Town employee faces charges

D.K. Johnston accused in stalking case

May 1, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Town employee D.K. Johnston was charged with stalking after a local real estate agent alleged he sent her dozens of harassing messages and left a profanity-filled letter at her home.

Johnston, 59, served as Williston's zoning administrator for more than three years before resigning the position in March. His resignation was accompanied by a written agreement that allows him to continue working for the planning and zoning office through June 30, when his term as zoning administrator would have expired.

Johnston continues to work for the town in a limited capacity, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. Johnston is helping rewrite a portion of Williston's zoning ordinances, part of a larger effort to revise land-use rules.

McGuire noted that Johnston works from his home and his job no longer involves public contact.

It is unclear if there is a connection between Johnston's legal troubles and his pending resignation. McGuire refused to say if such a connection exists or if the charges prompted the resignation agreement. The agreement forbids a negative employment reference and limits what Williston officials can say about Johnston and what he can say about the town.

Asked Friday if he knew of the charges when the resignation agreement was struck, McGuire paused for several seconds before saying he'd have to check with someone before answering. On Tuesday, McGuire acknowledged that he did know about the accusations when he signed the agreement on March 21.

Johnston could not be reached for comment. A message on his answering machine said he would be out of town until May 2. His attorney, Bud Allen, declined comment.

Johnston also faces a charge of disturbing the peace-phone/repeat calls. The stalking charge is a misdemeanor punishable by two years imprisonment; the disturbing the peace charge carries a potential three-month sentence. Johnston has pleaded innocent to both charges.

The legal proceedings against Johnston were initiated in January after South Burlington real estate agent Carol Stone told police that he had sent her numerous harassing messages via e-mail, telephone and fax, court records say.

Stone and her partner helped Johnston buy a Burlington condominium in December 2004, according to an affidavit filed by South Burlington Police Officer Lindsay Walker, who investigated the case.

In February 2005, Johnston filed a complaint against Stone with the Vermont Office of Professional Regulations. The affidavit said the agency dismissed the complaint due to Johnston's "perjury."

But Johnston continued to send e-mail messages to Stone and her co-workers at the Lang McLaughry Spera real estate offices in South Burlington, court records say. The affidavit states that Johnston sent at least 35 e-mail messages as well as leaving numerous voice mail messages.

"Your time to step down in ignominy will come very soon," the police affidavit quoted one e-mail message as saying. "Retire before you(r) whole career comes crashing down in the public image, the press and the courts."

In October 2007, Stone found eight 8-by-11-inch pieces of paper containing a message laced with four-letter words affixed to her front door, according to the affidavit. One especially profane passage in the message has been cited by the prosecution as part of the evidence the stalking charge is justified.

Johnston was appointed as zoning administrator by the Williston Selectboard in December 2004. His duties included enforcing zoning ordinances, attending Development Review Board meetings and fielding questions from the public.

The latest case marks the second time Johnston has faced legal trouble during his time with the town.

In November 2006, Johnston was cited on a charge of driving under the influence after Shelburne police found him in the parking lot of a furniture store.

He was hitting the building with an unidentified object, according to a police affidavit. Signs advertising the business were scattered nearby. Johnston told police he was frustrated with illegal signs, the affidavit said.

The DUI charge was later amended to unlawful mischief, court records show. Johnston was given a suspended sentence and fined.

For the past four months, proceedings in Vermont District Court in Burlington have involved legal wrangling over what charges Johnston will face in the current case.

Johnston's attorney is seeking to have the stalking charge dismissed.

The prosecution claims that the totality of the circumstances warrants the charge.

Johnston's repeated messages "would cause a reasonable person substantial emotional distress or fear for his or her physical safety," the prosecution's legal brief asserts. "The sheer volume of calls and emails, all angry and confrontational with escalating furor, in conjunction with repeated intrusions into Ms. Stone's private and professional life, by their very nature threaten violence or at least imply such."

Deputy State's Attorney Julia Flores said legal arguments in the case have revolved around the legislative intent behind the stalking law. The defense claims that the state must show evidence that Stone feared bodily or sexual injury, Flores said. The prosecution claims the law requires only that a "reasonable person" fear injury.

The purpose of the next hearing, scheduled for May 6, is to hear arguments on the dismissal motions, Flores said.