In response to recent acts of both terrorism and recurrent gun violence by home-grown psychopaths more should be done to maintain greater control over potentially violent persons. In the Las Vegas concert venue and the more recent Texas church massacre it becomes
increasingly clear that predicting violence is practically impossible. At least this is
what we are led to believe. And yet when it comes to domestic violence
homicide the similarities in cases are almost carbon copy.
In the end, there is always at least a single person who knows what is about to happen and often does nothing to stop it. Whether this duplicity stems from cultural beliefs that what happens behind closed doors is nobody’s busy change in the way in which law enforcement manages these cases is essential. The buy in from police, legislators, judges, probation, and society needs to be fully endorsed for real change to happen and for safety plans to work. Many states across America are planning to enact “red flag” rules that will remove weapons from individuals with a known history of domestic violence e.g. choking spouse during fight. These behaviors toward a victim instill fear and point to the perilous danger that exists.
“Someone with a history, particularly a continuing history of violence, can be presumed to be dangerous.” Frederick Neuman, MD
Coercion and Control
Lenore Walker is a psychologist at the Domestic Violence Institute has published a theoretical description of the coercion and control model of DV. Victims are young and vulnerable to being emotionally and physically controlled. The Texas killer Devin Patrick Kelley had all the makings of a violent abuser from the time he was in high school and only now are people willing to talk about his darker side. Kelley was separated from his second wife who was just 19. Victims like this are often kept away from their families, not allowed to work, or when working are not permitted to handle their own funds. Some victims have to explain every cell phone call or text message they make or receive often being met with jealous fury. By robbing their sense of self keeps intimate partners emotionally isolated and insecure. They are often led to believe they could not live on their own and the children they share will be lost to them if they choose to leave. This “so called” male privilege keeps his partner marginalized and in servitude. It appears at first glance that Kelley was looking for the mother of his currently estranged wife likely enraged over steps taken to keep them apart as the divorce progressed through the courts.
Occasionally police or children’s services are called when intimidation and threats become violent. It is important to provide aftermath intervention and follow-up with families where domestic violence or chronic substance abuse occurs or families tend to disappear. Change is required to pay closer attention to those with whom law enforcement has frequent contact. Over and over
surviving family members speak of coercion and control on behalf of the abused. Lives will be saved when society takes a closer look at red flag violence – these are the preincident indicators that violence and domestic violence homicide are possible. This is not new data nor are the stories very different.
I speak to police agencies and individual officers about DV and DVH offering detail from the psychological autopsy research we conducted on a sensational and tragic case in Dexter, Maine in which Steven Lake killed his 35-year old spouse after 10 years of marriage along with their 2 children. The Lake case was very much like the Kelley murders in terms of the cycle of abuse and its early onset. It was thought that Lake was intending to go on a killing spree but was interrupted in the act by an observant police officer. Recently a police officer participating in the statewide DV task force in Vermont asked whether there is a single most important factor or predictor to the risk of DVH? Some believe the fear of being killed by her spouse and abject cruelty toward step children raise the bar significantly and as such are worthy of crafting one’s DV report and request for orders of protection around. But keeping the victim and her abuser on the radar screen will also reduce her fear and loneliness and offer greater protection. Other risk factors include: choking and recurrent sexual violence – although victims seldom disclose this out of guilt and fear of not being believed.
People knew what might happen
The Psychological Autopsy of Steven Lake consisted of over 200 hours of interviews with immediate family members on both sides. Steven’s aunt was quoted as saying “I never thought he would take the kids” in reference to an acknowledgment of his depression and anger at the impending divorce. She believed Lake would take his own life in front of his wife and children as a final act of punishment they would never forget. But he went far beyond that as we again saw in the small church in Texas this week. We are getting better at teaching children and families that if the see something they should say something. This is the trademark line of the Transportation Safety Administration in its fight against terrorism. The same might be taught to neighbors and friends when domestic violence is suspected or known to be occurring. If you see something then it is incumbent upon each of us to do something to help those in harms way.
WESTBOROUGH, MA March 20, 2018 Greater protection of victims of domestic violence is needed. When provisions for a plan of safety are executed victims are expected be afforded greater safety but not always. Domestic violence victims are at greatest risk when they make the decision to leave a violent partnership. This often means having a safety plan – especially when specific threats have been made. Safety plans are often drawn up by women in conjunction with counselors who specialize in helping families stay off the grid and hidden from violent spouses. In one case of familial homicide and suicide it was clear that the commonalities needed to be exposed among cases of familial homicide.
In particular, when I teach law enforcement officers about DVH, I encourage detailed witness statements much as possible especially if the victim described the fear and belief that she will one day be murdered by her partner. These documented statements, if spontaneously uttered, are often the greatest predictor of potential harm to victims and her children. If written into a police report the decision about dangerousness and bail may be influenced.
In the 2011 homicide from Maine, Steven Lake used social media to track his wife and 2 children from whom he was mandated to stay away. Yet, if his wife posted a photograph of his children he went to great lengths to undermine their safety by identifying anyone who “liked” the photo or commented on it. He used these posts to triangulate her whereabouts and living arrangements. This was a large part of what marginalized Stephen Lake and in turn Lake posted his own propaganda espousing his loneliness and love for his children. Lake garnered significant support from those social media “friends” who knew nothing about what he had done to require the protection from abuse order. Many, in fact, encouraged him to fight for his children which may have been a catalyst in his festering resentment and ultimately terminal rage. He was provided information and access to his wife’s social media platforms by a family member. For her part, Lake’s wife wanted to remain close to her in-laws in an effort to normalize her children’s life as much as possible. For example Lake’s parents were invited to the family’s thanksgiving celebration but declined because Steven Lake could not attend.
Similarities in domestic violence
Cases of domestic violence have similarities across socioeconomic status, ethnic and cultural background, and the cycle of abuse. The growth of social media platforms affords those inclined to control and isolate intimate partners from persons who might provide them security. Cases of domestic violence share the common theme of intimidation, coercion and control. Social media are a fun and useful medium to keep in touch with friends and family. But it is also lends itself to sometimes nefarious trolling to gain a perceived advantage in undermining the safety plan. Social media trolling contributes to the control they seek especially when victims seek protection. In order to limit the impact of social media stalking victims need to shut down all social media accounts and activity. Greater protection of victims and family members requires a comprehensive plan with provisions for times when they are violated – including mandatory arrest, risk assessment and no bail containment if deemed necessary.
“That is one conclusion of four former and current police officers in a recently released report. The men, who were volunteers and had no connection to the shootings, spent the last several months interviewing 69 people about the triple homicide and suicide in Dexter in June, to suggest ways to prevent future tragedies.” Portland Press Herald, November 11, 2011
The Psychological Autopsy report suggests improvements that may prevent future domestic violence homicides:
• Use of social media platforms by people involved in conflicts should be minimized, to prevent intimidation and stalking.
• Protection-from-abuse orders and bail conditions should mandate disclosure of all firearms that are accessible to the domestic-violence offender.
• An offender who seeks, hides, uses or attempts to acquire a gun or ammunition when a protection-from-abuse order is in place should be charged with a felony and not allowed bail.
• Bail amounts should be high enough to deter abusers from violating a protection orders.
• When a protection order violation involves a deadly threat, a judge should set bail, not a bail commissioner.
• Global positioning systems should track abusers during periods of protection orders in any incidents that involve deadly threats or evidence of weapons.
• At least two officers should be sent to all domestic-violence calls when officers suspect violence is likely.
• At-risk spouses should be advised to live in as secure an environment as possible, with deadbolts on doors, secured windows, motion sensor lights and a land telephone line.
• People charged with domestic violence crimes should not wait more than a year to go to trial.
The safety of potential victims including children is the penultimate goal of protection orders but too often they are ignored via stalking efforts that include using social media to track the activities of an estranged spouse. This overt defiance requires careful analysis and requires the arrest of the violator. Once this takes place a dangerousness hearing must take place before he or she is released but this rarely takes place.
New Braintree, MA Once again domestic violence has resulted in deadly force being used to stop one man from killing his intimate partner and the child they have together. This cowardly man paid no attention to the court ordered protection order that was in place bringing lethal force to bear upon his family. His guns were not removed from his control leaving him armed and dangerous. Only this time, it is he who died in the violent final act before he could finish what he had come to do. Police were ready for violence and met force with appropriate force resulting in death. The surviving victims are fortunate for the action of the brave and courageous officers on duty in Calais, Maine on this night or they may have lost their lives in a murder-suicide – now all too common in northern, Maine.
The details of this Calais, ME case of domestic violence are being carefully guarded. It is known that Daniel Phinney, 26 was out on bail after being arrested and charged with domestic violence and criminal threatening in May 2013. At that point he must have both physically assaulted his significant other and threatened to kill or maim his family resulting in the charge of criminal threatening. Police are quick to say that Phinney had no prior criminal history perhaps in an effort to circumvent the obvious outrage evoked by the system of bail in Maine that releases violent abusers over and over again. Had anyone made an effort to determine the degree of risk posed by Daniel Phinney prior to his release? Had anyone registered safety concerns based on the defendant’s behavior and history? Had they undertaken a psychological assessment of Phinney that may have provided important details about his impulse control, substance use, and proclivity toward violence? These details may become more apparent in the coming days. Perhaps a second look at the Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter Maine Homicide may be of value in terms of understanding risk and red flag behaviors that warrant containment of domestic terrorists.
The Phinney case is reminiscent of the 2011 Steven Lake homicide in Dexter in too many ways. Lake had twice been released on bail before murdering his family. The medical autopsy concluded that “in spite of psychological counseling (the state) failed to appreciate the degree of anger and violence in (Steven Lake)”. He too had been charged with criminal threatening after holding his family at gunpoint as he drove home the point about how much he loved them but he could not let Amy move on. Perhaps criminal threatening behavior should trigger a closer look at risk factors when setting conditions of bail.
I was a member of a team that conducted a psychological autopsy on Lake that resulted in over 50 recommendations to the esteemed Maine Attorney General’s Homicide Review panel in November 2012. At first glance what is clear is brash indifference toward the court protection order and the availability of firearms to the defendant. It is now important to study the case of Daniel Phinney and learn from the many red flags he waved in the weeks prior to his death. These events can be stopping and containments points in future cases of domestic violence and domestic violence homicide. No family should be kept in fear by a spouse whose loathsome behavior derails all human spirit and sense of dignity.