wanted to talk to me about something serious — i.e., murder.”
At the jail, the informer floated the name of the driver Moss had shot and asked if she knew him. She said yeah, and he said, “Well, he tried to hire me to kill you.” He allegedly offered $2,000 and “a piece of shit Mustang” for the job.
“I was skeptical, initially,” Moss recalls. But then the snitch produced an incriminating scrap of paper the suspect had given him. Handwritten, it included her name, her physical description, and the name of a website, Zabasearch.com.
Moss immediately recognized Zabasearch, an Internet “information aggregator” where home addresses, phone numbers, and other personal data available from public records can be easily accessed free of charge by anyone who wants it.
“The intent,” Moss says, “was to get my home address to make a hit easier. If I was taken out, I wouldn’t be around to testify at the trial.”
The alarm that swept through Moss was tempered by only a glimmer of relief. Several months earlier, she’d learned about Zabasearch’s offerings and as a general precaution had managed to get her information blocked from access at the site. Anyone running her name now would come up with specs on a different Karen Moss, who lived in a different area town.
Still, her life was suddenly clouded by dreadful uncertainty. Even without the help of the tattletale website, an assassin could be tracking and stalking her with murder in mind, just waiting for an opportune moment when her alertness might falter. The informant, of course, assured Moss that he’d rejected the solicitation. But he believed the suspect was doggedly approaching other incarcerated lawbreakers, determined to find someone who’d take the bait. In time, other inmates confirmed this.
“I became hyper-vigilant,” Moss says. “I put surveillance cameras on my house. My neighbor is also a cop, and I got him to help me watch for suspicious people and cars in the neighborhood. On the task force, a lot of the work is plainclothes stuff where I’m separated at times from my team in vulnerable circumstances. Off duty, I was always looking over my shoulder far more than I would out of a normal sense of safety. Even at the grocery store, I’d be checking everybody out, trying to see everything.
“It was an incredibly stressful time, because not only did I have to worry about my safety but also the safety of my family, including my parents and my domestic partner. Guys at work nicknamed me ‘Karenoid.’ I was in constant sensory overload.”
Her concerns intensified when investigators learned that the assailant she’d shot had found out about her informant ratting on him. He was said to be soliciting someone to kill the informant as well as Moss herself. “My CI had put everything on the line for me, and I was very worried about him,” Moss says.
Weeks passed and in the spring of 2007, the suspect, after initially pleading guilty to the attempted murder charge, rescinded that plea and was convicted in a jury trial of lesser charges, including attempted assault for trying to run her over. Moss, having avoided any attempts on her life, testified against him.
He was sentenced to five years, a disposition she regarded as a slap on the wrist for him and a slap in the face for her.
Moss found a determined ally in her department who agreed with her that he deserved more. Det. Debbie Calhoun, who’d been investigating the kill-for-hire solicitations, made it a personal mission to get the suspect brought to trial for those alleged plots.
The county DA’s office seemed especially hesitant to pursue the case in which the informant was targeted, claiming that the matter “could not successfully be prosecuted.” But “Debbie was relentless, and she never took ‘no’ for an answer,” a news release from the Sheriff’s Office said later.
After repeated hammering by Calhoun, the DA finally brought the suspect to court in both cases. Finally last summer, after a five-day trial, he was convicted of two counts of solicitation to commit aggravated murder. And last November he was sentenced to two consecutive 130-month terms, to be served without the possibility of parole after he finishes his time for the vehicular assault on Karen Moss—a combined total of nearly 27 years in prison. The suspect is appealing.
In March of this year, Calhoun received a departmental commendation “for her ferocity” in pursuing justice. By then, Moss was on a crusade of her own.
In street searches, she had pulled Zabasearch printouts or notations from the pockets of several suspects. “Zaba is very well known by criminals,” she says, “and they use it.” She had also learned that the home addresses of two officers who’d recently been in shootings, including one living on her block, were accessible there without the officers being aware of it. She figured it was only a matter of time until some angered arrestee or vengeful relative was able to successfully track a cop to his home and wreak violent retribution on him or his family.
There’s an opt-out link on the Zabasearch site—marked “privacy” at the bottom of the home page—where you can get your personal information blocked “immediately” for a fee. Or you can send in a written request form via snail mail for free. Be sure to mark the envelope “Priority.” Moss has spoken with the president and founder of Zabasearch and says he is “extremely law enforcement friendly.” He has assured her that requests from officers to prevent access to their information will be given “priority over other submissions they receive.”
The website also offers a service called ZabaSphere (formerly ZabaAlert) that will notify you anytime someone searches for your name. You won’t get the identity of the searcher, but you will be told the state, country, Internet service provider, and zip code from which the search originated. “It tends to remind you to stay alert,” Moss says.
To help her own department, Moss recently began collecting blocking requests from fellow officers to be submitted en masse. At this writing, more than a third of the SO’s 400 sworn have turned over removal forms to her. Zaba representatives have assured her they will get prompt attention. “They’ve really been great to work with,” Moss says.
She urges officers everywhere to contact Zabasearch and other free information sites in an effort to protect their privacy. “I know there are tons of paid sites out there where people can buy personal information,” she says. “It’s almost impossible to be a tax-paying citizen and not have exposure.
“But most bad guys are lazy and they usually stop at Zaba or other free sites instead of paying for what they want. That’s the quick and easy way for them to get current and past home addresses, phone numbers, birthdays and so on.”
She advises to check periodically even after you think your name has been protected. “If you move or change any utilities, for example, your information might be re-posted.” Also, she suggests, “Encourage your family members to have their information blocked as well.”
So is Moss still “Karenoid” now that months have passed with no threat having been made on her life? She has, after all, been written up in Brothers Behind Bars, a newsletter for rogue bikers funded by the Outlaws, the Pagans, the Bandidos, Sons of Silence, and other 1%er gangs. And the informant who first alerted her to danger has dropped from sight, his current status unknown.
“I’ll worry about him forever, and I definitely do stay alert about my own safety, but I’m not stressed out in that hyper-vigilant state any more. I don’t low-crawl around my house with a long gun when I get a ZabaAlert.” She kids, “I usually just turn off all of the lights and take up a tactical sniper position on the roof!”
Somewhere between that and allowing herself to sleepwalk around in Condition White lies the truth.