MISSOULA — It’s not like Carrie Jamrogowicz wanted to be close to Missoula Police Detective Stacy Lear. It’s like she wanted to crawl inside her skin and walk around in it, Lear says.
It’s been 16 years since the two met on a college campus in North Carolina. Over those years, Lear claims Jamrogowicz became obsessed with her. Followed her across the country to Missoula. Rented an apartment near Lear’s home. Changed her whole lifestyle to match Lear’s. She took up Lear’s hobbies, including competitive shooting. She changed her hair to match Lear’s style and dressed almost identically to Lear.
And, Lear says, she was Jamrogowicz’s fourth stalking victim.
For the most part, the detective remains calm while relaying the details of her story, but sometimes she loses control, her eyes brimming with tears.
“You cannot stop a stalker,” Lear said. “They control you. You don’t control them. Nothing you do – up to and including having them convicted, having them put in jail, getting an order of protection – nothing will stop them.”
Lear is a strong professional woman, not easily intimidated despite her slight frame and short stature. But for years, she’s lived in fear of this woman, who she claims has somehow gained access to private details of her life and applied that intimacy to her own life.
Two elements make the case particularly unusual, said Lear’s attorney, Josh Van de Wetering, who represented Lear in her effort to get order of protection against Jamrogowicz.
First, this isn’t a case sparked by love gone terribly wrong. It’s nothing of the sort: Lear barely knew her alleged stalker, much less had a romantic relationship with her.
Secondly, except for a few casual conversations in college, Lear and Jamrogowicz never had any physical interaction. Almost all of their contact was online, and consisted primarily of Jamrogowicz monitoring Lear’s online activities surreptitiously.
“That’s one of the things that’s scary about it,” Van de Wetering said. “You are exposed in ways that you don’t even think about. It’s not like walking around in the world, where we all get exactly how it looks.”
Four years ago, Lear filed the first police report detailing Jamrogowicz’s allegedly strange and criminal behavior to her own department. But the cyber-stalking actually started 12 years ago, she said.
Lear, who’s always had an interest in technology and the Internet, was part of a group of students who lived in an Internet-savvy dormitory at North Carolina State University. Jamrogowicz was introduced to the group through one of Lear’s fellow students. In the nascent days of the Internet, both women kept public blogs on a site called LiveJournal, and followed each other’s blog.
In the years before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, it was a way for an introvert like Lear to share her life with friends in her insular community of like-minded people.
Lear would post photos and blog entries fairly regularly and communicated through an instant messenger application on the site with various members of the group, including Jamrogowicz.
She said that’s how Jamrogowicz was able to mimic her behavior in the early years, unbeknownst to her.
In 2004, Lear moved to Missoula to be with the man she would eventually marry. Around the same time, she started shooting competitively and posted on LiveJournal how excited she was to start attending classes with an instructor in Billings.
Her first class was March 16, 2005, and she was running late.
When she finally found the class, she sat down and turned to her right to introduce herself.
Jamrogowicz was sitting there, next to her.
Jamrogowicz evidently had moved from North Carolina to Bozeman to study animal science – Lear’s former major – six months after Lear made her move west.
Sometime after the class, Lear decided to “quietly disengage.” She set her blog to private and cut contact with any mutual friends.
But somehow, Jamrogowicz was still keeping tabs on her.
The alleged stalking progressed, and eventually Jamrogowicz moved to Missoula in a truck that looked similar to Lear’s, displaying the same “Don’t tread on me” bumper stickers.
Jamrogowicz’s new home was approximately one mile from Lear.
When Lear passed her law enforcement exam to become a police officer, Jamrogowicz announced that she too wanted to become a police officer and decided to attend the law enforcement academy during the same session.
Then, Jamrogowicz apparently faked an injury, again to mimic Lear. She began using the same physical therapist for an injury the physical therapist later testified didn’t exist.
When Lear set up a private Amazon gift registry for her and her fiancé under aliases, Jamrogowicz was the first to purchase from the registry – sending the bedroom accessories to her own address – not Lear’s.
“She purchased my wedding bed,” Lear explained, leaning back and fighting the tears at a bright coffee shop in downtown Missoula.
She then turned to her computer and deftly found her registry, clicking on the “thank you” tab, and showing Jamrogowicz’s name and address on the list of people who purchased from the registry. It’s among a 100-page document that Lear compiled and submitted to her supervisor when she requested the investigation be reopened in 2011.
The case was investigated by the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department in 2012.
Jamrogowicz and her attorneys, Alison Garab and Quentin Rhoades, tell a different story – one that’s highly coincidental and hinges on the fact that these two women haven’t had any direct contact since 2006.
“It’s like I have become this boogieman in her life,” Jamrogowicz said. “When anything happens, she blames it on me.”
Jamrogowicz denies monitoring Lear online or in person, and said she was shocked when she was served an order of protection in 2012. She said she moved to Montana because her relationship wasn’t working out the way she wanted it to and later moved to Missoula to get a pharmacy degree.
“It’s a case that I have been living with for two years,” Garab said. “It’s definitely unique. I have never seen anything like it. The stalking cases that I have seen are where people have been prosecuted for cyber stalking, and it involves some type of contact.”
The last time the women had any direct interaction was when Lear sent Jamrogowicz an email eight years ago telling her the similarities popping up on her blog were “creepy.”
“I just thought that was absurd – the things that she was complaining about,” Jamrogowicz said. “I didn’t even think I needed to dignify it with a response. I just figured that she said we don’t like each other and we will go our separate ways and that’s it.”
And for Garab, that’s the crux of the issue. The two haven’t really had any contact since that last email in 2006.
She said it’s hard for her to see the criminality in acts like dressing similar and styling hair in a similar fashion.
“If that were true, why didn’t Jennifer Aniston try to file stalking charges against every woman who cut their hair in the ’90s?” she asked.
Garab also takes issue with allegations that Jamrogowicz faked similar injuries, arguing medical professionals confirmed these injuries in medical records. Jamrogowicz studied animal science before Lear even chose a major back in North Carolina, and she argues people can share hobbies and want to live in the same state, can’t they?
“From Carrie’s perspective, they have similar interests and they have taken similar paths in their lives,” Garab said. “For me, unless you are out looking for these things, how would you know unless you are monitoring someone?”
In July of 2012, Jamrogowicz was charged with criminal misdemeanor stalking and Lear moved to dismiss without prejudice the order of protection that she filed for the previous February.
In May of the following year, a jury in Missoula Justice Court found Jamrogowicz guilty of stalking, but she appealed the verdict in District Court. In February of 2014, Jamrogowicz entered into a plea agreement after county prosecutors threatened to charge her with felony evidence-tampering for deleting hundreds of blogposts the day after the sheriff’s department interviewed her about the alleged stalking.
She pleaded nolo contendre, or no contest, to the misdemeanor charge and paid restitution to Lear, who had sought counseling and sold her car to pay for attorney’s fees.
Meanwhile, Jamrogowicz’s attorneys appealed the dismissal of the order of protection without prejudice, to the Montana Supreme Court.
The court’s response was a landmark decision, Van de Wetering said. Not only did high court uphold the district judge’s decision, which allowed Lear to reopen the civil order of protection if necessary, it also ruled that victims who file for an order of protection should not have to be subject to discovery at the will of the alleged perpetrator.
“The breadth of discovery the District Court allowed Jamrogowicz, including pursuit of personal information about Lear, was wholly antithetical to the purpose of a (temporary order of protection,)” the Supreme Court justices wrote in their decision.
Meanwhile, Missoula District Judge Ed McLean granted a permanent order of protection against Jamrogowicz, which among other things, precludes her from owning a gun or having a concealed weapon permit in Montana.
That order was appealed by Jamrogowicz, who argued that Lear agreed to drop the order of protection per the plea agreement.
McLean disagreed and last week denied Jamrogowicz’s motion to terminate the order of protection.
“Attorney for defendant Jamrogowicz will not now be allowed to play word games,” McLean said. “Ms. Jamrogowicz and … Rhoades … knew that the Order of Protection was very important to Ms. Lear and that she was adamant in having the Order of Protection.”
According to Garab, Jamrogowicz and her lawyers are considering whether to appeal the order of protection. Jamrogowicz has become an expert shooter and wants to have access to her guns in order to compete in shooting competitions in the state of Montana.
“The criminal case is over and what Carrie would like is to get back to her life,” Garab said.
Lear, too, would like to have her life back.
But that’s hard to do.
She believes that Jamrogowicz still has access to her Internet activity and monitors it in an attempt to copy her life.
When she bought a custom-made peacock blue sofa, for example, Jamrogowicz posted photos of a similar sofa on her Pinterest page. In addition, someone threw a brick through Lear’s window while she was home alone a few months ago, although there is no evidence that Jamrogowicz was involved. Evidently, the brick-thrower had monitored the house so closely, they avoided detection by surveillance cameras Lear had installed.
After extensive counseling, Lear is attempting to reclaim some of her hobbies.
She does still post things on Facebook and use other social media sites, like Pinterest, but her activity is censored and the settings are set to private.
And she’s had to realize that she can’t live in fear, even though there’s no real way to stop the other woman.
“Having to recognize that I have no control over this is excruciating,” Lear said. “Because I can’t control her. I can’t make her stop. I can only control how I react to her and that’s hard because I react with abject terror and panic.”