Friday, July 29, 2011

Changes Need to Be Made

Yesterday afternoon I attended a domestic violence forum held in Dexter, Maine. The forum, organized by State Representative Ken Fredette, was in response to the recent tragedies that took the lives of Amy Lake and her two children Cody and Monica. The organizer wanted the public’s input on what could be done to better serve victims of domestic violence.

A number of attendees spoke about their own experiences with domestic violence as well as shared their concerns and ideas on how law enforcement, the judicial system and legislators might improve the system to further protect victims.

A fellow kindergarten teacher and Amy’s good friend, Kelly Gay, spoke about how , for two years prior to her murder, Amy had been trying to figure out the best way to leave her abusive husband, Steve. Amy had been working with Womancare, the local domestic violence shelter program, trying to get the courage up to leave for at least a year before Steve held her and the children hostage at gunpoint in June 2010. Steve was arrested for that incident in June 2010 and Amy put the wheels in motion to leave shortly thereafter.

Kelly said that Amy and the children went into a safe shelter and could not tell anyone where they were for three months last summer. They had to move three times in one year to stay hidden from Steve. Kelly mentioned that Amy could have moved far away to keep safe but she didn’t want to take the children away from their family and friends.

I wrote about this tragic murder-suicide on my blog back in June. As I listened to those who spoke at the forum it became obvious that I was not the only person in the room that felt that the system let this family down. Many voiced concern about the fact that Steve Lake was still out on the streets and not behind bars with his bail revoked after having violated his bail conditions and the protection from abuse order against him a number of times. Someone suggested and others agreed that if his bail was revoked and he was behind bars until his trial perhaps Amy, Monica and Cody’s lives could have been saved.

It’s apparent that changes need to be made in Maine to the rules and laws governing bail. When someone has gone so far as to use a lethal weapon to hold their victims hostage and made suicide and/or death threats the system should take extra precautions to protect the victims.

I have read that bail commissioners in Maine are independent contractors who receive one day of training on how to do their jobs. In reviewing the Maine Bail Manual regarding grounds for revocation of pre-conviction bail it is stated that an order of a bail commissioner may be revoked by any judge or justice and any judge or justice may revoke another judges or justices bail order upon a determination made after notice and opportunity for hearing that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has committed a new crime following the setting of pre-conviction bail or when clear and convincing evidence exists that the defendant has failed to appear as required or has violated any other condition of the pre-conviction bail.

It does seem plausible that Steve Lake’s bail could have been revoked. I wonder what it would have taken to have this happen.

Attendees to this forum brought forth a number of good ideas. Someone suggested that emergency alert type necklaces should be made available to victims. These would work similar to the ones that you see offered to elderly persons who live alone. Instead of it being a medical alert system the device could alert the local police department that the victim is in danger.

Another person suggested that we could use ankle monitors like the ones used on people who are under house arrest, to track the whereabouts of a domestic violence perpetrator so that law enforcement and the victim would know where they are at all times. I am not real keen on that idea because of the high costs and manpower associated with implementation and because I think it may give victims a false sense of security.

One of the decease’s relatives suggested that psychological evaluations should be done on perpetrators. She also mentioned that people in the family felt that Amy and the children were in danger from Steve. I wonder if they told that to the authorities handling this case.

There seem to be a consensus that lack of funding has much to do with the problems in the system. The bottom line is that we may never be able to prevent all domestic violence related murders, however, in Maine we have had eight people murdered and two commit suicide in domestic violence related incidents in the span of seven weeks. Something needs to change.

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