San Diego Let's say you're a single mom in your mid-30s. You've recently taken your 2-year-old son and 12-year-old dog and moved away from your husband. The divorce is ugly, and your job search is tough. You'd like to move back in with your parents in Illinois, but the court says that taking your son out of California would be considered kidnapping until the divorce is final. You find an apartment in what seems like a good neighborhood in Ocean Beach. You sign a six-month lease and pay $1050 for the first month's rent and $1300 for the deposit. But within a week of moving in, you complain to police that the ex-con who lives in the building has raped you in your own apartment while your son slept nearby. I'm sure you're thinking it couldn't get much worse. But it does. Despite your pleas, despite letters from a police detective, social workers, and your psychologist, the apartment manager won't release you from your lease or refund your deposit.
According to a police report, this is what happened to 37-year-old Karen Howes last fall while she rented at the Nimitz Pointe apartments at 2401 Seaside, just off Nimitz Boulevard near the west end of Interstate 8. Howes found Nimitz Pointe after an apartment search she describes as "extremely difficult because I have a two-year-old and a rottweiler-mix dog."
Nimitz Pointe seemed like an answer to Howes's prayers. "It was close to my son's day care, right across the street from Dusty Rhodes Dog Park, and really close to Dog Beach. And I love the ocean. The building wasn't so nice, but hey, I have a dog and I have a kid."
Howes's father, who had flown in from Chicago, helped her move on October 27, 2006. "I moved into apartment 107, which is right by the office."
In a nearby apartment lived a 28-year-old man with prior convictions for theft, possession of stolen property, and possession of methamphetamine. Howes did not know about her neighbor's criminal past when she met him two or three days after moving in. "I had snuck out one night," she recalls, "because my dad was driving me crazy and I wanted to smoke a cigarette. So I was outside, and I ran into [the neighbor], and we had a chat. He was really forward with me, and I told him, 'No, I am completely not interested.' I told him straight-out, 'I am in the middle of a nasty divorce. I'm totally not interested in any romantic relationship, absolutely not.' "
After meeting her neighbor, Howes says, "I'm trying to avoid him, but he keeps knocking on my door. He comes and meets my dad one day. He is on me like white on rice. Every time I turn around, the guy is right there."
Howes mentioned to the man during their first conversation that her TV had been damaged during the move. One night, he knocked on her door and asked her and her son to come watch the movie Over the Hedge at his house. "He gets my kid completely worked up on the idea, so I said, 'All right, we will come down and watch Over the Hedge.' So I left my dad in my apartment, and we went and watched half of it, and we came back. I told my dad, 'This guy is really a creep. He is really nervous and jumpy.'
"I put my dad on a plane on Halloween. Next day, November 1, I drop my kid at day care, and I'm out running errands. I came back to the apartment at about 3:30 with a million bags. I walk up to my door with four or five large bags and five more still in the car, and [the neighbor] is standing at my door. I asked, 'What are you doing here?' 'Oh, I've been looking for you all day. Let me help you with those bags.' 'No, I'm fine.' 'No, no, I insist.' 'No, I can get it.' He's not taking no for an answer, and he keeps following me. I told him I had to walk my dog, and he says, 'Well, I'm coming with you.' He smelled a little boozie; it was clear he'd been drinking. I said, 'No, thanks. I'll walk my own dog.' But he grabs my dog and starts walking a million miles a minute. And I am running after him in heels, yelling, 'Give me my dog. I will walk my dog.' "
Howes says he walked her dog several blocks to Collier Park and stopped at a bench. She caught up and sat down on the bench, at which point the man, she says, "tries to kiss me. I said, 'No!' And he said, 'Okay, it is totally cool. I completely understand,' and he backed off. I said, 'I have to take my dog home. I have to get my kid.' So he walks me home, and I put my dog back in my apartment. He goes to his apartment and is back at my door in a minute, and he has one of these big 32-ouncers of beer. I said, 'I am going to get my kid,' and he asked, 'When are you going to be back?' "
Despite her neighbor's unwanted advances and attentions, Howes didn't consider calling the police. "I just thought he was a big flake. And when I told him no, he immediately backed off. And the last thing I wanted was more problems."
At 6:30 that evening, Howes says she was back in her apartment eating Pick Up Stix with her son when the neighbor knocked on the door. "He seems completely normal, really calmed down. And he said, 'Just came over to see if your son wants to watch the rest of the movie.' I said, 'No, I don't think that is the best idea.' He said, 'Come on,' and my son is yelling that he wants to watch the movie. So I said, 'Okay,' and we watched the rest of the movie."