In wake of deadly standoff, lawmakers seek to strengthen domestic abuse laws

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood raised the issue when Hagerstown City Council met with legislators

December 08, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • Haywood

Lawmakers are seeking stronger protection for domestic violence victims, triggered, in part, by a standoff in June that left a Hagerstown woman dead at the hands of her ex-boyfriend.

Councilwoman Ashley C. Haywood raised the issue Tuesday, when the Hagerstown City Council met with members of the state legislative delegation to discuss issues for the upcoming General Assembly session in Annapolis.

"I know you have been working very hard on adjusting the parameters of what constitutes domestic violence versus assault charges statewide," Haywood said to State Sen. Christopher B. Shank.

She said that the standoff and slaying on Dual Highway could potentially have been avoided if the changes Shank plans to propose had been in effect.

Shank, R-Washington, said earlier this year that he planned to make the issue a priority in the coming session.

"The problem is ... that a protective order is not available to everyone," Shank told the council Tuesday. "If you look at our  homicides, the high profile homicides in Washington County, many of them over the years have been domestic-violence related."

At the heart of what Shank aims to reform is the disparity between a peace order and a protective order, he said.

Protections are available to those with a protective order that do not apply for a peace order, he said.

There is a dramatic difference between peace and protective orders, Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael has said previously.

Protective orders usually involve abuse within intimate relationships in which the parties are either married or divorced, or lived together, according to previous reports in The Herald-Mail. Peace orders usually are issued in cases of less intimate relationships.

In the case of a protective order, police are notified and law-enforcement agencies "have programs to monitor these cases, specifically in regard to firearms," Michael said previously.

Police are not automatically notified when a peace order is issued, and the situation remains a civil matter unless a violation occurs, he said.

Heather Harris, who was mortally wounded in her home by her former boyfriend, Randy Houston McPeak of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., did not quality for a protective order, which affords stricter legal sanctions for violations than a peace order, according to previous reports.

In the Dual Highway situation, Harris had a peace order, which does not trigger the same law-enforcement review, Shank said.

He said Thursday that the case of Cherie Sue Myers — whose ex-boyfriend Howard Ray Jenkins II violated a peace order, allegedly assaulting her and threatening to kill her, according to police documents — also influenced his decision to pursue a change in the law.

The legislation Shank plans to propose seeks to define a dating or nonmarital intimate relationship, and make it subject to a protective order, he said.

"That would give your law enforcement the tools they need to better protect people," he said.

What needs to be fine-tuned are the liberties denied someone under an order, he said.

"Whatever legislative solution we come up with, we need to ensure that the remedies are appropriate, in terms of, if you don't live with somebody, then you certainly can't kick them out of their apartment because that's just not fair. So it has to be commensurate with whatever that relationship is," he said.

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