By Eric Freedman
Jennifer Cook initially got along amicably with her neighbors in rural Bartholomew County, Indiana.
But that relationship went downhill when the neighbors, Brian and Katrina Brumley, bought a Great Pyrenees puppy to protect their poultry, goats, miniature horse and miniature donkey from coyotes, foxes and bobcats, according to legal documents in Cook’s unsuccessful appeal of her stalking conviction for harassing the Brumleys with recorded animal noises.
The dog, which reached 130 pounds, sometimes broke free of its restraints, ran loose, defecated in Cook’s yard and barked while confined, but it didn’t bite anyone or act aggressively, the Indiana Court of Appeals said in a recent opinion.
“In an effort to muffle the barking, the Brumleys tried moving the dog to various areas on the property farther from Cook’s house,” the court said.
To no avail.
So Cook took matters into her own hands, aiming loudspeakers at the Brumleys’ house and “playing recordings of animal noises, including barking, goat sounds and animal calls intended to attract predators,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the unanimous three-judge appeals panel. “She often played the recordings throughout the night until dawn.”
Those noises were “the type often associated with hunting calls,” Cook’s legal brief acknowledged.
One night, the Brumleys’ daughter “woke up in a panic,” fearing that the baby goat she showed at the local 4-H fair had gotten out of its pen, the court said. The Brumleys called police.
Tensions escalated as Cook continued blasting animal noises throughout the summer of 2017, the court said, and she put a sign on her fence stating that she would continue to do so from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.
“On one occasion, Cook blasted the animal noises for 72 consecutive hours,” the court said. Police responded to 911 calls from the Brumleys and other people living nearby, sometimes making multiple visits a day.
When police warned Cook of a possible disorderly conduct charge, she responded that the Brumleys’ animals had bothered her for years, “and when she learned that the recordings were agitating the animals, she continued to play them for revenge,” according to the appeals court.
Cook set up surveillance cameras and blasted the animal noises when they were outdoors or returning home from work. At other times, she yelled profanities at them, ridiculed their economic status and remarked on their daughter’s epileptic seizures, the court said.
Then there were threatening and insulting text messages, including ones calling the Brumleys “pathetic pieces of excrement,” the court said. And there was the drone Cook flew over their goat pens, “low enough that it frightened and antagonized the goats and dogs.”
Police obtained a search warrant and seized cameras, hunting noise machines and an ultrasonic animal noise machine, according to Cook’s brief.
A Bartholomew County Superior Court jury convicted Cook of felony stalking. She was sentenced to two years in jail, with four months served and 20 months suspended while she is on probation.
Cook has completed the jail term, according to her lawyer, James Voyles Jr. of Indianapolis.
In upholding the conviction, the appeals court rejected Cook’s challenge to the Brumleys’ testimony and found sufficient evidence to support the jury verdict.
“Cook’s barrage of harassment made [Brian Brumley] feel frightened and intimidated to the point that he purchased a conceal carry permit,” the court said.
It rejected Cook’s argument that her conduct was “constitutionally protected speech,” and it said her text messages confirmed “that she knew she was crossing the line between exercising her free speech right to play animal noises and engaging in illegal conduct.”
It said, “Cook engaged in a protracted, multifaceted pattern of harassment, with her conduct and cameras and loudspeakers aimed directly at the Brumleys. She surveilled them, harassed them with loud animal noises designed to agitate their livestock and attract predators, and made direct contact with them via phone calls, text messages and verbal threats and tongue lashings.”
Cook even boasted to a friend that she wouldn’t stop until she’d driven the Brumleys from their home and “almost gleefully” bragged about the worsening of the daughter’s epileptic episodes, it said.
It was the second related criminal case against Cook.
Earlier this year, a separate Court of Appeals panel upheld Cook’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice. That charge arose from her threatening a witness who was to testify in the Brumleys’ case.
She received a one-year suspended sentence and probation on that charge, and the state Supreme Court declined to review that conviction.