A former Northern Arizona University professor accused of habitually harassing and stalking U.S. Forest Service firefighters and an NAU student pleaded not guilty to all counts against her on Nov. 29.
Melissa Ann Santana, 36, is charged with five counts of felony stalking and three counts of giving false information to law enforcement after she allegedly harassed two Flagstaff-based Hotshot Firefighters and their families.
Santana had worked as an associate professor at NAU's School of Interior Design since 2012. She was arrested on Oct. 30.
The stalking occurred from February 2015 to September 2017 and was largely committed through electronic communication, according to U.S. District Court documents. Santana committed the offenses using “many different identities, email addresses, social media accounts and temporary telephone numbers.”
Santana is exercising her Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, stating that she will not speak to any government officials without the presence of her lawyer, according to documents filed by her attorney, D. Stephen Wallin.
Wallin said he did not wish to comment on the case when reached by phone.
Santana met both firefighters through the online dating app Tinder. She met the first firefighter, labeled as N.L. in court documents, in November 2015, where she used the online alias “Ann, 29,” according to court documents.
N.L. told law enforcement that he had a sexual relationship with the married professor, meeting mostly in her NAU office and his house, until June 2016, when he ended the relationship.
The second firefighter, labeled as K.T. in court documents, was matched on Tinder with Santana, also under the alias “Ann, 29” in August 2016 and told her he wanted to meet the next month. He told law enforcement that he quickly learned that it was the same person who was harassing his coworker.
According to court documents, both men received harassing messages from Santana under multiple false names such as “Laura Towner” and “Kendall Patterson.”
The messages, according to the documents, ranged from sentimental, such as a text to N.L. that said “I miss you so much,” to malicious, with Santana telling K.T. to “be like the Granite guys and go die in a fire,” referring to the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.
Santana also sent threatening text messages to K.T.’s fiancé.
In September 2016, Santana sent an email under the fake name “Cathy McCarthy” to multiple supervisors of the hotshot crew claiming that Flagstaff hotshots raped her 15-year-old daughter while heading to a fire near Rock Springs, Wyoming, according to court documents.
She is also accused of harassing an NAU student in 2015 by sending multiple emails, phone calls and Facebook messages to the student and his friends, according to court documents. The student told investigators that he confided about the harassment to Santana, who he said he considered a friend.
Santana is currently under the custody of the United States Attorney General. Her case is scheduled to go to trial on Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 in the U.S. Post Office Building in Prescott.
If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of 40 years, according to court documents.