Alavia Khawaja said everything seemed relatively normal as she handed an Airbnb guest the keys to the apartment she shares with her sister. She locked her room up, invited a male friend over as a precaution and left after she gave Leonard Jackson the keys to her apartment on Oct. 11.
When she returned four hours later, she said Jackson was moving the stuff in her apartment around and had broken into her room. He stole $500, threw away all her photos of male friends and ransacked her closet.
“I saw my door was cracked open, the lights were on, my closet had been gone through,” she said. “The cosmetic case where my sister keeps her cash was empty.”
Khawaja said she kicked Jackson out of the apartment in Richardson and immediately contacted Richardson police.
A detective took her statement, but Khawaja said police told her they probably would not be able to arrest Jackson unless he admitted to the theft.
Khawaja turned to Airbnb for help. Someone told her the only way to reach someone who could help her was to fill out a conflict resolution form. If the situation wasn’t independently resolved in three days, Airbnb would step in, they said.
Sgt. Kevin Perlich with Richardson police said on Oct. 17 Jackson was arrested in Dallas on a weapons and drug possession charge. He bonded out shortly after.
Jackson continued to contact Khawaja. He texted her multiple times, asking her to come stay with him or saying he needed a place to stay.
When she didn’t respond, he messaged her through Airbnb, requesting to stay with her again.
Khawaja called the Richardson detective again, who said police had done more digging and discovered Jackson had recently been arrested for harming a child. But he said they probably still wouldn’t be able to do anything unless Jackson admitted to stealing Khawaja’s money.
Airbnb finally responded to Khawaja’s request, but said that it did not cover cash losses and that if she wanted anything more to be done, she’d have to fill out the form again and wait another three days.
Khawaja said a friend suggested trying to obtain a confession from Jackson by texting him. On Oct. 20, she responded to his texts.
“I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t getting help,” she said in an interview. “I texted Leonard and said I would have considered letting him stay if he hadn’t stolen from me. He said, ‘I just got out of jail and want to see you.’”
Khawaja called 911 and told police Jackson was coming to her apartment, but police said they couldn’t send anyone unless he actually showed up.
Sgt. Perlich said the department doesn’t have the resources to send an officer “to everybody’s doorstep on the premise someone might show up.”
“Had (Jackson) been a threat to her before, certainly we would have sent someone there,” he said. “But he left peacefully before and there was no indication he was a physical threat to her.”
Khawaja said she parked her car across the complex and waited for Jackson to come. Screenshots of text conversations with Jackson show him telling her he’s on the way.
In the texts, Jackson said he was coming “to clear up this big misunderstanding” and said things such as, “Will you be my wife, Ima show you how much I appreciate you, Ima show you love,” and “do you got any condoms I can use.”
When she saw Jackson show up at her door, Khawaja called police again and they arrested Jackson for trespassing.
The Oct. 20 arrest report for Jackson was not available Thursday because it is part of an active investigation, Perlich said.
Khawaja said police assured her that Jackson would be in jail for awhile, but 24 hours later, she received a message from him on Airbnb again. He had been released from Dallas County jail on bond. When Khawaja called the detective to ask why Jackson was out, he told her he did not know he had been released.
“I asked why someone didn’t let me know, and he said, ‘If we called someone every time someone was released, we’d always be on the phone,’” Khawaja said.
Perlich said that because police were only able to arrest Jackson on a trespassing charge, which is a Class B misdemeanor, he was able to bond out fairly quickly.
Two weeks after Khawaja’s initial complaint, Airbnb removed Jackson’s profile from the site.
On Wednesday, Ben Breit with Airbnb public affairs said in an email that Airbnb’s response to Khawaja’s complaint “was simply too slow and we are working to fully support our host.”
Perlich said part of the problem was Khawaja renting out a room in the first place.
“You’ve got two young ladies renting out a room, it’s not the best situation,” he said. “Usually when you’re renting out a room that way, you’re not there, but they were. It’s not the best idea or the safest thing to be in the apartment with someone you don’t know.”
Telling her story
Unsatisfied with the help she had received, Khawaja took her story on Twitter on Oct. 27.
As of Wednesday, her Twitter thread had nearly 50,000 favorites.
“I did not expect it to explode the way it did,” she said.
Khawaja said she is glad she posted her story on Twitter, however, because two other women came forward and said they also had negative experiences with Jackson.
One woman told Khawaja that Jackson stayed with her and then stalked her. The woman reported Jackson to Airbnb but his profile was not removed, she said.
Another woman received a message from Jackson but saw a negative review the first woman posted about him and decided not to let him stay, Khawaja said.
After receiving thousands of comments on her Twitter thread, Khawaja also realized how many times a story like hers ends much worse.
“I’m seeing all these other women comment and say, ‘I had a similar experience, but someone died,’” she said. “I realized how lucky I am to be alive. I was really scared while it was happening, but I am so used to being harassed, like most women are, that it didn’t hit me that I could die this time.”
She was frustrated to receive other comments that ultimately blamed her for the whole situation, telling her she should have done things differently.
“I don’t like when people focus on what a victim should have done better,” she said. “There is always something a victim could have done better. If you get hit by a car, you could have been more aware of your surroundings. But no one ever focuses on how the abuser should not have abused.”
In his statement, Breit with Airbnb said Khawaja’s situation was rare.
“This reported behavior is abhorrent and unacceptable, and has no place on Airbnb. We have removed this guest from our platform and are in contact with local law enforcement to offer our assistance,” he said. “There have been over 400 million guest arrivals to date and negative incidents are extremely rare.”
Khawaja also wanted to make it clear she was not trying to blame Richardson police.
“They were all very kind to me, they were just not very efficient,” she said.
Perlich said Jackson was not in custody as of Thursday but a warrant was out for his arrest on theft charges.