continued When the movie ended, Howes says, she took her son back to her apartment to put him to bed. Her neighbor asked if he could come and see if he could fix her TV. Once the child was asleep, Howes stepped outside into the hall to smoke a cigarette and drink a beer. The man, also having a beer, came with her. "Everything seemed really calm," she recalls, "but pretty soon he starts hitting on me again, and I said, 'No, absolutely not.' "
Howes told police what happened next. "I went into my bedroom about 10:00 p.m.," the police crime report quotes Howes. "[The neighbor] followed me into my bedroom and started touching my breasts, stomach, and crotch. I told him, 'No!' Then he pushed me down on the bed. He pulled my pants and panties off. I told him multiple times 'No! Stop!' He took his pants off and got on top of me. He penetrated me with his penis. I didn't scream or say anything because my son was asleep on the bed. [He] picked me up and carried me to the living room.... He laid me on my couch and continued to have sex with me."
When the alleged assault took place, Howes says she noticed what she thought were prison tattoos on the man's body. "I knew he had tattoos on his arms and shoulders, but everybody in California has them, and they were pretty, and colorful. Well, his shirt comes off, and I see 'DAGO' across the stomach and a swastika dead center above his dick. And it is green and nasty."
The police report confirms Howes's observation. In a box titled "further suspect description," the police list a tattoo "DAGO" -- a street-slang word meaning San Diego -- on the stomach and a swastika on the pelvis.
After taking a shower, Howes called her husband "and started yelling at him about what had happened. And he called the police."
Howes talked to the police by phone that night and went to the police station the next day, where she underwent a postrape examination she describes as "an ordeal." Next came the question of where to live. She knew she didn't want to stay at Nimitz Pointe any longer, and the police detective, social worker, and psychologist she was working with agreed. Living in motels was at the time financially impossible for Howes, so she moved back into her husband's Clairemont apartment. In the meantime, Howes says she called, visited, and wrote to Vonetta Young, Nimitz Pointe's property manager, and asked to be released from her lease. "I told her I couldn't be there. I had lived there all of four days. I told her I wanted her to release me from the lease, that she needed to release me from the lease. She said, 'I can't release you from the lease, but I will try to rerent it. I will start showing it immediately.' "
The apartment still hasn't been rerented, Howes says, and she hasn't been refunded. Without the return of her $2350 in rent and deposit, and with an open lease on her credit, finding another apartment was impossible. In a letter dated November 7, 2006, Philip Worts, the San Diego police detective assigned to Howes's case, wrote to Young stating that the department was "actively investigating a felony criminal assault complaint wherein the victim, Karen Howes, is now a possible target of stalking, kidnapping, or additional assault.... She requested of me a letter of information in order to provide a reasonable basis...to release her from her contractual obligations."
His letter had no effect, Howes says. Young would not release her from the lease. The same day, Howes's psychologist, Susan D. Sharpe, wrote a letter to Young. "Karen Howes is a patient of mine," Sharpe wrote, "who is clearly suffering from trauma that is directly related to a sexual assault perpetrated on her by another tenant on November 1, 2006 at Nimitz Pointe complex. For the purpose of her personal safety and emotional well-being, it is strongly recommended that she immediately move from these premises."
Sharpe's letter had no effect, Howes says. On November 8, Cynthia Forsythe, a victim's advocate with the district attorney's office, wrote to Young "to provide documentation that Ms. Karen L. Howes is a crime victim.... Ms. Howes was assaulted by a neighbor who lives...in the same apartment complex. Since the case is currently under investigation, it is imperative that she remove herself from this situation as soon as possible. Any assistance you could possibly provide her would be most appreciated during this most emotional time."
On November 9, Nina Verdugo, a court-appointed psychosocial rehabilitation specialist assigned to Howes as part of her divorce court proceedings, wrote to Young that Howes "experienced a violent crime against her at her current residence. This is a highly stressful living situation for herself and her child. It is my recommendation that she obtain alternative housing for her safety and overall well-being."
And on December 14, Jessica Enriquez, a sexual assault response team advocate with the Center for Community Solutions, wrote to Young, "During this painful process, my client has been intimidated and harassed by her neighbor on numerous occasions, producing an environment that she perceived as dangerous for herself and for her son. My client vacated the premises for no other reason than to ameliorate her physical, mental, and emotional well-being and would not have had to resort to such drastic measures in any other situation.... While I understand that the contractual obligations between the property management company and the tenant are binding, I believe that the assault that occurred on the premises constitutes extenuating circumstances."
Despite these letters from Worts, Sharpe, Forsythe, Verdugo, and Enriquez, Young to date has not released Howes from her lease. Howes and her son spent a 28-day emergency stay in a battered women's shelter and are now living in motels while they wait for an opening at a different facility. "I told Vonetta we would have to move into a shelter if she didn't release me and refund the rent and deposit," Howes said. "But she will not release me or return the funds."
Vonetta Young did not return phone calls. Howes's former neighbor and the woman he was living with have moved out of Nimitz Pointe. He didn't return phone calls. The case is still under investigation.