Monday, September 28, 2009

Still Looking Over My Shoulder

In 1999 I obtained a lifetime Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence against someone I nearly married. After having watched hundreds of injunction hearings, I am aware of how unusual this is (most injunctions are granted for 12 months). I am very fortunate that Judge Jeffords Miller recognized the potential lethality of my situation and did not designate an expiration date.

In the months immediately following the issuance of the injunction, I was called by an acquaintance of the Respondent (whom I'd never met) who told me he had admitted to her that he had driven past my house and poured paint thinner on a car that my neighbor was storing in my carport. I also had a suspicious flat tire, but no real evidence against him. He married someone else in 2000 (they divorced in 2004) and left me alone.

In April, 2006 I bought a security camera to monitor my front door because someone left items anonymously on my doorstep on two separate occasions that were a bit odd (a side benefit of having the camera was knowing if my teenager was observing her curfew!). After a while, I didn't always activate the camera, but while we were on vacation in July 2008, I did. And I caught the Respondent standing at my front door - violating the injunction that had been issued nearly 9 years earlier.

If someone threatens to kill my child and commit suicide, I take that threat very seriously. Even 9 years after it was made. Sarah (pictured here just 2 months before she was murdered by her father) is the reason why. All the old fears of being stalked resurfaced. I began looking over my shoulder again, gathering intel on the Respondent, and decided to fight back by filing a complaint that he had violated the injunction (a very confusing process that can involve both the criminal and domestic relations courts).

A warrant was issued for his arrest and since he has no fixed address, the waiting game began. Until last week when I received a call from the State Attorney's Office that he had been picked up in Lake County last month. Once again, the anxiety returned. The thought of having to go court and be in the same building with him has the potential to be paralyzing - even though I am more familiar than most victims are with the process. I am torn between wanting to stand up and tell him to his face to leave me and my family alone vs. letting the State Attorney handle it for me.

Since 1986, five women (including me) have had injunctions against this man. He's been arrested for stalking two of them (both cases were dropped). So I'm torn between a desire to make sure the judge understands my concerns and sending a message to the Respondent that I will not be intimidated vs. wanting to avoid being anywhere near him.

A pretrial conference is scheduled for tomorrow. It wouldn't surprise me at all if he fails to appear. I'll let you know what happens.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"Lie to Me"

Stunned and speechless. That's how I felt when Catherine Burke told WESH Reporter Dave McDaniel that victims of domestic violence should keep their abuse a secret. CourtWatch commends WESH for seeking comments from Carol Wick of Harbor House in order to balance the dangerous message that Mrs. Burke expressed. Because it is only when domestic violence is brought to light that abusers and victims can get the help they need to break the cycle of abuse. Far too many victims fail to seek help with law enforcement and the courts because they fear they will not be protected from their abuser. Judge Marlene Alva is, in our opinion, doing a superb job of making Mrs. Burke's safety a priority. But this case highlights the not uncommon situation that prosecutors of domestic violence face daily - that of a recanting victim.

If you've ever watched "Lie to Me" on Fox, you'll be familiar with the practice of deception detection by comparing our microfacial expressions and body language with what we actually say. Susan Constantine is a body language expert here in Central Florida. I asked her to review the Burke interviews.

Regarding Catherine's interview on WESH, Ms. Constantine provided the following assessment:
  • Mrs. Burke shows sadness in all regions of the face. The forehead shows distress, her eyebrow angles up in the inner corners, and down on the sides. The mouth's outer corners are slightly turned down in sadness. It is my opinion she is dealing with sadness and anxiety. Anxiety is shown in the shifting of the eyes back and forth from side to side, rapidly. She is vulnerable, lonely, and insecure. What I don't see is anger. She warns women "not to" report domestic violence because the system is prohibiting her from having contact with her husband. She does not show anger with the system or the judge. If she were angry, her voice, and facial expressions would have been presented "as anger" (horizontal tight lips and eyelids would have narrowed with lower lid tightened). Therefore, her words and body language were incongruent. She is a target for repeat violence because she does not see what Shannon did as domestic violence.  [emphasis mine]  The battered wife syndrome causes one to soften the blow with soft words and voice to ward off the intruder (being the press) and, at the same time, she is manipulating the public opinion with her soft tone to protect her husband.
  • She says she was not abused, then leans forward with an affirmative while nodding her head yes. This is an emblem. An emblem is a body movement gesture that has a universal meaning in the US. When she says she was not abused, she nods her head yes when it should have shook no. She was not confident that she convinced the reporter because she leans in to convince the reporter with an affirmative indicating she was not fearful.
  • She stated "IF (meaning she was) I was abused, and I was not, but IF (meaning she was) I was" (at this time the corners of mouth went down in sadness). She does not believe her own story.
Here's FOX's version of Catherine's interview.

Regarding Shannon's FOX35 interview with Amy Kaufeldt:
  • His 3 corner leg stance is one of confidence. His left arm is stretched over the sofa in the direction of the reporter (this is a non-verbal hug of wanting approval). His body language betrays him with his right hand. He leaves his right hand placed near his groin, and is not visibly out front in an open body posture. The right hand is hidden as if he got his hand caught in the cookie jar (a "hiding something back" gesture).
  • Shannon shoulder shrugs often. This is an emblem too. If he shrugged at the same time as saying "I don't know" this would have been believable although, he shrugs when his words are not consistent with his words "deceptive." He has a lot of anxiety.
  • The most telling is when he was asked if he was dangerous. He answers a question with a question. "Have you ever known me to be dangerous?" This is a rhetorical devise of "deception." He should have said "no."  He does not take ownership for his actions [emphasis mine] and uses another rhetorical device called "petty fogging" when he says this. One side corner of his mouth goes unilateral.  This is "contempt" (moral superiority and duping delight gesture - this happens when he thinks he has pulled one over on you). The facial gesture appears and then he used a "petty fogging" rhetorical device again by diverting the audience away from the issues at hand to present himself in a positive light when shifting to telling the audience he fixed a clock at the park with his child.
  • In my opinion, the judge made a good decision to keep them separated until they go through more counseling.
Susan, I second that opinion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

DOJ Report - Practical Implications of DV Research for Criminal Justice System

JUNE 2009 - Department of Justice Report: Practical Implications of Domestic Violence Research for Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges. The report may be downloaded here:

In addition to the link for downloading the report, there's an excellent discussion of risk factors for high lethality DV cases on the above-referenced blog. If you've ever wondered why murder-suicides happen, you'll find it interesting.

I'll admit I haven't digested the entire 106 page document yet. But it delves into the following topics and I look forward to taking some time to review the rest of it:
  • Reporting & Arrests
  • Perpetrator Characteristics
  • Victim Characteristics
  • Law Enforcement Responses
  • Prosecution Responses
  • Judicial Responses
  • Intervention Programs
It never ceases to amaze me how the internet helps advocates do their jobs. It's so much more convenient than going to the public library! Thank you Al Gore!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Domestic Violence victims have a "pre-existing condition?"

Insurance companies have used the excuse of "pre-existing conditions" to deny coverage to countless Americans. From cancer patients to the elderly suffering from arthritis, these organizations have padded their profit margins by limiting coverage to patients deemed "high risk" because of their medical condition.

But, in DC and nine other states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming, insurance companies have gone too far, claiming that "domestic violence victim" is also a pre-existing condition.

Words cannot describe the sheer inhumanity of this claim. It serves as yet further proof that our insurance system is broken, destroyed by the profit-mongering of the very companies who's sole purpose should be to provide Americans with access to care when they need it most. In 1994, an informal survey conducted by the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee revealed that 8 of the 16 largest insurers in the country used domestic violence as a factor when decided whether to extend coverage and how much to charge if coverage was extended.

It is clear that insurance companies refuse to police themselves. It's up to us to call on Congress to take action now to pass health care reform and end discrimination against patients with pre-existing conditions.

Source: Service Employees International Union

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Think Ahead - What Would You Do?

A friend of mine sent this to me today.

As I was walking to my car on my way to work, I heard these unsettling sounds coming from down the street. I stopped, stood still as I was unsure what the noise was. It was a woman screaming and crying from deep within her being as she was being abused. The cries were horrendous and her screams unbearable. What was even worse, I could hear the sound of her attacker's blows as she screamed out in pain and suffering. I heard him yelling at her right before he would strike. (I could not make out what he was saying, only his voice). He must have been hitting her with a solid object - it was certainly more than his fist. I have NO IDEA where she lives, which house the noise was coming from, or how to help save her.

I stood there, helpless and unsure of what to do. I had to get to work, but at the same time I could not just do “nothing.” I drove around the neighborhood to see if I could pinpoint which house so at least I could try to stop the attack. The sound of my engine and the children that were cycling down the street on their way to school muffled the noise. I left the neighborhood in tears the size of elephants, as I could not immediately save this person that needed help.

I prayed very hard for God to guide me in what to do. I tried calling my husband (a law enforcement officer) at home numerous times to see if he could go outside and listen and help pinpoint the location, but his phone must have been off. I tried calling the house phone, but no one was awake to answer. Helpless, I prayed even harder. I was running late by now and had to continue my journey to work.

After many failed attempts to reach anyone at the house, I called the sheriff’s office and explained what I heard. I felt stupid because I could not give them an exact location. The officer on the phone was very nice and said he would have someone drive around the neighborhood to see if they could find this person. (Seriously doubtful by the time they got to the neighborhood). My prayers are they found this woman and were able to help her.

It amazes me that people that live closest to this house could not, or would not, help her.

So, after I got to work I called the neighborhood association to ask if they knew of anyone in our area that had a history of DV (I tearfully explained what I heard). They were not aware of anyone, but would be more than eager to keep eyes and ears open. I requested they send the security around our area today to possibly find something that will lead us to helping this lady.

She later told me that she thought about trying to locate the house and knocking on the door (after calling 911) to make the perpetrator stop. That, of course, would be an extremely dangerous solution to what was happening in her neighborhood. But it got me to thinking about how important it is for EVERYONE to think through what they would do in a similar situation. Because it's easy to become paralyzed when confronted with a dangerous situation.
The answer? Call 911, tell them where the assault is happening, give them your information so you can file a witness statement, and follow their instructions. Unless you're trained to handle situations like this, it is not recommended that you attempt to intervene alone.  Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee, courageously intervened to protect a woman from a beating by her son-in-law. BUT, he was also severely injured.
And in Brooklyn, there was a different response to DV in the streets.

In addition to helping victims develop a safety plan, anyone who wants to help a victim needs one too.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Remaking of Shannon Burke

It seems as though Burke is doing everything a media consultant would recommend in order to get back in the good graces of the public, as well as the good graces of his former employer, Real Radio 104.1.

I googled his name and found his picture (including his dog) prominantly displayed on a blog he started and posted to a few times after his release from Seminole County jail. It makes him look like a real animal lover. Well, maybe his dog. Not Catherine's dog.

Link to Burke's Interview on 104.1 (40 minutes)
Let me just say that it's far too easy for abusers to blame alcohol for their behavior. I guess it's more socially acceptable to be an alcoholic than it is to be a batterer. So he was more than willing to talk about his alcohol consumption.

Not once did I hear the words "domestic violence" mentioned, although Philips alluded to a possible "anger management" problem. I heard Burke complaining about how it seems as though everyone has forgotten all the great things he's done for charity and how the media has handled the case (though he did admit that if it had been someone else, he would likely be offering his opinion, as he did about the Casey Anthony case). I didn't hear anything that sounded remotely like an apology. He closed with an emotional discourse about how he misses his radio family and he hopes they'll forgive him.

Dale Kay Lillak, M.S. states "domestic violence is not caused by the use or abuse of alcohol, methamphetamines, cocaine, or any mood altering substance. These problems do occur separate from one another. The severity of violence tends to escalate when people are under-the-influence."

Burke's next court appearance at the Criminal Justice Center in Sanford (case 2009-CF-002149-A) is scheduled for Friday, September 18th at 9:00am in Courtroom 5B. A Motion to Modify Conditions of Release was filed on 8/24. The public, as always, is welcome to attend. It's been reported that in addition to having more access to his wife, he doesn't want to have to wear the GPS monitor anymore.

His next court appearance in Orange County (for violating his DUI probation by being arrested in Seminole), is not posted on the Clerk's website (case 2007-CT-0001034-E).

Finally, if you want to have a chuckle, check out his comments about the Casey Anthony case long before his own legal troubles began.

Jury Duty, part 2

Interestingly enough, the NY Times did a story today about the recession's impact on Jury Duty. It even mentions Orlando, Florida.

My grumbling was directed at those folks who could rearrange their schedules if needed, but choose to claim hardship instead. In reading the comments on the NY Times article, the idea of allowing people to volunteer and/or schedule themselves for a particular week, while presenting logistical issues for the Court, would undoubtedly improve the selection pool.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jury Duty or Jury Doody?

I watched a portion of jury selection Monday morning for a child abuse / child neglect case. I don't know the details of the case (other than it was expected to be a 2-day trial). What struck me was how many of the panel of 20 prospective jurors made excuses about what a hardship it would be to serve.

I understand that the courts only pay $15/day for jury duty (you do get free parking though). That basically covers your lunch and the gas it took to drive to downtown. And I realize that times are tough economically. If you have a job, you want to be there to earn money to pay your rent and buy food for your family.

I couldn't stop thinking about the victim in this case. How is justice for that child going to be served if the citizens of our community don't see their responsibility to serve as jurors as a privilege rather than a burden? And why do so many employers not consider paying their employees for the time they spend serving our community?

I know that jury duty is an inconvenience to most of us. But serving our country is rarely "convenient." Just think about all the men and women who have died to create and perpetuate our way of life. A strong court system is crucial to our nation's ability to provide justice for all.

Don't tell me you can't be bothered to do your duty. And don't complain the next time a violent offender isn't held accountable by "The System."

Because justice doesn't just happen.