Several years before Jarrod Ramos allegedly murdered five people in the Capital Gazette’s newsroom in Annapolis, he pled guilty to harassing a woman he went to high school with. Then he spent years filing lawsuits across four different Maryland court systems — sometimes without a lawyer — trying to undo that decision and clear his name.
Five days after the guilty plea, The Capital published a column called, “Jarrod wants to be your friend.” In it, writer Eric Hartley describes a “yearlong nightmare” in which Ramos — initially via Facebook, then through texts and emails — sent “vulgar” messages to the woman and told her to kill herself.
Ramos sued the Capital Gazette, publisher Tom Marquart and Hartley for defamation. The article portrays him as dangerous and insane, Ramos argues in the legal filing in Prince George’s County Circuit Court.
“It portrays me as some sort of internet predator. And the headline basically says he’s coming for you next,” he told the court.
The case was dismissed, but Ramos went on to appeal the decision.
But even before filing the defamation suit, Ramos began an effort to reverse his guilty plea in the courts.
Filing Motions, Petitioning the Courts
As a result of the harassment charge, the court gave Ramos a suspended 90-day jail sentence, a $500 fine and 18 months of supervised probation. In October 2011 — three months after pleading guilty — Ramos, through his attorney, filed a motion for the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to reconsider the judgment. A month after that, his guilty plea was changed to probation before judgment.
Ramos filed the defamation suit in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in July 2012, and then in January 2013 — a year and a half after he pleaded guilty and Hartley’s column ran — Ramos, this time without a lawyer, petitioned the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to clear his record.
In his petition, he says the citizens of Anne Arundel County were “inflamed” by Hartley’s columns. In online comments, they labeled Ramos, “sicko” and “predator.”
Ramos also says the prosecutor solicited the media attention, and the woman he was accused of harassing had lied to the court.
Two different judges denied his request, so Ramos asked Administrative Judge John McKenna to reassign the motion to another judge. When McKenna denied that request, Ramos sued McKenna. That lawsuit was also dismissed.
Going After ‘The Conspiracy’
The legal battles didn’t end there. In August 2014, Ramos sued the woman he originally pleaded guilty to harassing, her lawyer, and another lawyer involved in the defamation case for invasion of privacy and malicious use of process.
The legal documents, filed in in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, describe a conspiracy plotted by the woman, the attorneys, the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office and several people from the Capital Gazette to set him up in both the courtroom and the media, causing lasting damage. The accusations of harassment and the lengthy legal battles that followed cost Ramos a higher-paying job at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, he claims.
Though Hartley and others affiliated with the Capital Gazette weren’t named in the suit, Ramos’s court filing questions the journalist’s motives and tactics. He accuses Hartley of ignoring statements made in court and of failing to question the woman’s motives in his column.
“Despite the absence of factual support, Marquardt ordered Hartley to write the Column anyway because in his reckless news judgement the false light was true and he wanted the public to know it,” Ramos writes. “Hartley was consciously aware of the likelihood that contacting [Ramos] would have resulted in receiving information contrary to his preconceived false storyline.”
Three years after Hartley’s column was published, Ramos writes in the filing that he “has sworn a legal oath he would like to kill Hartley, and he still would.”
Both Tom Marquardt and Eric Hartley have since left the Capital Gazette.
Ramos’s defamation suit against the newspaper’s publisher ended in February 2016 when the Maryland Court of Appeals denied a request to hear his appeal.
A few minutes before he allegedly shot through The Capital’s glass door killing four journalists and a sales associate, Ramos tweeted about the Court of Special Appeals judge who rejected the first appeal in his defamation claim.
“[Expletive] you, leave me alone,” he wrote.