A “terrifying” incident at HGTV “Home Town” stars Ben and Erin Napier’s Laurel, Mississippi, home led the couple to seek a restraining order against a California man last May, court records obtained by Heavy show. Erin Napier’s friends were also named as plaintiffs in court documents filed in Jones County, records show. The defendant, John Patrick Gaffney, returned to his home in Santa Barbara and the case was dropped, according to court records.
Erin Napier opened up about the scary experience in a May 2022 Instagram post a year after the incident occurred. She wrote that in May 2021, “Ben started getting messages from lots of folks in town about a 54 year old California man dressed like a Star Wars storm trooper, wearing an ankle monitor bracelet, who had come to town and was saying some very strange things. Things like ‘God sent me here to protect the women of Laurel, specifically little Helen.’ He had bought a house a block from ours and was living in it with nothing but a suitcase and these toys for when my 3 year old daughter ‘comes over to visit.'”
Court documents identify the man as John Gaffney, who had been arrested in California and was free from jail on bail. Napier added, “Ben saw red, his blood boiled. I was terrified and 9.5 months pregnant.” According to the Jones County court records obtained by Heavy, Erin Napier, Ben Napier and Erin’s friends, Mallorie and James Rasberry, filed for a restraining order against Gaffney on May 13, 2021. The case was dismissed on May 19, 2021, after Gaffney returned to Santa Barbara, according to court records.
The Napiers’ Accused Stalker Pleaded No Contest to Charges in California & Spent Time in Jail
John Patrick Gaffney created a lot of buzz in Laurel when he showed up in the Mississippi city, according to local news reports. The Laurel Leader-Call named him as an “obsessed fan,” and headlined its article, “Luke Skystalker?” The newspaper reported that Gaffney was walking around town in a “Star Wars” storm trooper costume and squirting people at local businesses with a water gun.
Laurel Police Chief Tommy Cox told the Leader-Call at the time, “We have had a conversation, but we can’t just tell someone to get out of town because we don’t like them.” On May 21, the newspaper reported that Gaffney had left Laurel, with Cox telling the Leader-Call, “I hope that puts everyone’s mind at ease.” According to the Leader-Call, Gaffney had been seeking to buy a house in Laurel’s historic district in hopes that the Napiers would help him remodel it. Gaffney also sent a letter to the local newspaper apologizing for his behavior. Gaffney was not charged in Mississippi, according to a court case search by Heavy.
Gaffney has worked as a real estate broker in Santa Barbara, according to his LinkedIn profile. He studied psychology at UC Santa Barbara, according to his LinkedIn profile. Gaffney was arrested in Santa Barbara just weeks before his trip to Laurel, according to Edhat, a local news website. Gaffney was accused of brandishing a handgun and a Taser during a verbal altercation on April 22, 2021, the news site reported.
“The victim reported serious verbal threats were made by John Gaffney,” Edhat wrote at the time. “Gaffney then fled into his apartment before police arrived.” Responding officers surrounded Gaffney’s apartment and he eventually surrendered after negotiations, Edhat wrote. Gaffney was initially charged with making terrorist threats, a felony, and brandishing a weapon, a misdemeanor, and held on $50,000 bond, court records viewed by Heavy show.
After returning to Santa Barbara in late May 2021, Gaffney pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of threatening a crime with intent to terrorize, court records show. The weapons charge was dismissed, according to court records. Gaffney was sentenced to nine days in county jail, with credit for five days served and good conduct credit of four days, meaning he was released from custody after his sentencing, according to court records. Gaffney was also sentenced to a year of probation, according to court records. His probation ended on May 28, 2022, court documents reveal.
Erin Napier Said in Her Instagram Post ‘Protect Your Kids in the Online World as Much as You Can’
Napier’s Instagram post provided more details of what life was like for the couple and their children while Gaffney was in Laurel. She wrote in the May 2022 post, “In those two weeks that followed, before he was finally sent back to CA, he found Mal and Jim’s baby girl on walks with her nanny and said unsettling things. Disgusting things.”
She added, “We all had 24 hour security officers at home, while we slept, while we worked. Helen asked who they were and why they were here, and we never told her the truth. ‘They work with us! They’re friends of ours who are staying with us for a little while!’ A year on, I still think of this thing every day but it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’m thankful for the way our neighborhood guarded us and put up a hedge of protection when we needed it and it further validated what I already knew: protect your kids in the online world much as you can.”
Napier told People magazine, “It was really, really scary at the time. When you’re nine and a half months pregnant everything feels elevated. So even more intense and stressful than it normally would be. No one wanted me to know. Everybody was trying to keep it from me because I was pregnant and stressed out. And then when we got in the car and he told me what was going on, it scared me to death, gave me chills. I haven’t talked about it at all publicly since then.”