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Police: Groveland man who followed and questioned Black woman will face charges of disorderly conduct

The incident was captured on video this week.

A house on Juniper Terrace in Groveland had a sign in its front yard with the word "racism" crossed out. On Monday, 21-year-old Julia Santos, who is Black, posted a three-minute clip of an interaction with a white man she says followed her around town and accused her of acting suspicious.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Police in Groveland said Thursday that a 65-year-old resident who allegedly followed and harassed a Black woman in her car — an incident that was captured on video and widely shared online — will face charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace.

According to police, the suspect will be summonsed to Haverhill District Court for a clerk magistrate’s hearing.

On Monday, 21-year-old Julia Santos, who is Black, posted a three-minute clip of her interaction with the man, who accused her of acting suspiciously as she picked up free dog food at a house not far from her own.

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Santos, a lifelong Groveland resident, was driving back when the man began following her, she said. When she pulled over, he pulled alongside her car and began questioning her.

Video Santos took of the confrontation, which was shared on Facebook, showed the man telling her that he didn’t “feel safe with you driving around in my neighborhood.” He also asked Santos what “color” she was when Santos asked if he was nervous because she is Black.

Police did not name the suspect in Thursday’s announcement. However, the Globe confirmed with an official close to the investigation this week that the man was Paul Birkhauser, who was also identified in Santos’s post online. Birkhauser did not return several messages from the Globe on Wednesday.

During their investigation, which was led by Detective Steven Petrone, Groveland police determined that “the man had disturbed neighbors during the incident, and another motorist reported having to drive off the roadway to avoid him while he was allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation with the woman he followed,” according to officials.

When the incident was first reported, Groveland Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said the details of what happened “deeply disturbed” him.

Residents in the small town — which is 98 percent white, according to census data — were left grappling this week with what the occurrence said about their community. In interviews with the Globe Wednesday, neighbors and former students expressed a mix of shock and dismay. Others, however, said they weren’t too surprised.

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Finance Director Denise Dembkoski said in a statement Wednesday that this situation gave the town a collective pause.

“Groveland seeks to be a safe and welcoming community for all. Anyone should be able to drive or walk on any street without being made to feel like a criminal,” Dembkoski said. “I join in the outrage and collective anger felt by our residents but am moved by the support offered to the victim in this case.”

In a message to the Globe on Thursday, Santos said she was “very pleased” that Birkhauser will be summonsed to court.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.