They boycotted his birthday; that is, some of them did. As the office festivities began that March day, the two women whom Ryo Kiyan regarded as his closest friends (not Miss M) walked out and did not return until the party was over.
Later, when the outside attorney hired by Sullivan County for this case interviewed employees in the Planning Division, he reported that the women were “afraid” of Ryo. In his brief, he went all out: “Kiyan made unwanted advances only toward [Miss M] and other female employees. His efforts were pervasive, continuous, unwanted, and in direct violation of directives from his supervisor and rejections by Miss M.”
Ryo felt sickened by the description. It wasn’t him. Was that really how they saw him? Unwanted advances? Toward his married coworkers? Or was it a matter of prosecutorial hyperbole? He decided that had to be the case.
The attorney, Mr. J. S., Esq., didn’t stop there. He leaned hard on the fact that Ryo’s friends at the office were almost exclusively women. In a way, it was true. Those three women were the ones who sat closest to him. They were friendly, he was shy. It all came about quite naturally, until his whole world fell apart. At that time, in his frustration over Miss M’s rejections, he turned to his “friends,” hoping they could intercede and plead his case with her. They, in turn, felt uncomfortable being drawn into the situation and advised him to back off. He might have, if only he could have gotten through to her, even once. He knew she wanted nothing to do with him. He promised never to bother her again, if they could have that one conversation and clear the air.
At the end of March he handed Miss M a handwritten note with the title “An Invitation to Walnut Mountain.” Ryo enjoyed hiking and knew she did, too. She had once told him she hiked quite a bit when she lived in California. He knew Walnut Mountain Park was not yet open for the season, but people went there anyway. He assumed the term “closed” meant only a lack of facilities, such as restrooms, and he promised to inquire about that. He had hiked at Walnut Mountain and enjoyed it. He thought she would, too. He suggested she bring her dog. He always thought it would be fun to hike with a “real” dog. The family canines tended to run small: Pomeranians and Pekingeses. They were not “real” dogs and often had to be carried on long walks.
Miss M saw the invitation as a threat. She could think of no good reason why he would want to take her to a closed park. Therefore, it had to be a bad reason. She became “upset and frightened.”
By her own description, she had been “upset and frightened” since the e-mails began in February. At the hearing, she testified:
I started carrying pepper spray all the time, carrying my cell phone in one hand and my pepper spray in another hand every time I entered and left work. I started always locking my door, locking both my inside door and my outside door to my apartment every time I left. I started to carry a knife . . . I began parking in the parking lot here at the Government Center so that I could always see Ryo’s vehicle when I pulled in, and then I would scan the lot and make sure he wasn’t in the parking lot when I got out of my car. . .
Ryo’s vehicle, a bright blue Honda Fit, would have been hard to miss. It was the first new car he ever owned, bought when he began working for Sullivan County. He never thought of it, or himself, as a menace.
One might reasonably wonder why he kept up the campaign when his attentions were clearly unwanted. It was a classic vicious circle. In his e-mails he pleaded with her for understanding. That was all he did: he pleaded, never threatened. Later he thought of it as pathetic. The more she rebuffed him the more he feared her negative opinion. He wanted her to understand that he was not a bad person, that he had only good thoughts of her. Likewise, the more he persisted, the more she feared him. And so they went round and round, only making things worse for themselves and each other.
Other Aspies have been there, too. In his book Atypical: Life with Asperger’s in 20⅓ Chapters, Jesse A. Saperstein writes: “My persistence is so overbearing that girls misconstrue it as stalking.”
Because she was single and attractive, it was logical that he should choose Miss M for his attentions. It was also unfortunate. Not only was she easily terrified, she also had strong family connections with various Sullivan County law enforcement personnel. Ryo despaired that his family had no local connections at all. And no attorneys but a second cousin in New York City whose position prevented him from offering advice. He had no support but that impotent family of his. Even his “friends” at the office sided with Miss M and told him to back off.
Which he did, or thought he did, but the juggernaut was rolling. It began with a summons to the county attorney’s office, where he was treated to a two-hour lecture. Rather, it seemed to him at the time, not so much a lecture as a tirade. At top volume. In the course of it, Ryo mentioned that he had Asperger’s syndrome. When asked if the condition had been formally diagnosed, he was forced to admit it hadn’t. He remembered the attorney saying that that “might make a difference.” As it turned out, it didn’t, for a peculiar reason we will come to in a later post.
In May 2009 the dam, which had been crumbling, broke. Ryo went to work as usual, suspecting nothing. Shortly afterward, two sheriff’s deputies appeared and marched him out of the office. “Escorted,” as his coworkers later said. It took two deputies, as though he might bolt. Or throw punches. Or whatever they were thinking. They made a point of not wearing uniforms but everyone knew who they were. No one missed what was happening.
From there, the county sent him home. They sentenced him to a month’s suspension without pay, to be followed by two months’ suspension with pay until the hearing. He was to have no further contact with any of his coworkers. It meant canceling out of the canoe trip that he had looked forward to so eagerly. Worst of all, it meant uncertainty.
In true Asperger fashion, he still didn’t comprehend the effect he had had on his coworkers. In spite of the trauma and humiliation, he wanted his job back. He talked of it constantly: “If I get my job back. . . .” For that, he needed someone to represent him at the hearing. He tried two attorneys, neither of whom was notably helpful. Still hoping, he went for broke. He hired Michael Sussman, a noted civil rights lawyer based in nearby Goshen. And broke he would be, when all was finished.