A Pierce County judge on Thursday denied a beleaguered City of Tacoma domestic violence victims advocate’s petition for an anti-harassment order against the ex-husband of one of her clients.
China Fortson, the city’s longtime victims’ advocate, had sought the order against Lakewood resident Kelvin Jackson, claiming Jackson’s complaints to her supervisors about her conduct in Jackson’s custody case, as well as other alleged behavior, had constituted harassment against her and her family members.
After taking testimony from both sides and reading more than 40-pages of records filed by Fortson, District Court Judge Jack Nevin ruled the protection order wasn’t legally warranted.
“I do not find a basis for an anti-harassment order in this particular case,” Nevin said before denying Fortson’s petition.
Fortson, 54, a city employee since 1998, had worked as an advocate on behalf of Jackson’s ex-wife, Keisha Jackson, after she leveled abuse allegations during a tangled legal separation and custody dispute. Kelvin Jackson consistently has denied the allegations; a judge found that domestic violence did not apply in the civil case.
Fortson now faces serious discipline up to being fired as part of a separate but related city conduct investigation that found she “knowingly misused her official city position and city funds” to benefit Keisha Jackson.
The city probe, prompted by a deputy prosecutor’s complaint about Fortson, found that she had violated the city’s ethics code by renting a van for Keisha Jackson to flee the state with her kids for months, directly violating a judge’s order and Kelvin Jackson’s court-ordered visitation rights. The city’s investigator also found that domestic violence issues did not exist to warrant Fortson’s involvement in the custody matter.
Keisha Jackson later pleaded guilty to a contempt of court charge; Fortson was never criminally charged (We wrote about the case extensively here).
Fortson has denied all wrongdoing. She appealed the city’s findings during a three-day hearing last week (coverage here, here and here) before Hearing Examiner Rodney Kerslake. He is expected to issue a ruling within 30 days of the hearing’s end.
During the appeals hearing, Fortson had Kelvin Jackson served with notice for the anti-harassment petition after he showed up to observe the proceedings one day last week.
Among other things, Fortson had claimed Jackson’s repeated complaints to her bosses and others constituted malicious harassment against her, claiming Jackson’s allegations were false and professionally damaging toward her. She also alleged that Jackson had sought city records about her as an intimidation tactic; that she had witnessed him drive by her home on two occasions; and that someone matching Kelvin Jackson’s description had harassed and attempted to lure her teenage daughter during an incident in April.
“Mr. Jackson was coming after me because he said in 2006 that he was going to have me fired,” Fortson told Nevin Thursday. “… I’m not going to let him make me a victim.”
Kelvin Jackson denied Fortson’s allegations, telling the judge he doesn’t know where Fortson lives and never went to her home or harassed her daughter.
“I could really care less if I see Ms. Fortson again – I would rather have it that way,” Jackson said.
He added any complaints he made or records he sought were entirely justified as part of the city’s complaint and claims processes. Jackson settled a legal claim with the city over Fortson’s conduct earlier this year for $29,000.
“I’m not going after China Fortson,” Jackson told Nevin. “I’m going after the City of Tacoma for failure to police its own people.”
Nevin, who noted he had intentionally avoided reading recent news stories in The News Tribune about Fortson, said he found it “interesting” that Fortson was representing herself in seeking the order, adding that “ordinarily in these cases” petitioners are “represented by a city attorney.”
“It was something I noticed,” he said.
Nevin ultimately ruled the anti-harassment order sought wasn’t justified because Fortson’s involvement as an advocate in the custody dispute “necessitate(d) some interaction” with Jackson that accordingly rose to “a level of acrimony.”
The judge added Jackson’s complaints against Fortson, as well as his actions seeking city records, were well within his rights.
“People write complaints against me, they write complaints against police officers and they probably write a ton of complaints against domestic violence advocates,” said Nevin. “…He gets to do that.”
Nevin told Fortson the she could pursue “other remedies,” such as a civil action, if she chose to pursue her claims that Jackson’s complaints were false and malicious. The judge added he didn’t “find evidence to substantiate” that Jackson had harassed Fortson’s daughter, adding Fortson was free to bring the court more evidence if she chose.
After the hearing, an emotional Fortson told a reporter: “So now basically he can harass me and my family.”
A woman who Fortson identified as her daughter during the hearing would not allow Fortson to answer further questions about whether she’ll pursue a civil case against Kelvin Jackson.
“I don’t think it’s over,” Kelvin Jackson said after the hearing. “I fully expect she’s going to use the courts to file something else against me… I haven’t run from any of the other allegations, and I won’t run if any more come.”