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Phipps v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 10, 2017

Shelly M. Phipps, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Greene Superior Court The Honorable Dena A. Martin, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 28D01-1603-F6-42

          Attorney for Appellant Kimberly A. Jackson Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Mathias, Judge.

         [¶1] Shelly M. Phipps ("Phipps") was convicted in Greene Superior Court of Level 6 felony invasion of privacy. Phipps appeals and raises the following dispositive issue: whether the State proved that Phipps violated a protective order by communicating with the protected person.

         [¶2] We reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Phipps was a member of a church in Solsberry, Indiana, and she and her

husband were friends with K.G., the pastor of the church. In 2008, Phipps and her husband received marriage counseling from K.G, and K.G. disclosed information that he learned in their counseling sessions to the elders of the church. The church elders met with Phipps and her husband to discuss the information K.G. had disclosed to them. Phipps was also upset that K.G. hugged her twice, once during an individual counseling session and a second time on the day she was baptized.

         [¶4] Phipps sought an apology from K.G. for the alleged breach of confidentiality but did not receive one. She sent letters and emails to K.G. and the church elders demanding an apology.

         [¶5] K.G. obtained a protective order against Phipps in 2008. Phipps was prohibited from "harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting, or directly or indirectly communicating with" K.G. and she was ordered to stay away from his residence and the church. Ex. Vol, State's Ex. 2. In 2009, she violated the protective order by speaking to K.G. at the church, and she pleaded guilty to Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy. In 2010, Phipps violated the protective order again by sending a letter to K.G. She pleaded guilty to the offense in March 2011, and judgment was entered as a Class A misdemeanor.

         [¶6] On January 6, 2016, in case number 28D01-1201-PO-12, K.G. filed a petition to extend the protective order. On January 25, 2016, the court held a hearing on the petition and found that the "conditions which caused the original Order for Protection to be issued continue to exist." Id. The court further concluded that Phipps "continues to represent a credible threat to the safety of the Petitioner or a member of the Petitioner's household" and K.G. "has shown, by a preponderance of the evidence, the threat of stalking continues to exist sufficient to justify an extension of the original Order." Id. Finally, the court found that Phipps is "sending letters to the Court and Church Members asking to have them forwarded to the Petitioner. She continues to harass and make threats to" K.G. Id. The Court extended the original protective order until February 6, 2018.

         [¶7] On February 28, 2016, Phipps sent an email to three church elders, which is reproduced in its entirety.

I originally sent this to my dad and now I am forwarding it. I'm off work Tuesday. I will give [K.G.] until Tuesday evening to comply. I have emailed channel 13 about doing a story. If Tuesday evening passes by then I will have him arrested for battery.
I went for my counseling session yesterday. I told my counselor that I can't handle this thing between me and [K.G.] anymore. I am no longer angry, and I am beyond hurt, I think I am broken. It has ruined by life. That's exactly what I told [K.G.] when I seen him in Court a month ago. I can't handle the stress of it alone. After much consideration, I have now gone public with my story. I have talked with several high ranking officials this week about my case. Hopefully they can intervene. I told my counselor that I believe [K.G.] owes me an apology and here's why: He broke my trust in two ways:
1) the first small way is because I told him something I thought was confidential and he said 'o.k. you can pray for us too.' He then proceeded to plaster mine and my husband's name all over the prayer list for the whole church to see. He stabbed me in the back. 2) The second big way he broke my trust is when I was in his office he came from around his desk and said "I love you Shelly, " and gave me a hug. It happened again the night I was baptized. He waited for me outside the front door and said "I love you Shelly." That's TWICE!!! That is sexual harassment.
My concern is that I know he got in trouble in New Hampshire for the same type of behavior. Then he denied it, and then had death threats on him. The problem is they want to pick, pick, pick on other people's marriages when they definitely have one of their own to work on. I reported this behavior to the Elders. One Elder brought the four of us together and said "Nobody say anything because it will hurt the church." That wasn't fair. I was not allowed to say what was bothering me. That's when I started writing letters. Then that same Elder said "Shelly you need to be quiet because it makes it look like all you want is [K.G.] back. I don't want [K.G.] If I had of wanted him I could have had him when I was in his office, but that's not what I was there for. It is negligence! Needless to say it was not handled properly. The Elders need to step up and take control of this situation because it has spiraled out of control. Instead, they are sitting back and letting [K.G.] call the shots. They are his boss and they can tell him what to do. If he puts me in jail again I will just hold a news conference from my jail cell.
[K.G.] has choices: He can resign, retire, apologize or go to jail for battery. I hope he makes the right decision soon. I am more than willing to apologize for my part in this. For now, my counselor's advising me to exercise to relieve some of the stress that's on me.

Ex. Vol., State's Ex. 1.

         [¶8] A church elder forwarded the email to K.G. on the same day the elder received it, and K.G. contacted the police. Shortly thereafter, Phipps was charged with two counts of invasion of privacy, one as a Class A misdemeanor and one as a Level 6 felony because Phipps had two prior convictions for the same offense.

         [¶9] A jury found Phipps guilty of both offenses. The trial court merged the two verdicts and entered a judgment of conviction for the Level 6 felony invasion of privacy charge.

         [¶10] At the sentencing hearing, the trial court considered her prior invasion of privacy convictions and long-term harassment of K.G. as an aggravating circumstance. The court considered Phipps's mental health as a mitigating circumstance and specifically noted that "she appears to be addressing [her mental health issues] at this time with medication and counseling."[1] Appellant's App. p. 8. Phipps was ordered to serve a two-and-one-half year sentence, with a one-year placement in work release and the remainder of the sentence suspended to probation. Phipps now appeals.

         Sufficient Evidence of Communication

         [¶11] Phipps argues that the State failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that she committed invasion of privacy.

When we review a claim challenging the sufficiency of the evidence we neither reweigh the evidence nor assess the credibility of the witnesses. Instead, we consider only the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom that support the verdict. And we will affirm the conviction if there is probative evidence from which jury could have found the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Suggs v. State, 51 N.E.3d 1190, 1193 (Ind. 2016) (citing Treadway v. State, 924 N.E.2d 621, 639 (Ind. 2010)).

         [¶12] To convict Phipps of Level 6 felony invasion of privacy, the State was required to prove that Phipps knowingly or intentionally violated an ex parte protective order issued under Indiana Code chapter 34-26-5 and that Phipps had a prior unrelated conviction for invasion of privacy. Ind. Code § 35-46-1-15.1((2). The State specifically alleged that Phipps harassed, annoyed, telephoned, contacted, or directly or indirectly communicated with K.G. in violation of the protective order issued under case number 28D01-1201-PO-12. Appellant's App. pp. 24-25.

         [¶13] It is undisputed that Phipps was aware of the protective order.[2] The issue is whether she indirectly contacted K.G. by sending the email to a church elder.

Contact is defined as "establishing of communication with someone" or "to get in communication with." Communication occurs when a person makes something known or transmits information to another. Further, communication may be either direct or indirect and is not limited by the means in which it is made known to another person.

C.W.W. v. State, 688 N.E.2d 224, 226 (Ind.Ct.App. 1997) (internal citations omitted).

         [¶14] In Kelly v. State, 13 N.E.3d 902, 905 (Ind.Ct.App. 2014), this court concluded that the defendant's text to the victim's child, which stated, "if you see your mom tell her I said rattle, rattle, rattle" and was immediately shown to the victim, was sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant indirectly communicated with the victim.

         [¶15] Our court reached the opposite conclusion in Huber v. State, 805 N.E.2d 887 (Ind.Ct.App. 2004). In that case, the defendant asked a domestic violence advocate to call the victim and speak to her on his behalf. The domestic violence advocate refused and told the defendant she could not do that. Therefore, we concluded that the defendant's ...

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