A man broke into a home in Charlotte and sexually assaulted a woman.
Emily H. awoke at 5 a.m. on Jan. 3 to find that a stranger had broken into her home, come up the stairs, removed his clothes and gotten on top of her.
Her husband was sleeping in another room because Emily had not been feeling well. When he heard her screams he came running.
By the time he reached the bedroom, the man had fled the room and was nowhere to be found. He had disappeared as quickly as he had appeared; a ghost that left behind a trail of terror but little else.
Police had named a suspect in the case — they would later arrest a drifter with a long criminal record named William "Billy" Thompson who was familiar to many folks living in the Charlotte suburb — but they hadn't found him yet.
6 days after the assault, Emily felt like she was a victim again. This time by local TV station WSOC.
Emily was outside her house, watching her kids play in the snow, when the news van from WSOC showed up.
Creative Loafing Charlotte writes that she knew immediately why the news van was there, and told her kids to get inside.
"[The news crew] was getting out and setting up the camera, so I felt like I could either try to get the kids inside right this second, and if I can't then I can't," Emily said. So she resorted to a Plan B: "I started running down to the fence and screaming at them."
She repeatedly yelled "Don't do this," while Becker motioned for her to be quiet.
How things unfolded from there differs depending on whom you ask.
According to Joe Pomilla, general manager and vice president of WSOC, as soon as Emily identified herself and told the crew to leave, they apologized and left. Emily said she never got an apology from Becker, and that the crew stood on the other side of her fence refusing to leave for several minutes before finally packing up. She recalled yelling "They won't leave" at a passing car, hoping the stranger would stop and help. The car kept going.
Emily has been a professional reporter for 15 years. She has worked for the Charlotte Observer and the Chicago Tribune. More recently, she's done freelance reporting for Charlotte Magazine, The New York Times and Reuters.
Much of Emily's career has been spent covering crime and the courts, specifically, and her disgust with the decision to report on her sexual assault case from in front of her home stems from her experiences in that position.
"It was pure terror of not wanting them there, and pure fury because, as a journalist, I know that you're not supposed to do this," she said. "I don't know if I really even considered the possibility of someone coming here. It just seems like so obviously a terrible idea. In my experience, nobody from the media contacts sexual assault victims unless it's through a representative, through a pastor, or a family advocate, or an attorney. Or it's someone who specifically says they want to talk."
Once the news crew left and Emily had let her kids sled a little longer, she went inside and called WSOC to demand an apology. She spoke with news director Julie Szulczewski, who she said stood by the decision to send Becker to Emily's street and reiterated that the crew had not trespassed on her property. According to Szulczewski, they had done nothing wrong.
In an email to Emily, Pomilla said he had reviewed video and audio evidence involved with the incident and stands by the stories of Becker and Szulczewski.
Becker, Pomilla and Szulczewski all refused to comment for this story, but Pomilla did tell Emily in an email that the crew had seen a Crime Watch sign and wanted to use it as a backdrop for a shoot. He maintained that they didn't know which house was Emily's and never planned to include her, her home or her family members in the shot.
The Crime Watch sign sits about 100 feet south of the fence line where Emily said the news crew was setting up the camera. It faces away from the spot where she said the crew was standing. Emily has asked Pomilla to see the same video he reviewed, as she is convinced it will prove that either he is lying to her or his crew is lying to him.
"Just to be through something really traumatic and to have intimate knowledge of how the news industry works — to see them double down on the ethics of this and then to have them lie to me, that is so insulting," Emily said. "To be lied to on top of all this, it's very insulting."
In his email to Emily, Pomilla wrote, "It is unfortunate that our crew was trying to set up in close proximity to what turned out to be your residence. We are reviewing what, if anything, our news teams can do differently in the future to avoid such unintended consequences."
Emily said she is still waiting for her apology from Becker, but is sharing her story in hopes that news organizations will learn the effects such actions can have on victims, as most won't fight back or report similar incidents.
"It's because I'm still so mad at them, and I want there to be enough of a public sense of this, or a public discussion that this was a fuck-up, that it will not happen again," she said. "Mistakes are always made, but this was negligence."