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Crystal Bock

Crystal Bock poses in front of a mural on a street in Cotacachi, Ecuador, during a trip she took there last year.

When Crystal Bock, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln lecturer, got a call early one morning from one of her former interns, who was concerned about a student of hers from Tajikistan, Bock decided to approach the young woman, cautiously, through an online app.

"I asked if she was OK, and she said 'I'm not good,'" Bock said in an interview with the Journal Star about the events that followed and led her to be facing a ticket for third-degree assault.

Bock said the woman, a student of hers at UNL's ESL Department, said she was trying to leave her husband and get to a friend's in New York, but her husband was keeping her documents.

"So we made a plan that weekend when I would go and help her to leave," Bock said. "I knew it was kind of an intense situation."

But, she said, she didn't get the sense it was dangerous.

Before she headed to the door, Bock texted asking if she was ready. A friend waited in the car.

When she knocked, her student's husband answered. She said she was his wife's teacher and friend and wanted to speak with her. His sister and mother came to the door. They all said she wasn't there.

Bock said she knew she was there, then saw her coming down the stairs.

"If you could've seen the look of terror in her eyes," she said, recounting the situation.

Bock said she stepped into the doorway, gave her a hug and asked if she had her things.

"That's when the whole altercation started," she said.

Bock said what came next was a bit of a blur. The sister-in-law pulled the young woman away. Bock got shoved. The husband smacked his wife across the face, and she started screaming, Bock said.

Bock said she tried to wrestle her away from her husband.

In the tussle, she admits, she grabbed his hair, and his shirt ripped off. She yelled for her friend outside to help; and he called the police. Bock, by then pushed out of the house, could hear her student screaming inside.

"I've never been in a situation like that before. I didn't know what to do," she said.

But it wasn't long before the door flew open and her friend came out, bleeding and without shoes or socks or a coat on a chilly November day. Her sister-in-law threw two suitcases out after her, yelling obscenities, Bock said.

"It was just pretty terrible," she said.

When Lincoln police got there, Bock said, they treated her like she was "some kind of trespassing criminal." The officer talked to the husband, his sister and mother in their home, then came out and ticketed Bock for third-degree assault, a misdemeanor.

Bock said she was told she should've let the police handle it, she had no business doing this. But she disagrees.

"Yeah I did," she said in an interview later.

Bock said her student knew and trusted her, not police. She was just trying to help.

Suddenly, the woman with zero criminal record had a court date and was preparing to fight.

That's where Dick Clark, a Lincoln attorney who also is Bock's neighbor and good friend, came in.

When she told him her story, he took up her cause, admittedly with "righteous indignation."

Clark talked to the officer who ticketed her; the Lancaster County Attorney's office; the Governor's office; the Nebraska Attorney General's office, which coordinates the state's Human Trafficking Task Force.

At first, the deputy county attorney talked about the possibility of reducing the charge to disturbing the peace. But Clark wasn't interested.

"I didn't care if it was a littering charge," he said. "Crystal was in the right in this case. They should be giving her a letter of merit."

By the end of the conversation, the prosecutor decided not to charge her.

Certainly prosecutors want people to call the police in cases like this, a point Lancaster County Attorney Pat Condon made when asked about Bock's situation.

"The best thing would be to turn that over to police and let them look at it," he said. "That keeps you safe and not getting into trouble."

Police are specifically trained to help people in abusive situations and victims of human trafficking, Condon said.

Clark agrees if Bock had called the police from the start it would've been easier for prosecutors. But not everyone is comfortable going to police, particularly minority populations, he said.

In this case, Clark said, Bock saw a victim who needed help and decided to be the one to help her.

"She didn't expect violence. She didn't prepare for violence," he said.

She came to the defense of a third party, and herself, and used a reasonable and proportionate amount of force, Clark said.

He called her a hero and said this really could happen to anybody.

That's a worry, Clark said, because we need to protect and help each other, and most people don't have an activist lawyer next door to intervene.

Bock said she, too, wonders what would've happened if she didn't know Clark.

That's why, after prosecutors decided not to charge her, she went to Sen. Anna Wishart to tell her the story, pitching a Good Samaritan law that would protect people trying to get someone out of an abusive situation, like human trafficking or domestic violence.

"Otherwise you have a whole world just standing by because they could get in trouble," Bock said.

Clark said senators seem interested in proposing an interim study to look more closely at the issue.

Bock said she's never been in a situation like this before.

"I want it to have something positive come out of it," she said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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Reporter

Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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