Laura Walker, a local tattoo artist, was riding her motorcycle Tuesday afternoon in Fresno’s Tower District when the bike slowed to a stop. She was out of gas.
She called her sister for help, but wouldn’t need it. A man who lived across the street insisted on helping her. So she slipped him her business card and said to contact her if he was interested in a tattoo or artwork.
What followed was a lewd email from the man with a photo of his penis, a flurry of angry social media posts expressing outrage over the message and a tearful video from him admitting he made a mistake and insisting he’s a good person.
Now, Walker and the man, the son of a Fresno County Superior Court judge, have filed competing reports of harassment with the Fresno Police Department.
Stephen Peterson, 29, helped Walker out about noon on Tuesday.
About three hours later, Walker said, Peterson sent her an email offering to pay her $300 if she had sex with him. Peterson said in the email he thought Walker was “bangin’ hot” and described extremely lewd sex acts he wanted to perform with her. He ended the message saying, “Don’t judge me, I just like to (have sex).” He included his phone number, a selfie and photo of his penis, Walker said.
“When I first saw the message I was angry and offended,” Walker said in an email to The Bee. “I felt violated and I felt gross having just said ‘Thank you’ to the guy just a couple hours before.
“I had told him he didn’t have to get me gas and that my sister was on her way to help me, but he insisted,” Walker said. “I actually thought, ‘Cool, he’s being super nice.’ … I felt vulnerable and I still feel like I need to be way more careful when accepting help from someone.”
Walker sent a screenshot of the email message to her sister, who posted it to Facebook, where people began sharing and commenting. Other women began sharing about their “bad encounters” with Peterson. Her sister eventually took down the post. Walker decided to post about it herself.
“I think he is a threat and wanted to share my encounter with him and let people know he tried to offer me money for sex,” she said.
Other Facebook users posted about Walker’s encounter with Peterson, too, including the screenshot of the email.
Some posts included a Craigslist ad allegedly posted by Peterson seeking partners. The ad, which has been removed, was titled “Harder than Algebra 2” and referenced his erect penis. It includes his phone number and multiple photos, including the same selfie he sent Walker and a photo of his penis.
Soon, Internet sleuths began digging up personal information on Peterson. He’s the son of Judge Dennis Peterson, The Bee confirmed through records. Dennis Peterson was appointed to judge in 2010 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The judge also owns the home his son lives in, property records show.
When reached by phone for comment on Friday, Judge Peterson said he had not seen the email message sent by his son and learned about the incident from another son.
“I really don’t know anything about it,” he said. “I don’t want to comment.”
The Facebook information was shared hundreds of times, garnering comments with angry reactions. Posts were deleted and posted again. Soon, commenters allegedly began calling Peterson and his father’s office. He continued sending emails to the tattoo artist, threatening to take her to court.
When reached by phone, Peterson said he was the victim of a crime. “This is complete harassment,” he said. “I’m the victim of an awful crime, and it’s ruining my life right now. It’s been reported to police.”
Peterson declined to provide a police report number and hung up. He did not answer subsequent phone calls.
Both Walker and Peterson on Wednesday filed reports of harassment with Fresno police. An investigation is just starting.
Sgt. Curtis Chastain, who works with Fresno Police Department’s vice unit, said the first email alone is the basis for a criminal investigation, but it would be a tricky case. First, investigators would need to prove Peterson sent the email. (Peterson initially denied sending it, then admitted to it in a video he sent to Walker and an online radio website.) Then investigators would need to determine Peterson’s intention in sending the message.
“There’s a million issues that goes along with these things,” he said. “We do investigate them routinely.”
Peterson responded on Thursday to the backlash with the video message posted by #DDPLive, a page run by the online broadcast Longbox.FM. He admitted sending the email to Walker and insisted he was a good person.
“I’m not a bad person,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion as he holds back tears. “I’m actually a pretty good person. I try to do good things for people.
“I’m not a pervert. I’m not a pedophile. I’m not a rapist. I’m not a murderer. I’m not any of that (expletive) that I’ve been accused of,” he said. “ … I made a mistake in a stupid email. I like to have sex, who doesn’t, man?”