Bob foster heard that joke. He didn’t like it. He saw seatbelt infraction stings, frequent traffic stops, cars being rifled through. “The Sunriver Police Department would have some poor little housekeeper pulled over, standing in sloshy snow on the side of the road in tennis shoes while they searched her car,” he says.
Foster started attending meetings of the Sunriver Owners Association and service district, speaking out about police. Though his business is headquartered outside the resort and he doesn’t own property in Sunriver proper, Foster set up meetings with board presidents and prominent people there, urging them to halt what looked (at least to him) like an emerging police state.
His perception framed by his hobbyist’s appreciation for American history, Foster believed it his duty to participate in the town’s governance. “We’re supposed to do these things,” he says. “We’re the last free people who can do these things.”
Hartung, whose homeowners association presidency extended into the early days of Foster’s activism, says, “He struck me as a very honest, very direct individual without any kind of selfish motivation. He had a real community spirit. It was, you know, ‘This isn’t what I need for me personally, this is what I think the community needs.’”
The police came to see things differently. Soon after he began testifying about law enforcement, officers began compiling a dossier that fattened with each passing month. Today, the court file on Foster is hundreds of pages long, stuffed with police memos and e-mails about the businessman’s briefest interactions with officers:
Foster loitered in the parking lot of the police department in his truck, sometimes driving through it several times a day, “facing the department’s back door with his parking lights on ... late in the evening.”
He “pointed his finger and gestured at (Hughes) as he drove past,” “yelled at Hughes in a parking lot,” glared when he saw police, in one case “laughing and staring at the sergeant.”
He revved the engine of his truck behind Hughes.
He called police “the local Gestapo.”
He watched them and took notes, while “staring at us ... ”
He approached traffic stops, once to ask about “the big crime of the night.”
One memo describes Foster laughing like “the villain the Joker from the Batman cartoons.”
Perhaps the most troubling report: that Foster followed Patnode home one night, at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. Pressed to dismiss the incident later in a deposition, Patnode would not. “Normal behavior is not stalking someone. He shouldn’t have followed me,” he said. “Mr. Foster follows me around. He follows the officers in Sunriver. He does it all the time. He stalks people all the time.”
Police declined to comment for this article, but the file builds a portrait of Foster at odds with the lithe post-hippie business and family man’s affect. Court documents filed by the officers describe him as a person “more brazen and obsessed as time goes on,” who “carries guns with him,” and “a knife on his belt.” All the same, for a long time, the police did not arrest Foster or cite him for a crime. Instead, after meticulously documenting many interactions with Foster, Hughes and Patnode sought the stalking orders against him.
Neither the officers nor their attorney would comment, but according to Sunriver’s recently ousted police chief, the move wasn’t the officers’ idea. A statement in the lawsuit against Sunriver filed by Mike Kennedy, the former chief, says that members of the Sunriver Service District and the district’s lawyer urged the cops to file their civil complaints. The service district is also paying for their litigation, using tax dollars paid by homeowners. (Current officials with the homeowners association and service district also declined to comment.)
Foster offers a simple explanation for most of the incidents: his constant drives around Sunriver inevitably bring him near the police. He wasn’t following Patnode home that night, he says, but visiting a friend. (That man, now a former friend, disputes Foster’s account in an affidavit.) On a more sinister level, Foster claims that ever since a particularly divisive community meeting in 2007, in which he says he felt he was finally making headway with local leaders, the police have been actively dogging him.
“From that day forward, it’s been follow me everywhere I go,” he says. In one episode, he says he looped through one of Sunriver’s many traffic circles to see if police would continue tailing him. He made it through a couple of times with a cop car close behind. Police, he claims, once videotaped him walking his toddler grandchildren through a grocery store, then putting them in car seats.
Police even follow him outside their legal patrol area. “A disproportionate amount of everything they claim I’ve done, had I done it, has happened outside their jurisdiction,” Foster says. “When you look at the police files, it gets pretty obvious who’s following who.”
Meanwhile, Foster’s daughter hired a private investigator to interview locals about their interactions with cops. The recordings of those talks provide at least a glimpse—slanted though it may be—into the feelings of some members of Sunriver’s working class.
One man tells of being held at gunpoint and ordered out of an RV, suspected of breaking into it. (It was his.) Another woman says she was held at gunpoint after she got out of her car in a parking lot, unaware of why she had just been pulled over. Another woman reports seeing three officers draw guns on an elderly couple in a car. The interview subjects complain of warrantless car searches, vehicle profiling, and the heckling of housekeepers.
Not many people would talk to a reporter about this aspect of Sunriver life. But one restaurant worker who did underlined the perceived double standard: “They don’t pull over the tourists who are drinking at the bar.”
“Normal behavior is not stalking someone. Mr. Foster follows me around.” —Sergeant Joseph Patnode
Foster hopes these perspectives help to vindicate him after his case’s repeated judicial delays. (Foster’s own health problems, including insomnia and anxiety, caused some of those delays.) He says the lingering stalking orders make living and working in Sunriver nearly impossible. He has coped by leaving his business in the care of his daughter and a trusted employee, and hiring an extra worker specifically to accompany him around the resort, more as a witness than as an assistant.
In these efforts, Foster says he’s trying to avoid repeats of an incident that occurred in August 2010—one of many in his case that left behind conflicting accounts of what really happened. Foster parked alongside Sunriver’s Spring River Road, the hood of his Super Duty up, and would later say that the truck’s starter had malfunctioned. According to reports filed by Hughes, Foster had stopped near a traffic incident. Hughes wrote that it was the third time he’d seen Foster that day. He summoned a bike officer to take video while Foster fiddled under the hood of the truck. Within minutes, Patnode also arrived with a second camera.
“He was leaning over and staring in my direction,” wrote Hughes. “As I passed his truck, Foster appeared to be taking a picture of me with his cell phone.”
Though nothing came of it immediately, the moment marked mounting tension between Foster and Sunriver police. About a month later, Hughes reported Foster at a gas station “standing outside his vehicle staring at me. I also noticed him washing his windshield very slowly.” Three sheriff’s deputies came to Foster’s business office and arrested him for violating the stalking orders. Foster says the deputies pulled him from behind his desk and cuffed his wrists in front of his screaming grandchildren. It was the first time he’d been arrested.
Foster claims he’s spent $250,000 on his defense, and an estimated $300,000 on running his business in absentia. In August, he filed his own lawsuit: a $566,000 claim against Hughes, Patnode, and the Sunriver Service District for abuse of process. That complaint recently moved from state court to federal court.
Years after they started keeping tabs on Foster (or he started keeping tabs on them), Sunriver’s police aren’t backing down. “He’s stalking our officers,” Hughes said under oath. “It’s not normal to follow a person around for six years.”
Foster may be a citizen-activist who raised an unwelcome stir in a place that literally sells peace and quiet. Or he may be a gadfly gone horribly astray. There is evidence for both possibilities scattered through the huge stack of reports, files, and statements documenting the saga of Bob Foster and the Sunriver cops.
On a recent reading, one particular document stuck out: a receipt for a new starter for Bob Foster’s Ford Super Duty, purchased the day the police videotaped him with his truck’s hood up on Spring River Road.