Lawrence man may face harassment charge, but only if New Zealand blogger comes to the U.S.
A Lawrence man accused of sexually harassing an overseas blogger may face criminal charges. That is, only if the foreign victim agrees to come to the United States, largely on her own dime.
Rachel Gronback, 31, who lives in New Zealand and writes about “fashion, online shopping and body positivity” said inappropriate messages began flowing into her Instagram account late last November.
In her blog Gronback wrote that the off-color messages continued coming in for several weeks. She was, however, able to identify the sender as a student at Lawrence’s Veritas Christian School.
The suspect is not a minor, police said.
In January, Gronback said she alerted the school’s administration to the issue and filed a complaint with the Lawrence Police Department.
Gronback’s police complaint was accompanied by a packet documenting the online correspondence with the suspect, Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley said in January. The complaint and packet were several of the first steps toward beginning an investigation, he said.
In late April Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson told Gronback through email that there was enough evidence to file a charge of harassment by telecommunications device against the suspect.
The charge — which refers to electronically sending lewd, lascivious or indecent comments, suggestions, proposals or images — is a misdemeanor. If the charge is filed and the suspect is found guilty, he could face up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.
“We are prepared to proceed with filing of a criminal charge in this case,” Branson wrote to Gronback. “However, the filing of charges may necessitate your appearance in our court in Lawrence, Kansas, for that trial. Before we proceed with filing of the case we need to have assurances that you would be able to appear in court when trial is scheduled if some other resolution is not made in the case.”
Cheryl Wright-Kunard, assistant to the Douglas County district attorney, noted in an email that the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that those accused of a crime have the right to face their accusers.
Branson told Gronback it is not certain the case would go to trial if charges were filed; the matter could potentially be settled through a plea deal or a diversion process. But if the suspect were to ask for a trial, the office could not ethically file charges unless Gronback committed to appear in court, he said.
When Gronback asked Branson about the possibility of testifying by video link he said that would only be permissible if the defense agreed to allow video testimony.
“Unfortunately, for strategy purposes I would not expect a defense attorney to agree to allow you to testify by video,” he said.
In discussing her financial options with regard to international travel, Branson said the District Attorney’s Office has a limited budget to help with expenses and there have only been a few times — for high-level felony cases — when international travel was necessary.
Out-of-state travel reimbursement is generally reserved for felony cases, Branson said, while in-state travel reimbursement is available for misdemeanor cases.
“Because this is a misdemeanor case, we would offer (Gronback) travel to and from the airport and hotel accommodations for her time here,” he said.
So far Gronback has not told the Branson’s office whether she is willing or able to make the trip, and no charges have been filed against the suspect.