Nord Center to Address Child Abuse During Conference

The Kidz First Children’s Advocacy Center, a program of the Nord Center Comprehensive Behavioral Healthcare, is hosting a conference to address child abuse awareness and prevention May 25-26 at the Spitzer Conference Center at Lorain Community College, 1005 N. Abbe Road in Elyria.

National and local experts will gather at the conference to educate professionals, advocates and caregivers on child abuse prevention, intervention and best practices.

Presenters include Detective Brad Graham, special assault unit at the Tacoma Police Department in Tacoma, Wa., and Christopher Pierre, assistant prosecuting attorney at the Lorain County Prosecutor’s Office, who will discuss model practices in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse.

Mary Sawicki, a senior attorney with the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and Child Abuse Prevention Project, will present on the ethics of child abuse; testifying as an expert witness; prosecution of cases with limited evidence; and recantation in cases of child abuse.

Dr. Melissa Peters, medical director at Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services (CHIPS) Center, Children’s of Alabama, University of Alabama, will discuss medical evidence in child physical abuse and sexual abuse.

Rita Adballah, a social worker at Turning Point Services Ltd., will provide a lunch presentation each day with a focus on identifying burnout and self-care.

Anyone who works with children and families can benefit from this conference, including social workers, teachers, health care professionals, administrators, law enforcement and court personnel, mental health professionals, prevention workers, substance abuse counselors, parents, adoptive/foster parents, home visitors and community volunteers

The cost for two-day registration is $50 and single-day registration is $25.

A limited amount of scholarship funds also are available. For scholarship applications and questions regarding the conference, call Amanda Thomas at 440-204-4351.

For more information, or to register, visit https://www.nordcenter.org/events/.

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How many are prosecuted for sexual assault crimes locally?

 

By Conor Morris, General Assignment Reporter |

With an ongoing investigation by local law enforcement that could bring more charges against a serial rape suspect from Athens County, it’s important to analyze how often these crimes are actually prosecuted in Athens County.

Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said in an interview last week that investigative techniques for sexual assaults in Athens County have improved drastically since 10 years ago. As a result, more assailants are being convicted for sexual assaults, though there’s always more work to be done.

Sex crime cases are typically not solved by an arrest by a police agency; rather, the suspects are more frequently indicted on charges by a grand jury after the County Prosecutor’s Office has enough evidence to do so, Blackburn has previously said. As such, there are few arrests in Athens County for sexual assaults (the Athens Police Department had zero in 2015).

In 2016, the Prosecutor’s Office provided information showing that 10 people had been indicted in Athens County for “sex crimes” as designated by Ohio Revised Code. Those crimes range from rape to sexual battery to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. Meanwhile, only six people were indicted for sex crimes in the county in 2015, compared with eight people indicted for such crimes in 2014. We’ll go into more detail on the status of these cases in the latter part of this article.

There’s no way to compare these indictment numbers easily with other county prosecutor’s offices across the state. An Ohio Attorney General’s Office spokesperson said Friday that such information is only kept on a county-by-county basis.

According to FBI statistics, of the 103,064 rape offenses that were nationally known to law enforcement in 2015, about 37.8 percent of those offenses were “cleared by an arrest” or other circumstance, including prosecution. That’s compared to a clearance rate of 46 percent for other violent crime offenses (of which about 1.13 million were reported in the U.S. in 2015).

During 2016, the Athens Police Department wrote up 30 reports on alleged rapes and eight reports of other alleged sex crimes, compared with 21 rape reports and 15 other sex crime reports in 2015, and nine rape reports and 12 other sex crime reports in 2014, according to the APD’s 2016 annual report.

Meanwhile, the OU Police wrote up 20 reports on alleged rapes and 10 reports of “fondling” (sexual touching without consent) in 2015, compared with 21 reports of rape in 2014 and one report of “fondling,” according to the OU Police’s Clery Act report from 2016. That report did not include statistics for reports from 2016, although records obtained by The NEWS of all reports of sex crimes written by the OU Police for 2016 suggest that the OU Police had written up 13 reports on alleged rapes, two reports on alleged gross sexual impositions and two reports on alleged sexual impositions.

These numbers do not include reports from other area law-enforcement agencies such as the Athens County Sheriff’s Office, the Hocking College Police Department and the Nelsonville Police Department.

County Prosecutor Blackburn said that his office indicts “all the cases that we believe can be proved” beyond a reasonable doubt. He explained that it’s not uncommon for the victims of sexual assault to not wish to proceed with a case, which can make it difficult, if not impossible, to pursue the case further.

Blackburn said it’s also important to understand that sometimes crimes that are reported as a sexual assault or rape do not end up being investigated as such. The facts of a case, as they come out, may lead to investigation of a different kind of crime, or no crime at all. Still, in such cases, the police departments will still have public records showing that a crime had been reported to the department as a “rape” or “sexual assault,” skewing the numbers.

Furthermore, when a sexual-assault examination happens at OhioHealth O’Bleness, the rape kit is forwarded to local police, who will write a report on an alleged sexual assault occurring. These cases often will not go forward unless the victim wishes to contact police. Otherwise, the kit simply will be kept as evidence from an anonymous person for any potential future investigation.

It’s also important to recognize that the metrics used for this story – police reports – are different from “calls for service,” which are simply a log of calls to the police agency’s dispatcher with initial information on what crime may have occurred. For example, the APD had 40 calls for service for crimes initially reported as a “rape” in 2016, but only had 30 formal “incident reports” written up on crimes classified as “rapes.”

While it’s difficult to get an accurate bead on how police report numbers compare with local indictments, Blackburn said that local law enforcement, his office, OhioHealth O’Bleness and local victims advocates have banded together in recent years to address these issues.

Those constituencies have formed a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which has led to improvements in investigative techniques in recent years.

“We’ve had a lot of issues over the years that we are working to improve, (for example) with the evidence not being properly collected at the time of the rape kit,” Blackburn said. “…O’Bleness has done a great job in the recent past of fixing those problems and getting better equipment to collect evidence so that we can go forward.”

Kimberly Castor, director of the Ohio University Survivor Advocacy Program, confirmed in a brief statement Saturday that development of the SART team will help survivors of sexual assault in Athens.

“It has given us the opportunity to meet and interact with all of the key players involved in addressing sexual assault in Athens,” she wrote.”SSART allows us the chance to ask questions, address concerns, and really gain a better understanding of what each department’s (hospital, law enforcement, prosecutors office, etc.) role is, and what information they need in order to hold more perpetrators accountable for their actions.”

BLACKBURN NOTED that sometimes, a person does not report a sexual assault to police reports in a timely fashion, meaning they come weeks, months or years after an alleged sexual assault occurred. For example, two OU Police reports from 2016 list alleged sexual assaults that occurred on OU’s campus in 2003 and 1978, respectively. Typically, evidence that is most helpful in a sexual-assault investigation is collected from the victim and suspect’s body and from bed-sheets or other potential evidence soon after the assault occurs (within 96 hours is best, some victims advocates say).

Blackburn and local police recently have said that what appears to be an increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to local police is likely not an increase in these crimes occurring. Rather, greater awareness on campus has led to more people feeling comfortable coming forward.

David LaBahn, president and CEO of the national organization, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said that it’s difficult to analyze the individual work of prosecutor’s offices and how they stack up against other offices.

“Why don’t we have better numbers? I think that’s a very good question,” he said.

LaBahn pointed out that studies of sexual assault often come to the conclusion that a large proportion of all sexual assaults are never even reported to police. Of the cases that are reported, many get dismissed or end up having reduced charges.

One reason for this is that jurors in America are often “very harsh” on adult victims of sexual assault, in part due to the standards of having to prove a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt,” LaBahn said. Often, sexual assaults occur behind closed doors, where the only two witnesses are the victim and the alleged assailant. DNA evidence can help, but many times victims of sexual assault will not want to pursue a case because of how difficult and traumatic it can be, and because of fears of backlash from their communities, their families or supporters of the assailant.

LaBahn also noted that there’s often a huge backlog of rape kits across the country that languish in storage at police departments without being tested. Ohio has taken the positive step under state Attorney General Mike DeWine of testing a large backlog of rape kits, which is partly what led to the arrest of a suspect in the Athens serial rape case.

Blackburn noted that not all incidents reported as sexual assaults to local police departments are sent to his department for consideration of charges. Sometimes, there’s simply not enough evidence to proceed, he said, although that’s not always the case.

For example, The NEWS has obtained records of police reports for a series of 14 alleged sex crimes reported to the OU Police between late 2015 and mid-2016. The NEWS provided Blackburn with the police reports and asked how many had been sent to his office for consideration of charges.

Of the 14 reported crimes, eight had not been sent to Blackburn’s office to consider charges. Of the six cases received by Blackburn, three were reports of a rape that his office had “insufficient evidence to prosecute;” one was a report of a rape that allegedly occurred in 2003 that he said “did not meet the definition” of a sexual assault; one is a rape case that’s still being reviewed by his office; and one case was a report of voyeurism in which somebody was sentenced.

MEANWHILE, the county prosecutor’s office’s indictment numbers are worthy of a closer inspection.

According to information provided by Blackburn’s office, in 2016 there were:

• Six people indicted on rape charges. Three of those suspects still have cases pending; one was convicted of rape of a victim under the age of 10 and was sentenced to life in prison; one had two rape counts dismissed and another two counts of rape amended to sexual battery, and ultimately pleaded guilty to four counts of sexual battery, being sentenced to two years in prison and give years of community control after; one had rape and sexual battery charges dismissed against him “due to victim deleting evidence and the police agency losing the recorded interview with Defendant,” Blackburn said.

• Two people were indicted on sexual battery charges; one case is still pending, the other suspect was convicted and is serving four years in prison.

• One person was convicted of gross sexual imposition and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

• One person indicted on an unlawful sexual conduct with a minor count had that count dismissed, but was still convicted of assault and unlawful restraint, and was deported to Egypt because of the criminal matter and for “violating his student visa policy.”

Also according to Blackburn, of the six people indicted on sex crime charges in 2015:

• Two people were convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

• Two people were convicted of gross sexual imposition. One received five years of community control; the other was convicted on other counts including burglary and kidnapping, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

• One was convicted of rape and several counts of child pornography, and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

• One plead to charges of endangering children and drug charges, and was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016.

Of the eight people indicted on sex crime charges in 2014:

• Three people plead to a variety of counts including sexual battery. One was sentenced to five years in prison and another was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 10 years. The final one was sentenced to two years in prison.

• Four people were convicted of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and placed on probation.

• One person was indicted on an unidentified sex crime charge and pled guilty to a non-sex offense. He was placed on “community control,” Blackburn said.

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Prosecutors Taking Tougher Stance in Fraternity Hazing Deaths

After downing a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffering severe internal injuries during a fraternity hazing, a 19-year-old college sophomore died. Not long ago, the story might have ended there, except for some hand-wringing and litigation.

Instead, prosecutors filed criminal charges on Friday against 18 Penn State students in the death of the man, Timothy Piazza.

The case offers the latest evidence of the harder line prosecutors have started taking when initiation rituals end in death from alcohol or physical abuse. At Baruch College, Northern Illinois University, Fresno State University and elsewhere, fraternity hazing deaths that might once have been labeled regrettable accidents have resulted in criminal charges against students.

“Go back a generation or two, and hazing was accepted conduct, part of the fraternity experience, part of the football experience,” said David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, a national group that offers training for prosecutors. “Now it’s no longer ‘boys will be boys, and why is the prosecutor getting involved in this?’ I think there is much more acceptance out there that this is unlawful behavior.”

Colleges and universities have also taken a tougher stance, at least outwardly, after being battered by reports about sexual assault and binge drinking. Universities have shut down hundreds of offending fraternity chapters, and some have prohibited freshman-year pledging or imposed restrictions on alcohol. A smaller number have withdrawn formal recognition of all Greek-letter groups, forcing them to operate only off campus and without any official ties.

What is less clear is how much of a difference their actions make.

“This is a huge challenge because we don’t own the houses, we don’t own the property, we aren’t the national” organization governing fraternities, Penn State’s president, Eric Barron, said Monday in an interview.

Fraternities and their national umbrella groups dispute studies, which Dr. Barron cited, showing that fraternity members are disproportionately connected to binge drinking and sexual assault. They note that other organizations, like sports teams, also engage in hazing; at Florida A&M University, ritual abuse in the marching band killed a student in 2011, and several band members were prosecuted. Some of the deadly episodes that have been labeled fraternity hazing — at the University at Albany and Virginia State University — involved loosely organized groups with no national affiliation or school recognition.

There are no figures kept by the government or higher education groups of hazing incidents, student deaths, excessive drinking or fraternity discipline; individual schools and fraternities generally resist sharing internal data. But in 2013, Bloomberg News documented more than 60 deaths over eight years in fraternity activities, many of them involving initiation rituals for would-be members and heavy drinking.

Dr. Barron said university presidents around the country had been expanding educational programs to discourage drinking, creating stronger rules and, when all else failed, revoking fraternity charters. But fraternities have found creative ways to avoid new restrictions, he said; some whose charters have been revoked have simply “created underground organizations and just changed their names.”

Douglas E. Fierberg, a lawyer who specializes in suing fraternities and universities, said that while a few colleges had changed, most were unwilling to alienate alumni donors who belonged to fraternities.

“The central problem is that in a fraternity house, kids, most of whom cannot legally drink, are in charge of getting and serving alcohol,” he said.

He noted that Mr. Piazza was left unconscious for hours before anyone sought help. “That would not have happened in an on-campus dorm,” Mr. Fierberg said.

Experts say the increase in prosecutions stems not only from a shift in attitudes but also from the ubiquity of electronic evidence. Security cameras in the fraternity house provided crucial information about Mr. Piazza’s last hours, and in other instances, text messages and Google searches have contributed to criminal cases.

The Penn State prosecution is one of the largest ever brought in a fraternity misconduct case, and it is unusual in that eight defendants face felony counts.

But it is not the first scandal for the university, which was rocked by revelations about Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted of child molestation, and by the prosecution of former administrators, including a former president, who were found guilty of failing to take action to stop Mr. Sandusky.

Nor was Beta Theta Pi the first fraternity to get into trouble at Penn State, whose hard-drinking Greek scene is well known. In 2015, one fraternity was found to have kept a secret Facebook page with photos of naked, apparently unconscious women — some taken without their knowledge — and evidence of underage drinking, hazing and drug distribution. No one was prosecuted.

Despite the adverse publicity, Penn State remains a coveted destination, with applications up about 30 percent from before the Sandusky case broke.

The parents of two former Penn State students, Adam and Denise Lipson, say that they warned administrators in 2014 and 2015 of fraternity hazing that included coercing first-year students to drink to excess, but that their concerns were ignored. Dismayed by that atmosphere, their sons transferred to other universities, where they found less emphasis on alcohol and less pressure to drink.

“Our sons are not prudes, they’re not anti-frat, they’re not anti-alcohol, but they couldn’t believe how far it went,” Ms. Lipson said. “There was this underlying acceptance of it.”

Dr. Barron said concerns about drinking had been taken seriously for some time.

While some fraternity houses are known trouble spots, Dr. Barron said, Beta Theta Pi was considered a model.

In a note to the campus community last month, he gave a harsh appraisal of fraternity conduct and warned, “It could mean the end of Greek life at Penn State.”

Mr. Fierberg was skeptical. “The Greeks will be around long after everyone has turned their attention elsewhere,” he said.

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Tester Introduces Bill to Expand Veteran Access to Treatment Courts

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester today introduced a bipartisan bill to increase veterans’ access to substance abuse and mental health treatment through Veterans Treatment Courts in Billings, Great Falls and Missoula.

Tester’s legislation allows for the hiring of 50 additional Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists across the nation to work in Veterans Treatment Courts. Veterans Treatment Courts remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process to address issues such as post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

In a Veterans Treatment Court, a judge works alongside the veteran and a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program tailored to the specific needs of that veteran.

‘Veterans Treatment Courts do crucial work to make sure that veterans in the criminal justice system are getting specific and specialized assistance that they need to make a smooth transition back to civilian life,’ said Tester. ‘This bipartisan bill will make sure that these treatment courts have the resources they need to serve Montana veterans.’

The outreach program was created by the VA to provide veterans with timely access to services and engage veterans in specialty treatment courts.

There are three Veterans Treatment Courts in Montana, located in Billings, Missoula and Great Falls, but only two Veterans Justice Outreach Specialists.

The presiding Judges of these courts praised Tester’s bill:

‘Veterans Treatment Courts offer veterans an alternative to incarceration where they can receive the services and treatment they’ve earned to cope with trauma and addiction,’ said Great Falls District Judge Gregory Pinski. ‘As a judge, I possess a fundamental belief that courts don’t exist simply to dispense justice, they exist to make the community a better, safer place. Veterans treatment courts fulfill those principles every day for 11,000 veterans who would otherwise be in prison.’

‘Additional Veterans Justice Officers are crucial to early identification of justice involved veterans,’ said Billings District Judge Mary Jane Knisely. ‘Without these integral resources, veterans suffering from chemical dependency, severe mental issues and the invisible wounds of war continue to go unserved cycling through the revolving doors of incarceration. I strongly urge and support the passage of The Veterans Court Improvement Act of 2017, which seeks to connect some of the most deserving in the criminal justice system with a liaison linking them to an appropriate therapeutic court. In rural areas like Montana, where services are sparse and needs are great these additional VJOs are imperative.’

‘This legislation will increase the capability of the Missoula Veterans Court and the two other Montana Veterans Courts to better serve veterans,’ Missoula District Judge Brenda Desmond stated. ‘Money is well spent on Veterans Courts because they have proven to be effective at restoring veterans to their communities.’

The Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act is supported by the American Legion, American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Justice for Vets, Student Veterans of America, Addiction Haven, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National District Attorneys Association.

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SAO to publicly post ‘use of force’ investigation case summaries online

BALTIMORE (WBFF) – Under a new policy adopted by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, her office will publicly post “use of force” investigation case summaries online any time a Baltimore police officer is suspected of criminally assaulting or killing a person in Baltimore City.

“At the start of my administration, I promised to make the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City a more open, accessible, and transparent public safety agency,” said State’s Attorney Mosby. “Over the past two years, we have worked toward that goal, seeking out national best practices with the citizens and communities of Baltimore City at the forefront of our minds. Today, we are delivering on that promise in a major way by posting information about individual ‘use of force’ investigations online.”

According to the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO), the policy comes out of recommendations from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys’ (APA) “Use of Force Project.”

APA established the Use of Force Project last year.

For cases where the officers are not charged, the case summaries posted online will provide supporting evidence and documentation for the declination to charge. For cases where investigators choose to bring charges, the legal process would move forward.

The Baltimore SAO is one of 50 district and state’s attorneys’ offices around the country adopting the recommendations set forth by the APA’s “Use of Force Project.”

“To improve the criminal justice system, we have to make holistic changes,” said Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe, who oversees the SAO’s Police Integrity and Police Trust Unit. “We must recognize and respond to the public’s right to know what happened when a resident is harmed or killed by law enforcement.”

The summaries of Baltimore cases will be posted here: http://www.stattorney.org/#pois.

“This is what the public needs in order to rebuild its faith in the criminal justice system,” continued State’s Attorney Mosby. “I’m glad to have the support and partnership of some of the most progressive prosecutorial minds in the country on this initiative.”

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Peters, Heller Introduce the Pet and Women Safety Act

Peters, Heller Introduce the Pet and Women Safety Act

Bicameral, Bipartisan Legislation Helps Protect Domestic Violence Victims and Their Pets

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 8, 2015
Allison Green (Peters)
202-834-2281
Media@peters.senate.gov
Neal Patel (Heller)
202-224-6244

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) today announced they are reintroducing the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, bicameral, bipartisan legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence from emotional and psychological trauma caused by violence against their pets. Multiple studies have shown that domestic abusers often seek to manipulate or intimidate their victims by threatening or harming their pets, but according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only three percent of domestic violence shelters across the country accept pets. U.S. Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are leading the reintroduction of the PAWS Act in the House.

“Abusers often exploit the emotional attachment victims have with their pets, leaving victims of domestic violence stuck choosing between their own safety or leaving a beloved pet in harm’s way,” said Senator Peters. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan legislation that will help empower victims to leave abusive situations, get a fresh start and keep their pets who are treasured members of their families.”

“I am committed to combating domestic violence and ensuring survivors are provided with the services they need to heal. No victim of this crime should have to choose between their safety and the safety of their pet, which is why I’m glad Nevada has facilities in both Reno and Las Vegas that serve victims of domestic violence, their children, and pets,” said Senator Dean Heller. “I am proud to introduce this critical legislation with my colleagues to ensure domestic violence survivors across the country receive the assistance they need to leave an abusive environment.”

The PAWS Act expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The bill also requires the full amount of the victim’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses to include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the victim’s pet.

The ASPCA reported that a study in Wisconsin found 68 percent of domestic violence survivors reported their abusers were also violent towards their animals. A similar study found that as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. A separate 2007 study found that as many as one-third of domestic abuse survivors reported they delayed leaving an abuser for an average of two years out of concern for the safety of their pet.

“Abusers frequently target their victims’ pets, which can cause victims to delay leaving dangerous situations, incur costly veterinary bills for their pets’ injuries and endure additional trauma from seeing their much-loved animals tortured,” said Kim Gandy, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. “The PAWS Act will help domestic violence shelters across the country provide resources for victims fleeing abusive situations so they can find a welcome home for themselves and their pets.”

“No one should have to make the impossible choice between leaving an abusive situation or protecting their pet,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Government Relations. “Studies demonstrate that abusers often intentionally target pets to exert control over their partners, and as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have reported returning to an abusive partner out of concern for the safety of their animal. The federal protections offered by the PAWS Act will provide valuable resources to give victims and their pets the security they need to escape a dangerous environment, which is why the ASPCA is grateful to Senators Peters and Heller for introducing this legislation.”

“Many states allow pets to be included in restraining orders, but what happens when a domestic violence victim must go live with family in another state where pets are not covered?” said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We must have a national policy that safeguards the pets of abuse victims, and recognizes that domestic violence impacts all members of the family—including the four-legged.”

“Too often victims of domestic violence fear leaving an abusive situation, and when violence is inflicted on their pets, victims are not only stuck in a traumatic environment, they also have to pay for veterinary bills to help their pets heal,” said David LaBahn, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. “The PAWS Act will provide law enforcement with the tools to ensure justice for victims of domestic violence whose pets are harmed by their abusers. I applaud Senator Peters and Senator Heller for their leadership on addressing a very important issue.”

The PAWS Act is supported by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the Humane Society of the United States, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Link Coalition, the Sheltering Animals & Families Together (SAF-T) Program, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Animal Welfare Institute, RedRover, the National Animal Care & Control Association, the National District Attorneys Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, YWCA USA, the American Kennel Club, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

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Prosecutors Try New Tack in Investigating Police Shootings

Moves on how to handle use-of-force cases follow controversies over killings of black men

Prosecutors across the country are looking for new ways to handle police use-of-force cases.

In Maryland, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is pushing for state legislation to give police powers to her investigators. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón is creating a unit to lead police-shooting investigations, instead of having the police take the lead. In November, the Philadelphia district attorney introduced a policy to send staff attorneys to any police shooting.

The moves follow a string of failed prosecutions in cases involving fatal police shootings of black men, and several controversial decisions not to prosecute, such as in Charlotte, N.C., and Ferguson, Mo. Given their close day-to-day work with law enforcement, district attorneys can face criticism for not holding police accountable. Prosecutors, meanwhile, say it is more complicated than that; they have to assess each case on its merits and consider how a jury—often sympathetic to police—would decide.

“We’ve let a lot of this debate fall on the back of police and on the back of communities who have been upset, and we have not stepped up and taken our proper role,” said Jean Peters Baker, chief prosecutor in Jackson County, Mo., in the Kansas City area. “We’ve lost public trust because people couldn’t see what we did or why.”

Since a grand jury declined to indict the Ferguson officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in 2014, Ms. Baker, in use-of-force cases, typically bypasses grand juries and instead relies on senior prosecutors to help her decide whether to charge officers. Ms. Baker said she wants to better explain the reasons if no charges result.

The grand-jury process “has real limitations on what we are allowed by law to tell the public,” she said. Grand juries, which meet behind closed doors, don’t determine guilt, they only decide to move forward with a trial.

Since 2014, eight states have made changes to the process of investigating officer-involved deaths or alleged police abuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut mandates that a state agency investigate use-of-force cases, while Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin require the use of outside investigators.

Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union, praised the steps being taken, “but I am not on this bandwagon of, ‘Hey, these are radical changes that are great,’ ” he said. “My view is, what took us so long?”

Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, said he doesn’t object to some steps being advocated, such as sending a prosecutor to police shooting scenes.

“As long as they do their investigation with principle and reverence for the law, we have no problem,” Mr. Pasco said. He said it makes sense for outside police agencies to lead investigations involving law-enforcement officers, though some police departments say that isn’t practical.

Since 2015, 31 officers involved in fatal on-duty shootings have been charged with murder or manslaughter, compared with 48 the prior decade, said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Even so, Mr. Stinson notes the vast majority of the roughly 1,000 fatal shootings by police each year don’t result in prosecution.

The topic will be raised at an annual meeting of prosecutors this week in San Francisco, where a raft of new initiatives is expected to be discussed that aim to improve transparency, procedural fairness and accountability on the part of prosecutors.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, District Attorney Seth Williams began sending his staff attorneys out to police shooting scenes, a longstanding practice elsewhere, including the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Mr. Williams also plans to meet with relatives of those killed by police at the start and end of investigations, and to publicly detail his ultimate decision.

The city is no stranger to fatal police shootings. In 2013 the police department asked the U.S. Justice Department to help it address a rise in such shootings. Earlier this month, federal officials praised the Philadelphia police department’s steps, including the creation of a unit to probe all deadly force incidents. The number of lethal police shootings dropped to five last year after reaching 16 in 2012.

Since introducing the new protocol in November, Mr. Williams’s office said it has investigated one fatal police shooting in Philadelphia, two nonfatal shootings by Philadelphia police and two incidents in which city officers shot dogs.

Mr. Williams said that while he doesn’t lack confidence in the police department’s ability to investigate its officers, the public needs greater assurances.

“I wanted the public to know we’re not just rubber-stamping the police investigation,” he said. “We’re just one catastrophe away from what happened in Ferguson,” he added.

See Original Story Here

Write to Scott Calvert at scott.calvert@wsj.com

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NEW SOLICITATION ANNOUNCEMENT: National Institute of Justice

W.E.B. Du Bois Program of Research on Race and Crime FY2017

Application Deadline:  March 31, 2017

Funding:  Up to $3 million for multiple grant awards under two categories

Solicitation:  https://www.nij.gov/funding/Documents/solicitations/NIJ-2017-12000.pdf

 

The W.E.B. Du Bois Program supports quantitative and qualitative research on the intersections of race, offending, victimization, and the fair administration of justice for both juveniles and adults. It furthers the Department’s mission by advancing knowledge regarding the confluence of crime, justice, and culture in various societal contexts. This funding opportunity seeks investigator-initiated proposals to conduct research on topics linked to race and crime in the context of violence and victimization, crime and crime prevention, and justice systems.

 

In FY2017, NIJ will give priority consideration to proposals for research on:

  • Homicide and other violence in minority communities
  • Criminal courts (including but not limited to screening and assessment, legal defense systems, and sentencing reform)

 

Funding will be available for two categories:

  1. Scholars who are advanced in their careers may apply for up to $500,000 for research (excluding projects that only analyze secondary data) with a plan to mentor less experienced researchers
  2. Fellows who are early in their careers may apply for up to $100,000 for secondary data analysis projects, or up to $150,000 for research projects involving primary data collection (a short-term residency at NIJ is optional

 

General information on applying for NIJ awards can be found at www.nij.gov/funding/Pages/welcome.aspx. Answers to frequently asked questions that may assist applicants are posted at www.nij.gov/funding/Pages/faqs.aspx. For assistance with this solicitation, contact the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) Response Center: toll-free at 1-800-851-3420; via TTY at 301-240-6310 (hearing impaired only); email grants@ncjrs.gov; fax to 301-240-5830; or web chat at https://webcontact.ncjrs.gov/ncjchat/chat.jsp.

 

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Byko: Should drug dealers be charged with homicide?

–January 5th, 2017–

When Michael Untermeyer announced his candidacy for District Attorney – something he has done before – he said something he had not said before, something attention-getting.

He wants to file homicide charges against heroin dealers who lace their product with fentanyl that can cause death to users. It’s a startling idea.

With about 900 heroin and opioid deaths in Philly last year – more than from any form of homicide – the charge would be necessary and appropriate, says Untermeyer, who spent 15 years as a prosecutor in Philly, including stints in the District Attorney’s Office and as special counsel in the Inspector General’s Office.

He also has ideas about bail – loosen it – and the law prohibiting illegal guns – tighten it – but the homicide beef for drug dealers deserves a close look.

It struck me as really unusual, but Untermeyer tells me Westmoreland County is already doing it.

But it’s not, not really, four-term Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck says.

The county did charge four people last year with “drug delivery resulting in death,” but that is a separate classification “not under the criminal homicide statute,” Peck says. That was four prosecutions, out of about 100 drug-related deaths.

Other counties are using the homicide charge, too, Untermeyer says, and he clearly wants to keep it in his arsenal.

Under Pennsylvania law, a suspect can be charged with homicide if he or she intentionally delivers any controlled substance and someone dies after using it. Untermeyer insists the statute should be used more often.

But what are the consequences of doing that?

It will require drug deaths to be treated as crime scenes, says Center City defense attorney Michael Fienman. It will require additional investigation and resources to establish a link between the drug dealer and the drugs and the person who died. An autopsy would have to be performed, says Fienman, and the medical examiner would have to testify to the cause of death. “All of this costs the city money, and the medical examiner will be cross-examined by someone like me,” says Fienman.

I ask Untermeyer about the extra resources that would be required to pay for the added work. He says he can’t answer because he’s not the DA and doesn’t know what resources are at hand.

Another prosecutorial handicap is mentioned by David LaBahn, president of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

The state has to prove that the dealer was the party doing the mixing of the drug and that making it too heavy was deliberate.

Another problem, believe it or not, is getting the cooperation of the friends and family of the deceased. “Most people like their sellers,” LaBahn says. “It’s a friend, it’s a buddy,” and they might not want to give him up.

Untermeyer, 65, of Center City, ran for DA seven years ago as a Republican, even though he is a lifelong Democrat. He viewed that campaign as a way to get his ideas on the table. This time, he joins three other Democrats in challenging DA Seth Williams, who appears vulnerable because of ethics issues.

Might running multiple candidates divide the anti-Williams vote and clear a path for the sitting DA? It depends, Untermeyer says, on whether voters view Williams’ problems as minor or as a serious character flaw.

Untermeyer also has a plan for bail bond reform. His idea is to junk it.

The “failure-to-appear rate in Philadelphia is 35 percent,” says Untermeyer, while the same rate in Washington, D.C., is 11 percent.

The difference, Untermeyer says, is the result of the nation’s capital getting rid of cash bail – which is supposed to guarantee that a defendant will appear for trial – and replacing it with a point system. A judge evaluates the suspect on flight risk, degree of danger to the community, and prior criminal record.

If the suspect falls below a certain level, he is released, possibly with an ankle bracelet, possibly with orders to attend a program, says Untermeyer. Above a certain level of risk, he is incarcerated without bail until trial.

Untermeyer says the system works and would be more fair to low-income suspects who can’t make bail, while reducing the prisoner population and associated costs.

Finally, Untermeyer is endorsing a “zero tolerance” policy for anyone caught carrying a gun without a permit.

“The penalty for the first offense is minimal, maybe 30 days,” he says, which is often plea-bargained down to “maybe weekends in jail.” Untermeyer wants a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 30 days.

He also would up the ante on straw purchasers, those illegally buying guns for others. A first offense brings a 3½-to-seven-year sentence, which is not mandatory. He’d stiffen that to “some mandatory” jail time, but he’s unsure of how long.

To be serious about Philadelphia’s gun problem requires serious penalties to show that illegal guns won’t be tolerated.

I’m not sure that Untermeyer’s remedy is strong enough, but he has placed his ideas on the table.

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Toomey Bill Targeting Heinous Forms of Animal Abuse Clears Senate

Washington, D.C. – Last week, the Senate unanimously agreed to Sen. Pat Toomey’s (R-Pa.) bipartisan bill, the Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. The PACT Act would outlaw a heinous form of animal abuse known as ‘crushing,’ where deranged individuals maim and torture animals.

Despite taking steps in 2010 to ban the sale of videos depicting animal crushing, Congress failed to make the underlying act of crushing a federal crime. This means that — even when there is overwhelming evidence that torture is taking place — federal law enforcement is unable to protect animals from abuse or even arrest known abusers. The PACT Act would ensure that individuals found guilty of torturing animals face felony charges, fines, and up to seven years in prison.

‘There is absolutely no place for the crushing of animals in our society,’ said Sen. Toomey. ‘It is blatantly inhumane and astonishingly cruel. I can’t believe this isn’t already the law. This abhorrent practice must end, and I am glad the Senate finally took the first step towards that goal. While it is disappointing that my colleagues across the aisle delayed passage of this measure until after the House of Representatives adjourned for the year, I remain hopeful that this bill will finally get enacted into law next Congress.’

On two separate occasions, Senate Republicans attempted to pass the PACT Act by unanimous consent but were blocked by their Senate Democratic colleagues. Unfortunately, by the time the Senate finally passed this legislation, the House of Representatives had adjourned for the year and therefore the bill will need to be re-introduced next Congress.

The PACT Act is endorsed by the Humane Society of the United States, National Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Major County Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

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