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News / Northwest

After Redmond killings, experts say protection orders are a valuable but limited tool

By Paige Cornwell, The Seattle Times
Published: March 15, 2023, 7:41am

SEATTLE — Zohreh Sadeghi and Mohammad Milad Naseri did everything right to address the incessant calls and unwanted packages sent to their Redmond home from a Texas truck driver who had grown obsessed with Sadeghi.

They recorded every interaction with the man, alerted the police department and filed for a protection order that would make it illegal for him to contact them — and potentially demand he surrender any weapons.

But that wasn’t enough. Ramin Khodakaramrezaei broke into the couple’s home Friday, fatally shooting Sadeghi, 33, and Naseri, 35, before turning the 9 mm gun on himself.

Redmond police Chief Darrell Lowe called the killings a stalking case’s worst possible outcome, saying during a Friday news conference that a protection order is simply a piece of paper that doesn’t protect people “when someone is intent on causing them harm.”

Experts and victims advocates this week said protection orders remain valuable in addressing stalking and other harassment even as violent incidents like the Redmond homicides show their limitations.

“They are an effective tool utilized with a coordinated safety plan,” said Colleen McIngalls, director of victims services at the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “There are definitely challenges in our system in response to survivors going through the protection order process. But in this situation, it was just a horrific tragedy.”

In Washington, there are five types of requests for a civil protection order: antiharassment, stalking, domestic violence, sexual assault and extreme risk. If granted, such orders prevent someone from contacting or harming another person, and violations can lead to arrest.

Though sometimes referenced interchangeably, protection and restraining orders aren’t the same; a restraining order is used in divorce cases or others involving family and household members.

Sadeghi and Naseri filed for a stalking protection order in early March and were granted a temporary order. But Khodakaramrezaei was never served the order, and it’s unclear whether he knew about it. Redmond police said it was difficult to find him because of his job as a truck driver.

“There wasn’t that knowledge and barrier,” said David Martin, chair of the Domestic Violence Unit in the prosecuting attorney’s office. “I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but for a lot of people it does.”

Martin said the homicides reminded him of the 2010 death of Jennifer Paulson, a 30-year-old special education teacher shot outside her elementary school by a man who had been stalking her for years. She had obtained a civil anti-harassment order against the man two years earlier, and he had been arrested the weekend before the shooting for violating the order. He made bail on a Monday and shot her on a Friday.

At the time, stalking victims who didn’t have a dating history with their stalker could only apply for that type of order, which offered less protection than others. A bill that granted greater protections for stalking victims, named for Paulson, was signed into law in 2013. Her father, Ken Paulson, has since advocated for stronger protections for stalking victims, such as electronic monitoring of their stalkers.

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“I want people to be aware this is actually really serious,” Ken Paulson said this week. “With the new law, it would have been a different result for my daughter, but that doesn’t mean the law will work for every person who is stranger-stalked.”

A bill that would treat cyberstalking the same as in-person stalking passed the Washington House on Feb. 27 and had a public hearing Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Law and Justice. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, who last year obtained a domestic violence protective order against a lobbyist who she said showed an escalating pattern of obsessive and threatening behavior after she ended their romantic relationship.

Mary Ellen Stone, CEO of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, said filing for a protection order can be scary but also provide a sense of agency as victims navigate a complex legal system.

“The criminal justice system is really slow and often fails victims,” she said. “Sometimes getting a civil protection order is the only thing they can do.”

Still, experts noted studies that show such orders are largely efficient in what they intend to do, though their protections are limited.

“It doesn’t make them completely safe,” Martin said, “but it makes the vast majority safer.”