The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arrested a Belgian man on Tuesday after a local comedian accused him of sending her unsolicited, harassing emails for eight months before allegedly appearing at a West Hollywood night club where she sometimes performed. Although the man never actually contacted the comedian in person and was not subject to a restraining order, he has been charged with stalking and is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail — a surprising amount considering he is likely charged with a misdemeanor.

The Los Angeles Times did not specify what particular stalking or harassment offense the man is charged with, but the most serious such offenses under California law generally involve harassing behavior which would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety. No allegation has been made that the Belgian fan intended to threaten the comedian physically.

According to the Times, the Belgian man first contacted the comedian about eight months ago. Since then, LASD investigators claim, the emails became “increasingly aggressive and inappropriate,” and ultimately expressed his desire to travel to LA and meet the woman, which caused her some concern.

On Friday, February 24, someone emailed the comedian that the Belgian man was in Los Angeles, and also that a man who allegedly identified himself as the sender of the emails had appeared at a Sunset Boulevard comedy club asking for her.

Because the comedian, as an entertainer, “identified the problems with this type of unsolicited attention,” according to LASD officials, she decided to file a police report. Sheriff’s investigators were able to use information in his emails to find his hotel and arrest him.

After movies such as “Fatal Attraction,” “Cape Fear” and “Sleeping with the Enemy,” celebrity stalkers have become a part of Hollywood lore — and minor stars have been accused of pretending to have stalkers simply for publicity, although there is no evidence that was the case here.

In fact, it is difficult to say how common celebrity stalking actually is. Law enforcement has only been tracking stalking as a distinct offense since 1994, and those statistics estimate incidents of stalking among the public at large, rather than celebrities in particular. That said, there is no doubt that some celebrities are the targets of stalkers, and that some of those people can be dangerous.

However, the fact that some people seeking to meet celebrities are dangerous cannot justify treating every such person as a danger. Under the rule of law, individuals must be charged with crimes only when they themselves commit them — not because others in similar circumstances have, on some occasions, ended up committing them.

In this case, we have virtually no information about the content or context of the Belgian man’s emails to the Los Angeles comedian. He may have seemed friendly, strange, mentally unbalanced or dangerous, but we do not know. He may have made threats, but no threats were reported. Without more specific information about the nature of the emails, we simply cannot assume he is dangerous at all.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Man arrested on suspicion of stalking comedian,” Andrew Blankstein and Robert J. Lopez, Feb. 28, 2012