WESTBOROUGH, MA April 25, 2018 Maine is the latest state to consider a so-called red flag law. It would let family members or law enforcement officers petition a judge to take away a “high risk” person’s firearms temporarily, if the judge determines the person poses an imminent risk. In a recent post I describe the updated terminology for individuals who are a potential threat called Gun Violence Restraining Orders. The proposed action would allow law enforcement to remove the firearms of people who are known to be threatening or physically violent toward intimate partners. “Felons, the dangerously mentally ill, perpetrators of domestic violence – these people have demonstrated their unfitness to own a firearm” said David French, 2018. In cases such as these police have reasonable cause to disallow gun ownership based not on prior conviction but on the elevated risk to potential victims.
Here in Massachusetts, in August 2013 I published a blog after the death of Jennifer Martell who was murdered in front of her 4-year old daughter by Jared Remy, son of Red Sox broadcaster and former player Jerry Remy. The younger Remy had received one break after another some say linked to his celebrity father’s influence. He was never held until a dangerousness hearing could be undertaken. Had this been done Ms. Martell may be alive today. In 2011, Stephen Lake murdered his wife and children after he was kept from attending his son’s 8th grade graduation. Lake had exhibited several red flag warnings prior to the murders. In spite of these he was not held nor were his firearms removed from his control Allanach, et al. 2011.
Several states have debated similar red flag laws in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Supporters argue a red flag law could have prevented the Parkland shooter, but some gun owners say it’s an overreach that threatens their 2nd Amendment rights.
Like many states in the U.S. Maine has more than its share of calls for domestic violence and domestic violence homicide. “All law enforcement personnel who respond to incidents in which an individual’s mental illness appears to be a factor receive training to prepare for these encounters; those in specialized assignments receive more comprehensive training. Dispatchers, call takers, and other individuals in a support role receive training tailored to their needs.” Communication between members of a response team with awareness and understanding of red flag warnings will reduce the impact of coercion and control that belies the secretive relationships between intimate partners. It will also bring to light the need for danger assessment and containment of people who are high risk for violence as in the case of Jared Remy in Massachusetts and Stephen Lake in Dexter, Maine.
Allanach, R.A., Gagan, B.F., Loughlin, J., Sefton, M.S., (2011) The Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicide and Suicide. Presented to the Domestic Violence Review Board, November 11, 2011
WESTBOROUGH, MA February 15, 2018 The fact is that greater containment of high risk abusers is needed. I have spoken with police chiefs, district attorneys, and state senators here is Massachusetts about conditions of bail. Whenever someone is arrested he or she is given the opportunity for bail – usually on his own recognizance. This means he simply promises to show up for his initial court hearing usually in the next 24-48 hours. Unfortunately, no one seems to believe that a person can be held on “high bail” simply because one subject held his family hostage and threatened them with a firearm or another person tried to strangle his intimate partner.
The system of bail is directly related to a defendant’s prior history of crimes, convictions, and lastly, the nature of the crime for which he is seeking bail. The cycle of abuse is posted to the left. It is all about power and control of the victim. On average, police are called after 9 prior episodes of abuse. In general, they arrive when the couple is in crisis and he may be feeling guilt and making excuses for his behavior. Or other times, the couple is in the honeymoon phase of the cycle and one partner invariably refuses to press charges on his partner. This is what really infuriates police officers called upon to answer these potentially violent calls. “It was all a big misunderstanding” according to the dangerous partner.
I have posted several essays over the years on the topic of “dangerousness” in terms of it being considered prior to the granting of bail. The June 2011 case in Maine culminated after the abuser was released from jail on $ 2000 dollars bail. After his death the money was returned to his family. Some district attorneys have tried to withhold bail money when the defendant fails to appear in court due to death by suicide after domestic violence homicide (DVH). For many this seemed like a draconian response to families who were in pain and suffering immeasurable.
“Many believe there is a disconnect between the judiciary and the bail system.” Sefton, 2011
What can be done to assure greater containment?
Containment refers to the need to protect a potential victim and his or her family from a violent often marginalized family member who is showing red flags of impending terminal rage. A Domestic Violence review panel conducted in June 2011 concluded that “there is nothing society can do for a despondent, abusive spouse whose obsession overrides the norms of society – even his will to live”. If we believe this then we will erroneously surrender innovation in domestic violence prevention and harm reduction. When high-ranking prosecutors say domestic violence homicide cannot be prevented society is cheated out of taking steps toward containment of those who may violate protection from abuse orders. Lois Reckitt, executive director of Family Crisis Services in Cape Elizabeth, ME is quoted as saying that the wrong people are in jail when violence-prone abusers are released from custody to stalk and terrorize their family, as was the case in the Dexter, Maine tragedy in 2010. Containment and harm reduction should be the focus of the legal system and social service agencies alike. The judiciary and political machinery in states throughout America must speak out about protecting victims and families and not say there is nothing that can be done to stop DVH.
THERE IS MOVEMENT TOWARD VICTIM SAFETY IN CASES OF DV
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), http://pinetreewatchdog.org/files/2011/12/Dexter-DVH-Psychological-Autopsy-Final-Report-112811-111.pdf.
First responders experience trauma as job-related way of life
WESTBOROUGH, MA December 1, 2013 There is a new question in my mind about the exposure to trauma, e.g. war-related PTSD and the possibility that it plays a role in domestic violence and domestic violence homicide later on. While this link may be plausible, there are no scientific truth to the notion that DVH is caused by one’s exposure to war or on-the-job exposure to horrific events. Scott D. Jones of Arlington, MA was a decorated paramedic who responded to a mass homicide in 2000 in which 7 people were shot in an episode of workplace violence. He would go on to kill his second wife and family 14 years later after repeated episodes of severe depression and suicidal behavior and domestic violence toward his first wife. These behaviors were the first red flags of an impending emotional breakdown and terminal rage.
Returning veterans and those in the police and EMS service witness suffering and anguish that are outside of the normal human experience rendering them vulnerable to recurring trauma and a host of physical and emotional ills. Some believe the prevalence of PTSD among EMS first responders (including EMT paramedics) is as high as 16 percent (DeAngelis, 1995, p.36). Most services require critical incident debriefing after incidents that are particularly catastrophic – especially those resulting in death of a member of service or the death of a child. These sessions have been shown to reduce the incidence of post-incident symptoms by offering support and context for individual responders as to their individual role in the event. It is not psychotherapy although emotions are often evoked as remembered details emerge and become palpable.
What is the link between unresolved trauma and DV? It is well-known that a high incidence of substance abuse exists among first responders. “The emotional wellness of emergency service workers is at risk. Stress and grief are problems that are not easily detected or easily resolved. Severe depression, heart attacks, and the high rates of divorce, addiction, and suicide in the fire and EMS services proves this” according to Peggy Rainone who offers seminars in grief and surviving in EMS. To what extent this behavior evolves from on-the-job experience is subject to debate but chronically high levels of stress contribute markedly to marital discord, job conflict, and a host of physical anomalies like hypertension.
The link between chronic stress and behavioral health is well-known. Does this link extend to higher risk for domestic or intimate partner homicide? The recent case of domestic violence homicide in Arlington, Massachusetts raises the specter of DVH in first responders. In this case, a decorated paramedic allegedly killed his children, his wife and then himself. The abuser had a history of physical and emotional abuse as reported by a first wife. There was a history of alcohol abuse. The abuser was involved in a whistle-blower case against his employer that was slowly making its way through the courts. But outwardly, he and his family seemed happy. What might trigger such an emotional and deadly maelstrom? What triggered the terminal rage that released this decorated man – creating a monster?
In some cases, post incident analysis of the psychological forces acting on the abuser is necessary and will provide insight into the chain of events that pulled on the trigger. There is no single answer but a host of identifiable “red flags” likely contributed to the loss of control associated with DVH. A thorough psychological autopsy may uncover factors leading to unresolved anger and the many unknown variables driving violent behavior. I have previously published blogs on the psychological autopsy and its utility. The benefit of a thorough PA has value for all of mankind.
DeAngelis, (1995, February). Firefighters’ PTSD at dangerous levels. Monitor, pp. 36-37.