Kim and Greg Hoffman at their home in White Bear Lake, and their neighbor, Lori Christensen.
David Joles, Star Tribune
The view from Kim and Greg Hoffman’s house in White Bear Lake of the home of Lori Christensen, who will be in court Tuesday.
David Joles, Star Tribune
May 29, 2012: White Bear Lake family's recurring nightmare
- Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE
- Star Tribune
- May 29, 2012 - 7:33 AM
Their kids have heard the taunts, and seen them, too, on signs and banners erected across the street from their White Bear Lake home by a neighbor taking digs at their mom's alcoholism.
Don't read the words, Kim and Greg Hoffman will say. Ignore the shouted obscenities. Yet it can be hard for a child to turn away, especially when father and daughter make the rare foray into the front yard and the neighbor stands with arms folded on her lawn or in the front window.
"She's staring," Kylie Hoffman, 9, will say.
To many, the neighbor, Lori E. Christensen, 49, is a bully making hell out of life along the tree-lined cul-de-sac of Homewood Place. But even bullies can control their behavior, Police Chief Lynne Bankes said. The charges are piling up against Christensen, an executive assistant at the Metropolitan Council, and she's scheduled to be back in court Tuesday.
"In my 35 years as a police officer, I have never met or heard of anybody who is so persistent in their negative behavior toward their neighbors -- or anyone," said Bankes, who's consulted with ministers and psychologists to try to understand the woman whose behavior has triggered at least 80 calls to police over three years. "It's unconscionable."
Christensen could not be reached for comment.
The Hoffmans, who live directly across the street from Christensen, have endured her abuse for five years, they said last week. They say she never has threatened the family with violence, but the couple had to move their two daughters' bedroom to the rear of the house because the girls were afraid to sleep facing the street.
Across Homewood Place, one couple who live next door to Christensen and her young daughter have a court order forbidding her from having any contact with them. An elderly woman who lived on the other side moved because she no longer could tolerate her neighbor's behavior, Bankes said.
Whatever the motivation, all evidence suggests that the behavior is entirely one-sided -- not just with the Hoffmans but with all of the neighbors, the chief said.
During the past two years, Christensen has been charged repeatedly for violating harassment restraining orders obtained by the Hoffmans. The offenses, in turn, have escalated in severity, from misdemeanors to a felony for which she was sentenced last December to 90 days in the county correctional facility.
At her sentencing, her attorney, Katie Rindfleisch, described her as a hardworking single mom and a "positive, contributing member of society." She submitted a letter from Christensen's boss, David Hinrichs, chief information officer for the Met Council, in which he testified to "Lori's high standards and strong character over the last two years." Hinrichs wrote he was "lucky" to have her on staff and "would hire her again in a minute."
On Friday, Rindfleisch said that she no longer represented Christensen.
A Met Council spokeswoman said that Christensen still is employed as an executive assistant at an annual salary of $51,917. The agency was silent, however, as to whether Hinrichs still had the same opinion of her.
Last week, Christensen was charged again in Ramsey County District Court -- this time with two counts of aggravated stalking in connection with her behavior toward the Hoffmans.
In the course of plea and sentencing hearings, she never has explained her actions, the county attorney's office said.
Trying to cope
About 15 years ago, the Hoffmans moved to Homewood Place, drawn by the prospect of raising children in a safe, quiet cul-de-sac, Kim Hoffman said. Christensen moved in about three years later. Their daughters played together until an incident about five years ago during which they say Christensen's daughter poured nail polish on one of the Hoffman girls. Greg Hoffman went to tell Christensen about it and was greeted with an obscenity-laced directive to take care of his own kids.
"I said, 'Lori, you may intimidate everyone else, but you don't intimidate us,'" he said. "Those were the last words we spoke to her for two years."
A detente of sorts was reached later, but relations broke down permanently in 2009 when Kim Hoffman -- a recovering alcoholic who had been rushed to the hospital that year after mixing alcohol and prescription drugs -- tried to pull her daughter away from Christensen, who was screaming at the children.
Again, she said, Christensen directed an obscenity toward her, and then said: "Why didn't you have a little more Scotch? I wish you had died," court documents state.
The aggravated stalking charges cite six subsequent incidents during which Christensen is alleged to have erected a banner stating, "I saw mommy kissing a Breathalyzer," and also made masturbatory gestures toward Greg Hoffman. She also twisted the lyrics to the sea shanty "Drunken Sailor" by singing aloud, "What do you do with a drunken mother?" and feigned drunkenness while operating a remote-controlled car in view of children celebrating their son's 13th birthday.
Greg Hoffman said that the signs cited in court documents represent a few of possibly 50 she has posted in recent years.
Christensen pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of violating a harassment restraining order, and was directed by District Judge George Stephenson to be prepared in December to answer the question: Why do you do these things?
The question, as it turns out, never came up. But Stephenson had an unpleasant surprise: Christensen would be spending Christmas away from her daughter in the workhouse.
"I don't like punishing an innocent child," he said. "But there are some other innocent children and some innocent adults ... [and] they'll be able to go out, bring in gifts, ride around on bicycles, do whatever it is they have planned for the holidays and not have to give a thought to any harassment or intimidation."
On Tuesday, Christensen is scheduled to be back before Stephenson, accused of violating probation in connection with the latest charges. The judge warned in December that a violation would bring her more than 90 days -- with the question being whether it would be in prison or the workhouse.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041
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