Judge rules against stalking claim

CODY — Two outspoken local residents sparred head-to-head in Park County Circuit Court on Monday over alleged stalking activity.

Park County Republican Party Commiteeman Vince Vanata accused Cody resident Dewey Vanderhoff of stalking, for sending him three emails and one hand-delivered message over the course of four months. The emails contained derogatory language and characterizations of former President Donald Trump.

“The charges Vanata is reflecting back on me – three emails in four months – I get that before noon everyday,” Vanderhoff said. “I get death threats. I’m on the receiving end of so much aspersions based on politics.”

Vanata said the emails impacted his mental health condition and caused significant emotional distress.

“Quite frankly, I am concerned of how far he will go with his course of conduct,” Vanata said in his court filing.

Judge Bruce Waters sided with Vanderhoff in the case and said his actions did constitute an exercise of constitutional liberties.

“They both constitute public figures one way or another,” Waters said. “They’re both calling into radio shows espousing views. One is a delegate. They have opposing views. There’s nothing inappropriate about that. They may not necessarily like each other – but stalking?”

Wyoming law defines stalking as engaging in a course of conduct that includes verbal threats, written threats, lewd or obscene statements or images, vandalism or non-consensual physical contact, directed at a specific person that the defendant knew or should have known would cause emotional distress and fear.

Vanata, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the U.S. Marines, had his service dog with him in court.

When Vanderhof entered the courtroom, he was told by Waters to remove his hat. He responded that he was, “Not real keen on having a dog” in the courtroom either.

Vanderhoff is a self-described journalist, political activist and Republican Party member. He argued that both he and Vanata are public figures and therefore not eligible for a protection order in regards to communication.

“Vanata is elected by the people into his position as precinct committeeman for our area,” Vanderhoff said. “Therefore without a doubt, he has a public persona. I have never engaged in correspondence with Mr. Vanata when he was not a public persona.”

Waters agreed with Vanderhoff that there is a higher standard for harassment and stalking when it comes to public figures, but also recommended Vanderhoff stop sending Vanata messages, as the plaintiff did tell him to stop.

The first email Vanderhoff sent Vanata was in May. He sent another in July, which was identical to the printed out message he gave to Park County Republican Party President Martin Kimmet at the July 3 Freedom Celebration, which Vanderhoff instructed to be given to Vanata.

Kimmet was Vanata’s sole witness on Monday, and attested to the validity of this account.

Vanderhoff delivered this same message to Vanata by email on July 9, at which point Vanata told him to stop sending him emails.

Vanderhoff sent his final email on Aug. 16, criticizing Vanata for his Catholic schooling, and for comments he made on KODI Radio about refusing to wear a face mask and get a COVID-19 vaccination. Vanata denied making both these claims.

Although Vanata said the emails he received were at a private email address, it is an address that’s listed on the Park County Republican Party website. At least one of the emails was sent to multiple other people as well.

“Everything that I sent, the emails and graphic art, I also sent everywhere else, further and yon,” Vanderhoff said. “Mr. Vanata never received any graphically image specially for him. It was all out there, all the time.”

Vanata said he blocked one of Vanderhoff’s email addresses, but Vanderhoff got through to him from another email, one of six he said he actively uses.

On Aug. 18, Vanata submitted his petition for stalking and that same day requested assistance from Crisis Intervention Services, a resource group that helps victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault.

Vanderhoff said he and Vanata have a sordid past dating back to 2011 as the two have clashed repeatedly over political issues. At one point during the hearing Vanderhoff made reference to Vanata and “his tea bag associates” in reference to the Tea Party. Although Vanderhoff quickly retracted this statement, Vanata still took offense to the language.

“I’m taken aback at that derogatory comment,” Vanata said.

Waters said Vanderhoff can still call into KODI Radio to respond directly or indirectly to Vanata on-air.

“You can call in all you want to express views. Just don’t make it personal,” Waters said, to which Vanderhoff responded he never has.

Vanderhoff said he expected the outcome that occurred on Monday and claimed he conferred with Park County Sheriff Scott Steward on Sunday about the charges, who he said also agreed the stalking charge was not applicable.

After the hearing, Vanderhoff personally apologized to Vanata for any harm he may have caused him and said he felt badly for doing so, but also said he would not back down when it comes to political issues. Vanata responded by accusing Vanderhoff of personally seeking him out.

“Just leave me the hell alone,” he told Vanderhoff. “I don’t want anything to do with you.”