Feature | Just Stop: How far will the Utah attorney general’s office go to silence Rachel Guyon? 

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On Nov. 11, 2006, Utah’s top lawyer, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, received an e-mail from an escort agency called the Doll House. It thanked him for subscribing to its newsletter.

“I did not subscribe,” Shurtleff wrote back. “Remove me from your list!”

Someone had set up a fake e-mail account to make it appear he had solicited information. The Doll House e-mailed again, asking him to confirm his subscription.

“This is the Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and you WILL remove my name … I will not go to your Website—even to ‘unsubscribe.’”

According to an e-mail written by his deputy attorney general, Kirk Torgensen, Shurtleff was “pissed” about a series of unsolicited e-mails he’d received. The focus of Shurtleff’s displeasure was, and remains, 25-year-old Rachel Guyon. More than a year ago on Jan. 26, Guyon learned what it meant to incur the wrath of the man who counsels Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on legal issues. Shortly after hanging up from talking to her mother at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon in late January 2007, Guyon answered a knock at her apartment door in downtown Salt Lake City.

Two investigators from the attorney general’s office, Rachel Guyon recalls, Jessica Eldredge and Dave White, arrested and handcuffed her. On the drive to the Salt Lake County Metro Jail, the investigators informed Guyon she was being charged by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office with five counts of stalking, a class A misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of up to a year in jail. By December 2007, four of the five stalking charges were dropped and replaced by 11 class B misdemeanors, namely three counts of criminal defamation and eight of electronic communication harassment.

Guyon was released on her own recognizance at midnight the same day due to jail overcrowding. Later this year, on April 21, Guyon will stand trial before 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease. Fifteen witnesses from the attorney general’s office will testify against her, including Mark Shurtleff and nine other men the state claims are her victims. Although the attorney general’s office arrested her, they won’t be prosecuting. That responsibility they turned over to Salt Lake County’s District Attorney’s Office.

Guyon is accused of conducting an 18-month sexually themed e-mail campaign dating back to February 2006, against top attorneys general, most notably the chief deputy Torgensen, and even Shurtleff himself. Torgensen—along with fellow attorneys general Scott Reed, Patrick Nolan and recent retiree Mike Wimms—teaches a Weber State University extension course on criminal justice at Salt Lake Community College. Torgensen taught Guyon criminal and constitutional law. She aspired to be a cop. “My degree was in irony,” Guyon says.

Like Michael Pare and Willem Dafoe in the climatic fight scene of Walter Hill’s classic 1984 action flick Streets of Fire, for almost two years, according to the state and her defense attorneys, Rachel Guyon and the attorney general’s office have swung sledgehammers at each other. Guyon’s sledgehammer, the state claims, was her use of fake e-mail accounts and sexual messages. The attorney general’s sledgehammer, her attorneys say, was their use of all the investigative power and resources brought to bear once they decided she was the e-mailer bent on spreading salacious rumors about their staff around their own office and Weber State. Each side claims the other is a menace to public safety. Dig into the documents at the heart of the case—in particular, a recently filed synopsis of 150 e-mails—and what emerges is less a story about the bizarre antics of at least one hyperactive and emotionally disturbed e-mailer than it is just how desperate and exasperated the e-mailer’s alleged victims have become. Given the sheer magnitude of the attorney general’s investigation—700-plus pages of discovery so far and counting—the question that finally emerges is whether or not the attorney general’s investigatory heft and the subsequent prosecution fit the crime.

Shurtleff says his staff investigated the case involving its own employees, with the aid of his offices’ Internet-crime investigation resources, which he has often lauded in the press.

“We pretty much determined the e-mails came from one source, though she’s consistently changing her Website and her e-mail address,” Shurtleff says. “Then, it was appropriately turned over to someone else to screen and decide whether to go ahead with charges. Nothing wrong with that.”

There is something wrong, Guyon’s defense argues, with the way Shurtleff’s office handled the investigation prior to turning it over to the district attorney. It is telling how these e-mails rattled Shurtleff and Torgensen, Guyon’s co-counsel, Kristine Rogers, argues, that the attorney general’s office tracked down Guyon with tactics that are, at least in one example, “at best improperly unauthorized, at worst illegal.”

She points out that Shurtleff’s investigators served 10 U.S. Department of Homeland Security summons on various information networks, including Yahoo! and MSN, along with Weber State University. The summons were issued at the end of 2006 and early 2007 to secure the Internet and scholastic records of Guyon and another student suspect later disregarded.

In a recent court filing, Guyon’s lawyers asked Judge Trease to suppress evidence gathered from the summons as it was “unlawfully obtained.” They wrote the attorney general is not authorized “to use Homeland Security to investigate misdemeanor violations.” Rogers argues that the attorney general’s office should have used state investigatory subpoenas to obtain information used to indict Guyon. “For that, you have to get court approval,” she says. “They did not.”

At issue was not only the attorney general’s office highly questionable use of summons to get personal information it wasn’t entitled to without court oversight, Rogers says, but it also interfered with Guyon’s work and employment. “Even if she did write those e-mails, what they’ve done to her pales by far in comparison.” The attorney general office’s tactics, Rogers says, reveal grave concerns about how far it will go to silence someone it is convinced is harassing its staff.

“[The attorneys general] are the big guys with the big boots who can stomp on people,” she fumes.

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