Colorado Passes No Bail Legislation for Stalking and DV Offenders

DENVER — As of August 2017 domestic violence offenders will no longer be granted bail after conviction. House Bill 17-1150, “No Bail For Stalking and Domestic Violence Offenders,” protects victims from further abuse by some of the most dangerous offenders.

The bill was signed just a year after the fatal Colorado domestic violence case of Janice Nam.

Coverage by the Denver Post states that on the night of May 30th, 2016, Glen Galloway violated Nam’s restraining order by breaking into her Colorado Springs home as she slept. He proceeded to shoot her twice in the head.

Prior to her murder, Galloway failed to appear in court for a stalking conviction Nam had filed against him. Earlier articles from the Denver Post show that Nam had filed “multiple protection orders related to domestic violence cases in 2014.” The case lead Colorado legislators to question the effectiveness restraining orders have of protecting victims against domestic violence.

Lydia Waligorski, policy director for Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said in an interview with the Post that stalkers “are the folks that don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They are typically not the people who are respecting protection orders.”

Cases like Nam’s are not uncommon. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “Do Protection Orders Protect,” cross-examined the rate of protection order effectiveness of every state in the nation. Their findings showed that for every 100,000 adults, 880 have filed protection orders. Between 84 and 92 percent of these orders are implemented for domestic violence offenses alone. However, almost a fifth of all protection orders go unenforced. Supporters of the new House Bill hope it will eliminate the possibility of further abuse victims often experience once their abuser is set free on bail.

Along with Colorado, 20 other states and DC have implemented immediate arrest laws for domestic violence calls. These laws allow police officers to detain the primary offender without a warrant at the scene of the incident. These laws, along with the denial of bail to offenders, has given new hope to many victims in Colorado.

In an interview with Fox 21 News, Colorado State Representative Clarice Navarro, a main proponent of the new bill, is optimistic for its potential to help victims in the very worst situations.

“This new law will be a sigh of relief to many victims who after enduring the stress of a criminal trial, won’t have to fear retaliation from their attacker,” said Navarro. “I am grateful to all the stakeholders and legislators who participated in this process and hope this new law empowers more victims of stalking and domestic violence to report the abuse they have suffered.”

The new law will take effect August 9.

Just like Politics, All Domestic Violence is Local

From L: David Barden, Attorney; Jim Verity, Former Orange Co. Sheriff Law Enforcement Officer; Carol Wick, Domestic Violence Expert; Dr. Lee Ross, UCF Assoc. Professor of Criminal Justice; Tom Gabor, Criminologist Christy Jordan, Mental Health Counselor.

Big Mountain Data was pleased to produce a local learning event for the League of Women Voters here in Seminole County.  The topic was, “Guns and Domestic Violence: a Deadly Combination.”  The event ran two hours and featured noted gun violence scholar, Dr. Thomas Gabor, as well as an expert panel including voices from law enforcement, victim services, and academia.  Nearly 100 Seminole County residents attended the two-hour event.

Key takeaways included a better understanding of how the danger increases exponentially when a domestic violence offender has access to a firearm, the gaps in the existing process regarding the surrender of firearms, how “murder-suicide” in the headlines is nearly always a euphemism for domestic violence homicide, and the role the community can play in increasing pressure on local leadership to identify and safeguard the population from dangerous, high-risk offenders.

“We need to focus on the volatility of the perpetrator rather than the vulnerability of the victim.” – Carol Wick, domestic violence expert.

Newly filed Texas bills aimed at repeat DV offenders

AUSTIN — Texas Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) hopes to combat domestic violence by repeat offenders in Texas in two bills filed this legislative session.

House Bills 524 and 525 would help inform the community of domestic violence offenses while increasing punishments given to the offenders. Villalba filed the two bills last year on Dec. 7, and Texas’ 2017 legislative session began Jan. 10.

Ben Utley, legislative director at the Texas House of Representatives, said the bills have not yet been introduced but that they are both a top priority.

“Domestic violence is a growing epidemic with tragic consequences,” Villalba told FOX 7 in Austin. “We need to send a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated and that repeat offenses will be met with the harshest penalties available under the law.”

HB 524 would make a third domestic violence conviction a second-degree felony while altering the offender’s eligibility for parole and mandatory supervision. HB 525 would require an offender on his or her third conviction to register in a public database.

Sandi Murphy, a legal and policy advisor for the Battered Women’s Justice Project and advisor to Big Mountain Data, advised caution in supporting a database or registry of this nature.

“Too often, victims of DV end up arrested and convicted (rightly and wrongly),” she said. “Such registries would create devastating effects on their efforts to find work and housing and keep custody of the children.”

The central database proposed in the bill would contain information about the offenders committing violent acts against children or other family members and would also include convictions of dating violence.

“Such registries (much like the firearms bans) create obstacles for prosecutors to obtain plea agreements to charges that actually reflect their DV status, with offenders seeking to plead to non-domestic charges to avoid the registry,” Murphy said.

Villalba has shown similar concerns. In an interview with NBC in Dallas-Fort Worth, he discussed the possibility of a database “outing” potential victims.

“The question is, do we really want to out victims?” he said. “That’s a concern. In this situation, we will prioritize life over that concern.”

Information that wouldn’t be publicly available in the database includes the offender’s social security, driver’s license and telephone numbers, along with any information that could identify the victim. The new bills come after a year that saw another unprecedented domestic violence victory in several states, including Texas.

Last year marked the first time the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women awarded funds based on requirements of the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act. If a state meets the requirements of the act, it would be eligible to receive additional funds in its Stop Violence Against Women and Sexual Assault Services Program. Texas was one of 12 states to qualify for the funding.

Domestic violence hotlines in Texas answered 185,373 calls in 2014. More than 100 Texan women were killed by their partners in 2012, which is about 10 percent higher than the national total.

Two New Additions to the Big Mountain Data Advisory Board

In January of 2015, I was invited at the request of the High Point Police Department, to learn about the agency’s incredible work on domestic violence.  It was a full two-day workshop and law enforcement agencies from around the country attended.  Also present were representatives from The Battered Women’s Justice Project, the Department of Justice, John Jay College, and The Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR).

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Sandi Murphy, Battered Women’s Justice Project, asking the tough questions about the High Point Model for domestic violence offender deterrence.

Sandra Tibbetts Murphy, BWJP

Before I got to the meeting, I met a woman in line at the car rental counter.  We exchanged jokes and pleasantries about the inefficiency (understatement) of the car-renting process.  When I got to the HPPD workshop, I spotted this same woman in our session!   That woman was Sandra Tibbetts Murphy.  She asked tough questions in our workshop, and I made a mental note to be sure to connect with her after the two-day training class was over.

Sandi is a world-class attorney who’s written extensively on scholarly and legislative aspects of domestic violence law.  Many times, I’ve reached out to her over this past year and asked her to clarify aspects of the law I didn’t fully comprehend.  She has always been patient and kind to give me her best insights on her interpretation of the law or the issue I was addressing.

Today, I’m proud to announce Sandi is joining our esteemed Board of Advisors.  She will now be able to engage with our extended team on our enterprise social network, and help guide and inform our understanding of the law.

Retired Chief Marty Sumner, HPPD

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Chief Sumner’s May 2016 retirement party in High Point. A still from our film footage.

The second superstar joining our board is someone I’ve come to know and admire since our very inception.  In fact, it was his words spoken on national television in September 2014, that compelled me to jump out of my seat and demand to know more.  At the height of the Ray Rice saga, ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos ran an investigative segment on domestic violence.  I will never forget the words I heard that day:

“In the five years before we began this, we had 17 domestic-related violence homicides.  In the five years since, we’ve only had one.”  – Chief Marty Sumner,  September 2014.

Chief Sumner retired from his 31-year in law enforcement last May.  He has an unparalleled understanding of crime data, and especially domestic violence data. For the past 7 years, he led the initiative to apply focused deterrence to High Point’s domestic violence problem that was once over a third of the city’s homicides.  What has come to be known as the High Point Model has now been recognized by the DOJ’s Office of Violence Against Women, resulting in a $1.6M contract to the National Network for Safe Communities for replication and further evaluation.  The High Point story is the subject of our documentary. It was Chief Sumner who led the effort to perform a thorough analysis of the city’s domestic violence data, make necessary modifications to the law enforcement software, and implement a system of reporting and alerts that established the baseline that fueled the High Point Model’s success.

The addition of these two strong advocates for change have added a new layer of credibility and strength to our mission.

New Jersey Domestic Violence Registry Bill Moves Forward

New Jersey is a step closer to creating the United States’ first statewide Internet registry for domestic violence offenders. The state’s Assembly Women and Children Committee June 18 approved New Jersey Assembly Bill A-2539, also known as Misty’s Law. The registry would be similar to the sex offender registry. Individuals would be able to research potential partners and learn about any history of domestic violence. It would also allow survivors of domestic violence to track their abuser’s location.

“A few clicks of the mouse could help prevent someone from falling into an abusive relationship,” Democratic Assemblywoman Carmelo G. Garcia said in a press release on PolitickerNJ.com. “This could prove an invaluable tool, especially given how hard it often is for victims to extricate themselves from this type of relationship.”

The law would allow any member of the public to view records that include: the defendant’s name and any aliases; any aggravated assault offense involving domestic violence for which the defendant was convicted; the date and location of disposition; a brief description of any such offense, a general description of the defendant’s modus operandi; the defendant’s age, race, sex, date of birth, height, weight, hair, eye color and any distinguishing scars or tattoos; a photograph of the defendant and the date on which the photograph was entered into the registry; the make, model, color, year and license plate number of any vehicle operated by the defendant; and the street address, zip code, municipality and county in which the defendant resides.

Misty Ramos

Misty Ramos was murdered by her boyfriend in 2012.

The bill is named after Misty Ramos. She was strangled to death in June 2012 by her former boyfriend, Noel Irizarry, at her home. Irizarry was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her death. Misty Ramos’ brother, Kell Ramos is president of  Domestic Violence Action Group USA, which supports the bill. After Izarry’s arrest, Ramos learned that his slain sister’s boyfriend spent 10 years in prison for slashing the throat of his ex-girlfriend, NJ.com reported. Ramos is a documentary maker working on a film about the issue.

The group will focus on men, Ramos told NJ.com. “We need men to be part of the solution,” Ramos told the news outlet. “Focusing on the woman is needed, but what happens to the next generation? The same cycle repeats itself. There’s going to be more men doing the same thing. How do you stop that? Other men have to hold men accountable to their actions.”

 

Huge Percentage of Cases Never Prosecuted, Pulitzer Report Notes

abused womanOne story in the Pulitzer-Prize winning series about domestic violence recounts some of the reasons offenders are not held accountable for their crimes. “Cases against domestic abusers fall apart on a regular basis, allowing them to escape punishment and continue to mistreat the women in their lives — at times, with deadly results,” the reporters write in Part Five: “Cases fall apart, abusers go free.”

Advocates will likely be familiar with the examples The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, found. In one case, the male perpetrator posts bail within hours of being charged with criminal domestic violence. “Then the charge goes away entirely after his girlfriend has second thoughts about testifying,” the story says.

Contributing to the problem are the perennial challenges of overcrowded court dockets, poorly trained law enforcement, and victims “too scared to testify against the men who beat them.” Most troubling in South Carolina was “a domestic violence law that treats first-time offenders about the same as shoplifters and litterbugs.”

The high number of cases dismissed is also troubling. The newspaper found that about six in 10 domestic violence cases in Charleston and North Charleston municipal courts between 2009 and 2013 were dismissed or dropped by prosecutors. The number of dismissed cases remains high even after then-Attorney General Charlie Condon in 2001 ordered prosecutors to pursue convictions even when victims refused to cooperate.

“Our biggest issue is the lack of cooperation from victims,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told the paper.

Prosecuting a case without a victim is difficult. The strongest witness is often the victim. As the story put it: “To make a case stick, it usually comes down to the woman testifying against her man.”  South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson encourages prosecutors to pursue cases even when victims are hesitant. His words to victims point to the broad impact of domestic violence. “This is not your cross to bear,” the paper reported him as saying. “This is my burden. … He has committed a crime against the state.”

Pulitzer-Prize Winning Series On Domestic Violence Sets Precedent For Transparency

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The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina, this week was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for “Till Death Do Us Part.” The five-part series published in August 2014 spurred reform to domestic violence laws for the first time in at least a decade. South Carolina “for more than 15 years was among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men,” the paper reported in the introduction to its multimedia project. “The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.”

Journalists consider winning a Pulitzer akin to winning an Olympic medal. The Post and Courier’s ambitious project won journalism’s gold medal with “Till Death Do Us Part.” The Pulitzer jury called it “a riveting series that probed why South Carolina is among the deadliest states in the union for women and put the issue of what to do about it on the state’s agenda.”

The story “revealed numerous failings, including limited police training, inadequate laws, a lack of punishment, insufficient education for judges, a dearth of support for victims and traditional beliefs about the sanctity of marriage that keep victims locked in the cycle of abuse,” the paper said. They called this “a corrosive stew” that made the state one of the deadliest states in the nation for women.

The series is a well-written, well-produced project about a perennial problem. It deserves journalism’s highest honor for shining light on the problems and “shaming” officials to make changes. Six months after the series was published, state lawmakers, prosecutors and police pledged “this is the year we finally pass a comprehensive bill” on domestic violence. Some parts of the proposed laws have stalled, but the paper continues to aggressively cover developments.

Big Mountain Data cheers this work. We’re especially pleased with the precedent the paper set by partnering with the Center for Investigative Reporting and compiling a database of those killed at the hands of intimate partners. They used police reports, court records, criminal rap sheets and other documents to plot where each killing took place. Then they looked for trends. In addition, they studied conviction rates and plea deals, which the paper’s executive editor pointed out in his prize application letter, the state judicial system does not track.

The paper set a valuable precedent in linking online to every fact and statistic they reported. Access to records varies by municipalities. But this project highlights the value of making criminal records public.

Massachusetts Law Shields Domestic Violence Offenders

A Massachusetts legislator hopes to reverse a state law that says police logs and arrest reports on domestic violence cases are not public records. That policy is part of the state’s comprehensive domestic violence law, signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in August.

The law establishes a new crime of first-offense domestic assault; imposes delays in setting bail in domestic violence cases; makes strangulation a felony; allows employment leave for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and stalking; and requires new training for police, court personnel, judges and prosecutors,

Removing domestic violence information from police logs and reports doesn’t keep victims safe and may help abusers avoid public sshadow-mancrutiny, state Rep. Josh S. Cutler told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

“We’re all in favor of protecting the victims,” he said. “I don’t think we should be in the business of protecting the perpetrators.” Concealing perpetrators’ identities puts domestic violence “back in the shadows, when this is something that needs to be in the light of day,” he said.

Cutler filed a bill in January that would remove the confidentiality requirement for police logs. Confidentiality would be maintained for more in-depth police reports under his bills.

Domestic violence survivors’ advocates said that keeping the police information out of the public eye gives victims more safety, the Telegram & Gazette reported. “Victims are contacting police to stop the violence. They’re not necessarily contacting police to share their story publicly,” Karen Riley-McNary, director of community intervention for domestic violence services at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, told the publication.

The new law makes it easier for some victims to report abuse, another service provider said.

Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said making the perpetrator’s name public “serves an important public safety purpose. It provides notice to the public about crime that has occurred in their community and their neighborhood.”

Cutler’s proposal has support from Norfolk County district attorney and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

Supreme Court to Consider Facebook Threats

anthony elonsis

Anthony Elonsis

The Internet makes so many tasks easier: We can order dinner, schedule a taxi ride, quickly confirm who won the 1953 World Series (that would be the Yankees.) But the Internet can be a tool for evil deeds as well, with social media emerging as a new way for offenders to stalk and threaten their victims. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer in an important case about threats on Facebook.

In a chilling story, NPR reported the threats  Anthony Elonis, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, made on his Facebook page about his estranged wife. He wrote:

There’s one way to love ya, but a thousand ways to kill ya,
And I’m not going to rest until your body is a mess,
Soaked in blood and dying from all the little cuts.
Hurry up and die bitch.

Another post says:
Revenge is a dish that is best served cold with a delicious side of psychological torture.

Elonis’s wife obtained a restraining order, which barred her estranged husband from “threatening, harassing or contacting her, even indirectly,” NPR reported. But he kept posting. A threat that alluded to school shootings caught the attention of an FBI agent, and Elonis was eventually convicted and sentenced to 44 months in prison.

Elonis claims the posts were meant as jokes and are protected under the First Amendment. Further, he contends that under the federal threat statute, the jury must find that he intended his Facebook posts to be threatening.

Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told NPR that since Elonis made the posts after his estranged wife obtained a restraining order, he could have foreseen the reaction.

Fitzgerald considers social media a potential breeding ground for violent threats. “There’s an epidemic of threats out there, and with the Internet it’s going to get worse,” he said.

The National Network to End Domestic Violence urges the Supreme Court to uphold Elonis’s conviction and filed a brief in the case. Victims “have experienced real-life terror caused by increasingly graphic and public posts to Facebook and other social media sites — terror that is exacerbated precisely because abusers now harness the power of technology, ‘enabling them to reach their victims’ everyday lives at the click of a mouse or the touch of a screen,’” the brief says.

Community Comes Together to Support Innovative Massachusetts Law Addressing Domestic Violence

DeleoElected officials are beginning to understand the need for systemic change regarding domestic/intimate partner violence (IPV).  In 2014, The Massachusetts Legislature passed SB 2334.

“I firmly believe that comprehensive action – examining existing loopholes, elevating criminal penalties and prioritizing prevention – is the only strategy that will result in systemic change.” – Speaker of the House Robert Deleo

The law is comprehensive and not without detractors, yet it addresses some of the more egregious remnants of lax laws and takes a bold step forward.  The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts, the state coalition against domestic violence Jane Doe, Inc.,  and domestic violence advocates throughout the state applaud the comprehensive legislation.  Key provisions that will go into effect in 2015 include:

  • Delaying bail for domestic violence offenders by six hours
  • Levying charges and heightened punishment for strangulation and suffocation incidents
  • Establishing Fatality Review Teams
  • Expanded training for law enforcement and judges
  • Allowing employee leave time for victims

The law will also get rid of “accord and satisfaction” agreements.   Accord and satisfaction are out-of-court settlements used to resolve charges involving physical violence.  Abusers tend to intimidate victims by pressuring them to accept this option.

The specific strangulation and suffocation charges are ground-breaking and necessary.  According to the Journal of Emergency Medicine,  23% to 68% of female domestic violence victims experienced at least one strangulation-related incident from their abusive male partner during their lifetime.  Research also bears out what victims, legal practitioners, and medical personnel already know – strangulation is one of the most potentially lethal forms of intimate partner abuse.  Currently, charges run the gamut from misdemeanor simple assault to the impossible to prove attempted murder.  A 2008 Journal of Emergency Medicine study found that a woman who experiences nonlethal strangulation — whether by someone’s hands or by ligature or other means — is seven times more likely to be the object of a murder attempt by her assailant.  It also found that 43 percent of women killed in domestic violence attacks, and 45 percent of attempted-murder victims, had been strangled by a partner in the previous year.

This new law is a step in the right direction and demands specific collaborative efforts by employers, schools and civil courts.   Injury prevention experts from the Centers for Disease Control, community health departments, academic research  and the domestic violence field support the need for a community response.

Other violence prevention initiatives requiring community involvement include offender focus intervention, GPS monitoring, bystander training, and Coaching Boys Into Men.