Is a DV registry an abuse of rights?

“The implementation of a domestic violence registry would inform potential victims that they are at risk and greatly reduce the cases of domestic violence in New York state.”  NY State Senator Michael Nozzolio

WESTBOROUGH, MA April 4, 2016 The prospect of mandated reporting in cases of domestic violence will add to already the over burdened state and federal bureaucracy. It cannot be done and may be a violation of the privacy rights of those accused of domestic violence.  Or at least that is what they tell us.  I have encountered abusive men who I have escorted off someone’s property after a verbal argument – before it became a physical encounter. In conducting my investigation, I learned that the guy had active protection from abuse orders that were taken out by three different women. That should be fuel for thought and the first question asked on the dating websites.  

In New York, state Senator Michael Nozzolio has proposed a bill that would create a registry for those convicted with violent felony domestic violence.  The bill entitled Brittany’s Law after a 2009 murder in which Brittany Passalacqua and her mother were killed in a domestic violence homicide. It has been passed in one form or another by the NY State Senate four times but the state legislature has yet to take up the bill.  Why? Some believe that a published list of abusers is a violation of human rights – like if a guy shows up on the list he may not be able to get anyone to date him anymore.  That seems like a reasonable consequence for beating up an intimate partner or two.

Are childhood sports becoming venues for expression of unencumbered anger?

WESTBOROUGH, MA January 20, 2016  “Childhood sport represents an opportunity for children to learn the value of teamwork, sensible competition, winning, and loosing. Some important lessons in life emerge from the spirit of youth competition,” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., Director of Psychology at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough.  “I have coached youth hockey up through high school-age boys and have found 99 percent of the families I worked with to be very reasonable and respectful,” remarked Sefton in preparation for the blog post.  Just as importantly the games must be fun or children will not want to play. In recent years there has been a growing notoriety of fan behavior while attending the sporting events of children.  It is almost a “mob mentality” as parents shout at referees over botched calls, yell at other players, and become obstreperous toward the opposing fans.  Sometimes this becomes violent as it did in Reading, MA in 2002 when two men squared off and fought over a youth ice hockey practice resulting in the death of one.  “The fight was less about hockey than about the loss of control and unencumbered anger” according to Sefton. For his part, Thomas Junta who outweighed the victim by over 100 pounds was sentenced to 8 years for manslaughter.  He was released from the state’s prison in Concord, MA in 2011.

Social scientists have been interested in mob behavior for years and when it comes down to what the underpinnings of fan behavior experts cite alcohol, adrenaline, and blind team loyalty as primary culprits. But as far as parent behavior at childhood sporting event goes some parents become delusional and behave out of some overdriven striving on behalf of their child. Some parents see scholarship money in a child as young as 5-years old when in actuality only 2 percent of athletes will ever receive scholarship funds for playing football for example, according 2008 NCAA published data – most receive only a partial scholarship package and not the coveted “full ride” – published in the NY Times.  As a parent I took my children to an NCAA ice hockey playoff event that was so much fun. The kids were given ice time to skate with coaches and players from the playoff teams.  During this time I attended a parent education seminar on scholarships and the lengths to which some parents will go to get their child athletes noticed.  How is it possible that an angry father might physically attack a volunteer referee over a missed call or become enraged at a youth coach over the amount of playing time a son or daughter receives?

According to Brooke De Lench, Mom’s Team executive director, parents lack the basic coping skills to respond to the ups and downs of their kid’s competition and are injured when their child does not succeed. De Lench seeks a shift from an adult-centered model to a child-centered philosophy as a way of eliminating unruly and sometimes outrageous fan behavior. When fans loose control the results can be deadly. “We lose ourselves when we watch our children play sports” said Sefton who regularly attends high school parents’ night in Massachusetts speaking on concussion.  But becoming lost as children play youth soccer or football must never include losing control as it sometimes does. Because for some parents, a child’s failure, or even the perception of failure may evoke strong emotions.

In 2002 during a youth hockey practice 2 children jostled and battled for the puck.  One parent, confronted the coach, whose son it was involved in the on ice scrap.  He objected to the rough play during the on ice scrimmage.  A shouting match ensued followed by the 270 pound Thomas Junta, 45, jumping the much smaller Michael Costin, 44, and punching him violently and killing him in front of his child and other players in the ice arena in Reading, MA.  Junta was charged and served 8-10 years in the state’s prison for manslaughter.  The lives of both families were destroyed by this event.  Both Junta’s and Costin’s boys have grown into troubled men and have themselves served time in prison.  This sensational story left quite an impression on me as an outrageous exemplar of state of the art parenting.

Most of us know there is much psychology in youth sports including developing core beliefs about winning and loosing, team cohesion, mastery of physical skills, and the growth of healthy competition. Balance is needed pushing children to become something for which they are may not be physically or emotionally equipped. Just as important parents must recognize their own feelings at their children’s games and accept that some things should not be worthy of the fight to end all fights.

Dr. Michael Sefton is a neuropsychologist and former police sergeant in Westborough, MA .  He along with 3 colleagues published a psychological autopsy on the Dexter, ME domestic violence homicide from 2011 and presented the research before the Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board at the state house in Augusta, Maine in November 2011.

via Are parents at kids’ sports games harmful? (Opinion) –


The cumulative impact of dementia on caregivers

WESTBOROUGH, MA January 20, 2015  Dementia is a life changing affliction for both the patient suffering with the neurocognitive decline and spouse and family members alike. Caregivers have a particular cross to bear – especially those without support. It is a highly stressful role for any spouse that requires both education and support. They are at high risk for burnout otherwise known as caregiver fatigue. For anyone who has had a loved one suffer with this disease “it is like seeing a family member die slowly, daily, withering away into an empty vessel” according to Michael Sefton, Ph.D., Director of Neuropsychology at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital in Westborough, MA.  “It is very important to obtain a careful and sound neuropsychological assessment of patients’ suspected of having dementia because so many conditions mimic dementia and may be treatable” according to Sefton.

When a caregiver is overwhelmed something must be done to provide emotional respite for the spouse or family member. Caregiving spouses frequently have powerful feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness as a result of seeing a loved one become forgetful, detached, and confused. They can be extremely difficult to managed in the home setting and sometimes require specialized day treatment.  The decision to hospitalize or seek nursing home admission for a family member is an individual one. It is critical to look at the functional change in the afflicted family member and see what placement options make the most sense.  Caregiver fatigue places afflicted patients at greater risk for neglect, battery and abuse than other medically complex cases. It places caregivers at risk for health problems of their own.

Throughout America, physicians and psychologist alike are mandated reporters for cases of suspected abuse – regardless of whether the caregiver is experiencing caregiver fatigue or not. Family members are strongly encouraged to support parents, e.g. respite care for afflicted parent, whenever one is suffering from a severe illness like dementia. Read the post at link below.

The cumulative impact of dementia on caregivers.

Watch for the flying of the flags

Terminal rage dissembled by increased red flag threats and violence

WESTBOROUGH, MA  November 2, 2014 A group of my colleagues and I were drawn into the chilling events of June 13, 2011 after Stephen Lake killed his family and then himself.  During the final moments of his life Lake laid out the death scene ostensibly to torture his spouse from whom he was estranged and ordered to stay away.  While police closed in, Lake killed and attempted to burn his victims in an act of emotional mayhem.

Arguably, the murderer in this case became blinded by anger and resentment at perceived disrespect and exclusion from the lives of his children. This anger had grown over the year since a protective order was issued following a violent episode in the family home. The perpetrator grew marginalized during the coming months becoming resentful and humiliated at missing key events like Christmas and an 8th grade commencement.  All the while he posted on social media sites his love for his family he grew depressed and disorganized.  12 hours before the violent ending he tearfully described feeling depressed to a family member and was advised to seek help.  Lake wrote 9 suicide notes that were found in the days after his death.

Renewed interest in retrospective study

The psychological autopsy revealed an increasing pattern of red flags in the weeks before the murder-suicide in Dexter, Maine. Greater awareness of these red flags may serve as a stopping and containment point for perpetrators of intimate partner violence.  In a sad retrospective, the Maine state Chief Medical Examiner cited that “in spite of some mental health treatment the extent of (the perpetrator’s) anger was not fully appreciated”. The research led to a call for no bail holds for some violent abusers and GPS monitoring for others.  After 3 years, these recommendations are finally beginning to emerge in the protection of victims of domestic violence in Maine. Mr. Lake was alleged to have violated the protective order more than twice.  His reported view of the “cost of divorce was the price of one bullet”.

Who can be expected to bear witness to red flags?

It is well documented that domestic violence is a secret happenstance that effects far too many families across the country.  Victims are expected to remain loyal servants of their spouses under the dissembling guise of love and devotion.  The findings published in the Dexter, Maine study reveal that people knew what to expect from Mr. Lake.  His unwinding was clear to some of his closest family members.  A paternal aunt was quoted as saying “I never thought he would take the kids” suggesting an awareness that Lake might kill his spouse and then himself – sparing the children.  Others believed Lake might commit suicide in front of his wife and children leaving them with the emotional specter of his violent death.  Instead, as the chief medical examiner cited the full extent of Lake’s anger was not appreciated.  In this case, as in many other retrospective studies of DVH red flags were not appreciated. Many believe that an order of protection is not effective in protecting victims from violent spouses who seem to ignore “stay away” orders seemingly at will and without consequence.  These are the red flags that require containment of the abuser and must serve as the frank evidence of elevated risk for domestic violence homicide.

The team of people helping 22-year old Elliot Rodger, a young man who went on a shooting rampage at the University of California at Santa Barbara in May 2014, all reached out to police and the media when they could not reach the estranged and overwrought man.  But they were too late as he had made his mark on history by then.  The the Virginia Tech shooting some red flags were missed.  Had the subtle clues the Rodger’s underlying mood been recognized the shooting may have been averted.  To read the blog from the UCSB shooting click here.

Mandated reporting for domestic violence 

As a civilized society there should be mandated reporting for those most at risk for domestic violence and the penultimate DVH as it becomes apparent.  Just as practitioners are mandated to report cases of suspected child abuse and elder abuse so too must we begin to take heed of the signs of domestic or intimate partner abuse and take action.  By doing this we may save the lives of those most effected by DV and arguably break the recurring cycle of domestic violence.  Some people wrongly believe there is nothing that can be done about domestic violence homicide. Others remark that “what happens behind the closed doors in a dysfunctional and violent household is no business of anyone else”.  To the extent that this draconian belief system prevails in the public understanding of DVH there is little chance of preventing this scourge.  As a result states are slowly changing their response protocols for DV and the police response to signs of abuse with mandated arrest for suspected perpetrators.

Risk assessment of those arrested for domestic violence is often overlooked.  However, police departments are teaming up with agencies serving the population of abuse victims like never before and are adopting tools to assess the likelihood of future violence when determining bail amounts. Bail commissioners must be educated about the cycle of abuse and domestic violence when assessing bail amounts.  The average abuse victim experiences 5-7 episodes of DV prior to calling the police. Police response to DV has slowly started to include a careful analysis of the history of aggressive events including the number and type of physical assaults that have taken place.  Some events are clearly more foreboding like choking to a point of unconsciousness, sexual aggression, threats of suicide, and the use of veiled threats of death if the spouse ever tries to leave. Other behaviors such as unrealistic jealousy may be the underpinning of current or domestic violence.  One victim told me that the abuse started as soon as she said “I do” 16 years earlier.


Ronald Allanach et al., Psychological Autopsy of June 13, 2011, Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides and Suicide: Final Report 39 (Nov. 28, 2011),

Sefton, M. (2011) The Psychological Autopsy: Provides a host of pre-incident indicators. Blog:, taken May 26, 2014.

Relationships, red flags and gun violence

Westborough, MA July 23, 2014  The pendulum of public opinion on gun ownership swings back and forth between those with the fierce belief about the inalienable right to bear arms granted by the U.S. Constitution and those who believe intuitively that fewer guns will result in fewer deaths.  The argument is not a simple one especially when it comes to people suffering with mental illness.  I read a paper authored by Liza Gold, M.D. in which Dr. Gold, a psychiatric physician is quoted as saying “most people with mental illness are not dangerous, and most dangerous people are not mentally ill” (Gold, 2013).  I agree with this point and have written about it in the past.  More recently, mass shootings have occurred when the perpetrator had a history of major depression and was receiving treatment.  These isolated cases fan the flames of misattribution that mental illness and gun violence are correlated.  It is important to remember the vast majority of persons receiving treatment for emotional problems are not violent.  It is true that fewer guns may result in fewer gun-related homicides but not necessarily the rate of death itself.

There is no single road map to understanding the complexity of human behavior in general and homicide in particular. If there were the rate of domestic violence homicide might be reduced to zero”, according to Michael Sefton (Sefton, 2013) .  Arguably, there are often signs or “red flags” that forecast the increased likelihood of a violent outburst. These include an increase frequency of aggression or threats of aggression, advanced substance abuse, marginalized demeanor, stalking, and defiance of an active protection from abuse order.  The presence of firearms in the homes of these individuals raises the risk of domestic violence homicide or DVH across the board.  “It is much easier to be anti-gun than to be anti-murderer, and to correctly structure the murder prevention methodology around the manner of murder (person) rather than mode of murder (bomb, arson, knife, gun, person, motor vehicle, strangulation, rope, poison, drowning, etc.)  absolutely necessary to keep people alive” according to Brian Gagan (2014).

As a psychologist, I am interested in the underlying triggers of aggression and the continuum of violence among intimate partners.  Those who would abuse grow unpredictably violent based on their own idiosyncratic attribution of a spouses motive and an internalized need for power and control.  The emotional inequity in these violent dyads calls for stopping the cycle of abuse early in the formative stage of the relationship.  Containment of individual abusers should take place when this fails and red flags such as physical violence, threats of death or threats of suicide are made.  Initially containment might be in the form of behavioral support, substance abuse education, and anger managment.


Gagan, B. (2014) Personal communication.

Gold, L. (2013) Gun Violence: Psychiatry, Risk Assessment, and Social Policy. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Volume 41, November.

Sefton, M. (2013) Roadmap to violence. Blog: Taken 7-14-2014.

Sefton, M. (2005) The Evil that Kid’s Do. Exlibris, Philadelphia.

The Alpha Male: leadership, mentoring and new age behavior

Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

Westborough, MA July 2, 2014  By definition the alpha male is the most dominant and powerful in the group.   New age leadership requires flexibility and fluid leadership that must adapt to the needs of  individual officers and meet the needs of a heterogeneous group.  The most successful alpha males may be those that hold back and allow individual officers to define their response based on the tactical scenario encountered rather than a single response template.

A new officer was dispatched to a vehicle on the side of the road with one male sleeping or unconscious behind the wheel. It was after midnight.  His response was aggressive and unidimensional while making contact with the sleeping motorist.  As a precaution the dispatcher had called for the fire department and EMS to roll on the call in case there was a medical emergency.  The officer had been taught to modulate his patrol presence in accordance with situational demands but in this case he did not.  Known as verbal judo, police officers use these verbal strategies during interviewing to maintain control of chaotic scenes.  This scene was neither chaotic nor demanding.

I was told that the bellicose police officer could be heard yelling at the motorist – telling him to “leave his town” and he should be aware of the commotion he had caused by sleeping on the side of the road.  Given that no alcohol or drugs were suspected there was no need for the motorist to be admonished as he was.  Arguably, the motorist should have been praised for his decision to pull over when tired rather than risk a crash by falling asleep behind the wheel.  These kinds of aggressive verbal encounters needlessly put people on the defensive and do nothing to enhance citizen-police relations.  They represent an attempt at controlling a scene when it was clearly not confrontational and therefore unnecessary.  Some believe this kind of verbal banter does more to inflame a scene than to achieve the desired disarming needed to assure the scene is safe.  The patrol presence illustrated in the scenario above reflects an anxious and inexperienced officer who used the color of authority to unfairly intimidate the motorist setting the community policing ideal on its heals.  This kind of response sets a tone for adverse citizen encounters that must be addressed during the field training period – well before he is on his own.

Police officers are taught verbal judo – a technique used to deflect and protect officers who encounter a verbally aggressive complainant, victim, or even fellow officer.  It works with all kinds of interpersonal conflict but is thought to provide tools for police officers to maintain their authority at all times.  Verbal judo is defined as a method of interviewing that takes advantage of the training in verbal discourse and conflict resolution.  Some call it martial arts for the mind that meets verbal aggression with empathy and disarming tactics such as nondefensive recognition of the point of view being thrust upon you.  The case presented was neither hostile nor threatening and should not have been met with the antagonism demonstrated by the officer.  During the field training the inexperienced officer may have been corrected for such a response.  The field training supervisor may have modeled the appropriate handling of the incident using empathic recognition of the plight of the sleepy driver sandwiched into the corrective intervention needed by enforcement of the town by-laws that state “no overnight parking is permitted on town roads”.

The purported competition for “alpha” male status belies most citizen contact as if each encounter calls for one person to win and one person to lose.  It need not be this way.  The animal kingdom bears witness to conflict over alpha male status almost everywhere.  In many instances frank disrespect for the alpha role has led to bloodshed and turf wars in American cities from coast to coast.

There is contemporary leadership emerging among new officers that comes in the form of mentoring and active field training.  The model takes its pages from theories of community policing.  There is no room for conflict over the alpha role and the days of “taking names and kicking ass” are over.  The real battle should be waged over which male is comfortable in a shared alpha role or better still – which male can mentor a young man ultimately handing over the alpha role while at the same time maintaining a cohesive sense of self-respect, firm authority, and an empathic regard for those who might be king.

By the hand of a father’s son

Vermont patricide shows complex impact of veteran’s plight and DVH

WESTBOROUGH, MA  June 12, 2104  The Vermont killing of a veteran warrior this spring brought to light the high price being paid by military veteran’s who returned to civilian life unable to function.  Much has been published about the wait for treatment that many of the most needy veteran’s experience.  As Father’s Day approaches readers are urged to think about this case. It is particularly unsettling because the man’s death came at the hand of his son.  Kryn Miner, 44 was shot and killed by his son after threatening his wife and stating that he was going to kill his family.  Miner threatened his family with a gun a year before his death but the event was never reported to police. The shooting was called a justifiable homicide and no charges were filed against the teenage child who fired the fatal shots.  The child has not been identified out of privacy concerns and by all accounts may have saved the lives of his mother and 3 siblings.  The victim’s wife Amy has spoken out about the plight of veteran’s who are not getting the help they need. “The truth of the matter is if we can’t take care of our veteran’s we shouldn’t be sending them off to war” said Amy Miner.

The victim in this story was a 25 year Army veteran who returned from Afghanistan in 2010 after being deployed 11 times from 2007 to 2010. Miner was a career soldier and was well liked. He was shot 5 times in his Vermont home after threatening his family with a gun and throwing his son a loaded pistol saying “Do you want to play the gun game?” Mr. Miner had served tours of duty in Panama and Iraq as well.  He was suffering from the residual effects of a traumatic brain injury and experienced symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. He was injured in combat after a blast threw him into a concrete wall. Ironically, after becoming dissatisfied with the V.A., Mr. Miner turned to the Lone Survivor’s Foundation for help and eventually becoming a spokesman for the foundation.  To his credit, Miner was committed to helping veteran’s suffering with emotional and physical symptoms from combat-related PTSD and was receiving treatment himself for this enduring injury.

The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is finding it difficult to manage the influx of veterans in need of care.  Ostensibly, the volume of cases exceeds the resources available at VA hospital and clinics throughout the country.  The Phoenix, AZ regional director has resigned because of the wait listing of patients and the obfuscation that occurred once the facts became known.

The story is one that compels the author to look at the complex interplay of domestic violence, guns, and the ongoing plight of war veteran’s.  The sheer number of men and women returning from the theater of war over the last decade is staggering.  It is estimated that 15 percent of these veteran’s are experiencing PTSD and/or the effects of traumatic brain injury from blast waves and other wounds. Arguably, this number may actually exceed 20-25 percent of all returning war veterans by some accounts.  The case of Mr. Miner is particularly troubling because it involved a history of domestic violence and criminal threatening that was never reported to authorities.  Had it been reported the Miner family may have been helped.

The immeasurable impact of this violence on the family may be reflected in the actions of one of its own – who must now live with the consequence of patricide.  The killing was justified according to the Vermont State Attorney General.  But how can one justify this when so young?  The killing of one’s father is often the manifestation of long felt anger, emotional pain, and in reaction to enduring humiliation.  The motivation in this case is not clear aside from the threat posed by Miner and the child’s immediate defense of a loved one – his mother and siblings.  Just how emotionally equipped this boy is to recover from this remains to be seen.  He will never forget what has happened to him and his family as long as he lives.  Each day this family must experience some loss and recurring trauma inextricably linked to the events of April, 2014.  Some responsibility lies with the victim who issued the threats and was armed with a gun.  He died by the hand of a father’s son that should never have been touched by such things.



Asperger’s Disorder: Not linked to violence

Dr. Sefton discussing psychological autopsy of Steven Lake
Dr. Sefton discussing psychological autopsy of Steven Lake in 2012                  BDN PHOTO

WESTBOROUGH, MA – May 25, 2014 The weekend when most people are celebrating Memorial Day was marred by another mass murder involving a young man who may be linked to Asperger’s Disorder – a developmental condition in the same family as autism – but one that is thought to be higher functioning.  It is unclear that the man exhibited the syndrome of Asperger’s although it may be true.  Initial reports suggest the assailant who is now dead began having psychiatric trouble in the 4th grade – about age 10.  If this is true then it is unlikely he was suffering with Asperger’s – because this disorder is usually first observed before the age of 10.  True, Asperger’s is a social interaction disorder and like Adam Lanza, we are learning that Rodger was socially awkward.  It may eventually be clarified by history provided by those who knew him best like his parents, friends, teachers, and physician’s who were treating him for mental health issues. If current reports are accurate Elliot Rodger was a 22-year old college student in Santa Barbara, California who killed 6 people after writing a chilling 137 page manifesto espousing his anger and powerful resentment at women over his experience of being rejected.  He later was involved in a gunfight with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s officers and was killed or took his own life.  In his wake there were 6 people killed and 13 injured either by gunfire or being struck by Rodger’s BMW during the frenetic melee.  No official word as yet on the cause of his death. Rodger’s experience was also published on You Tube entitled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution” and came to the attention of his parents, the police, and others well before the onslaught.  His psychotherapist received an email telegraphing the event signaling the terminal onset of Rodger’s emotional dehiscence.  “Have you gotten Elliot’s email? I think you should see it,” the suspect’s therapist said to his mother just 13 minutes before authorities say he opened fire outside a sorority house, according to the L.A. Times story (May 25, 2014).

Frenetic Anger – Accelerating Risk

The events of Friday May 23 reflect the rage of an alienated, inadequate young man who lacked the basic relational capacity to form meaningful bonds.  Mental health experts see a series of “red flags” in retrospect.  The Washington Post cited Philip Shaenman who believed that authorities should have noticed “the acceleration of red flags” (May 26, 2014).  A similar acceleration [of red flags] was reported in the Psychological Autopsy of Steven Lake – Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide (Allanach, et al. 2011) and just as importantly people knew was was going to happen. The alienation Rodger experienced stemmed from loneliness and repeated humiliation eventually leading to explosive anger and blame. The specific trigger may remain a mystery.  In the written pages left behind, Rodger cited “wasting last 8 years of my life” apparently making a vague reference to the duration of time spent trying to establish a meaningful relationship without success.  Sadly, Elliot Rodger was not equipped to form the intimate bond he sought although high functioning autism seems like an unlikely cause.  More likely, Rodger was an entitled young man with deep-seated resentment and fear of women that contributed to feelings of shame.  He may have believed that his social status set him ahead of other men who were looking for the same things as he.  He may have had significant conflict over having so much status, e.g. being on the “red carpet” but having nothing of what he really wanted in the form of intimacy.

Analysis of behavioral indicators suggest high risk

USA Today images
Shooting scene                                ibTimes photo

His writing revealed the preoccupation with physical attributes of both the women he sought and the men he blamed for taking them away rather than exposing the extreme pain and loneliness with which he struggled.  In spite of living in a family with financial means and outward success, Rodger saw power and success as coming from a sexual relationship with an adoring blond.  The anger he projected was indicative of delusional jealousy and humiliation during his frenetic final days.  The process of compiling behavioral data that were “red flags” in the form of a psychological autopsy may one day reveal the complex layers of Elliot Rodger’s personality, primitive coping skill, unmet needs, and perhaps the true motive for the maelstrom in Santa Barbara.  In the case of domestic violence, family members who are in the crosshair of these dangerous events often see but lack the knowledge to stop the emotional and behavioral kinetics once they start. Arguably, a continuum of interagency cooperation is needed to effectively measure risk and understand the red flags that are common underpinnings of abuse.  The psychological autopsy offers a final analysis of the behavioral data and the compilation of pre-incident red flags that may be applied to the current understanding of explosive violence as in the tragic cases in Santa Barbara, CA, the Washington, DC Naval Base shooting, and the horrific school shooting in Newtown, CT.

The frequency and intensity of red flag aggression may forecast terminal violence.  As these red flags come into focus it becomes incumbent upon each of us to take action on behalf of those most at risk.  Each of us has a duty to warn potential victims.  Given the final outcome of the Elliot Rodger timeline, one might push for this type of posthoc analysis of the tragic events and hope that in coming forth – some degree of healing may once again take place.


Ronald Allanach et al., Psychological Autopsy of June 13, 2011, Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides and Suicide: Final Report 39 (Nov. 28, 2011),

Sefton, M. (2011) The Psychological Autopsy: Provides a host of pre-incident indicators. Blog:, taken May 26, 2014.

Decisions on Bail for Domestic Violence


Michael Sefton (right) BDN photo

WESTBOROUGH, MA   Is there any coincidence that Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo has joined forces with Attorney General Martha Coakley to bring forth a new bill that will provide for stiffer bail conditions and tougher sanctions for repeat DV offenders?  This bill was brought forth just 2 weeks after the Massachusetts SJC ruled on the case of one abuser against whom a permanent restraining order has been in place for over 10 years.  In that ruling, a man against whom a protective order was written is seeking its dismissal under the broad assumption that he is no longer  a threat to the former girlfriend because he now lives 3000 miles away.  Not so fast said the Massachusetts SJC.

The Commonwealth’s highest court reviewed the historic data in the case record and made its decision based on the documented threat of violence the abuser posed and convictions for DV against more than one partner dating back to the 1990’s.  They voted against dismissing the permanent restraining order writing that victim safety is more important than the purported rights of abusive men.  In the SJC decision the limitations placed on the abuser based on having a “protective order” against him were the collateral consequence of the behavior they exhibited early on.  The abuser believed he was unfairly being prevented from owning a firearm and had limited opportunity to work with children because of the unfair restrictions placed on him by the permanent order of protection.  Furthermore, the SJC also acknowledged that the abuser must show “convincing evidence” that they have made substantive emotional and personality changes that render him no longer a threat to the estranged spouse.

The bill proposed by Speaker Rober DeLeo asks for tougher bail conditions most notably a 6 hour delay before an alleged abuser may be released from custody.  The highly publicized case of Jared Remy who was released from custody hours before be allegedly killed his live-in girlfriend served as a stimulus to the proposed change in the law.  An important consideration not mentioned in the proposed bill is that to do with subjects with known violence in their history and how best to protect victims from revenge abuse once the abuser is released from custody.  Presumably, the new bill affords potential victims the opportunity to put in place a safety plan and affords those making decisions about bail added training about the cycle of abuse, red flag predictors, and greater access to the history of violence of the person in custody.

Unfortunately, the bill does not go far enough in its current raw form to assure that victims of violence receive the needed protection once they decide to break away from dangerous and dysfunctional entanglements.  It is this time when abuse victims are at greatest risk of death due to domestic violence as in the case of Amy Lake, a victim of domestic violence homicide whose case was carefully studied in the Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide (Allanach, 2011) that occurred in June 2011.  Maine has been reviewing bail conditions since this unique study made over 50 recommendations for reducing the incidence of domestic violence homicide in that state.   This report was presented to the Governor’s Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel in November 2011.  Only recently was a domestic violence suspect held without bail for his history of felony assault and battery on his spouse and a prior domestic partner for over 20 years.  In that case, the abuser was arrested three times in one month for violating an active order of protection during which time he threatened to kill his estranged wife.

Red Flags and Bail Conditions

In Massachusetts, Speaker Robert DeLeo warns that red flags often foreshadow an abuser’s behavior giving clues as to the intentions and the proclivity toward violence.  These are facts that are well described in the literature on DVH.  It is suspected that perpetrators ostensibly inform others about their intentions and all to often, these individuals do nothing to stop the violence.   In a prior paper, I have argued that a domestic violence registry may be useful for keeping track of those who repeatedly abuse or batter their domestic partners.  This would be similar to the sex abuse registry that requires those adjudicated for sexual abuse of children must register whenever they move from place to place.  I have also written extensively on the need for containment of those at highest risk to offend including a pertinent history of physical violence e.g. choking coupled with threats of death, access to firearms, prior violation of an order of protection, the presence of more than one simultaneous protection order (multiple victims), and other forms of coercive control such as destroying personal mementos like favored Christmas ornaments and personal photographs.   A pattern of substance abuse further elevates the risk for domestic violence and DVH.

There are changes taking place in the way in which domestic violence is handled in many states here in the U.S.  Bail conditions are being reviewed with more stringent constraints being placed upon abusers including no bail containment of the most egregious and violent cases.  Further options like GPS monitoring and a domestic abuse registry are being considered in some jurisdictions.  Some experts are calling for added training for judges and greater access to DV history before making decisions about bail conditions.  Arguably, these examples will all add to greater victims security but do very little when emergency protection orders are issued by judges during the night.  Police are frequently asked to present information to an on-call judge in an effort to provide immediate protection following a suspected incident of DV.  This information is critical in conveying what risk exists to the victim or potential victims.  Many police agencies are using dangerous assessment tools to compile and enumerate the red flags that may be the harbinger of terminal rage and the end of one’s timeline somewhere.

Ronald Allanach et al., Psychological Autopsy of June 13, 2011, Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides and Suicide: Final Report 39 (Nov. 28, 2011),