Bill would widen eligibility for protective orders

The Maryland Judiciary said the definition of the new eligibility is confusing and problematic

February 15, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

State lawmakers Wednesday heard a proposal to expand the eligibility for protective orders, adding people in intimate relationships who aren’t married.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said his bill was prompted by the June 2011 shooting death of Heather Harris in Hagerstown. Her ex-boyfriend, Randy McPeak, has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for her death and is awaiting sentencing.

The bill, if approved, would allow more domestic violence victims to obtain protective orders, which are stronger, instead of peace orders.

Cherie Myers of Hagerstown told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday about constant harassment and an attack her ex-boyfriend, Howard Ray Jenkins II, subjected her to, making her feel like a character in “Cape Fear,” a movie about an obsessive stalker.


Myers said he sent her frequent messages and threats. When he attacked her near her car in August 2011 — five months after they broke up — “he came at me with a look of rage and terror on his face,” Myers said.

She used pepper spray on him, but he came after her again and punched her in the face, knocking her down, she said. Jenkins kicked her repeatedly in the head, she said.

“I was in fear for my life the whole time he was beating me, and I thought I was going to end up dead, just like Heather Harris,” Myers said.

Jenkins was sentenced for 25 years in prison for first-degree assault, with 15 years suspended.

Under the bill, someone involved in “an intimate dating relationship ... characterized by the expectation of affectionate involvement,” whether casual or serious, could get a protective order, as could someone “who has had a consensual or nonconsensual sexual relationship” with another person.

Currently, the law limits protective orders to spouses, people living together, relatives, vulnerable adults and people with a child together.

According to Shank, authorities must do a “lethality assessment” on the danger of the offender for a protective order, but not for a peace order.

Also, police can detain someone right away for violating a protective order. For a peace order, there first must be a sworn complaint and a warrant.

In written testimony, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said he has hoped for years that the legislature would extend protective-order eligibility as the bill does.

He noted that Harris had a peace order against McPeak, who still was allowed to have a firearm.

“Such a firearm was used to kill this woman,” Smith wrote. “It was a tragedy in every sense of the word and one that potentially could have been avoided had she been eligible to obtain a protective order.

“I along with numerous other law enforcement officers worked for hours to try to save this woman’s life in the resulting barricade situation. To have this end with her death was something I will long remember and I would hope that some good may come of her death.”

The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault testified for the bill.

In a written statement, the coalition wrote: “Dating violence and sexual assault are volatile cases that need the special attention that a protective order produces.”

House of Ruth Maryland, a domestic violence center, wrote that a one-year protective order instead of a six-month peace order is a stronger safeguard for victims of dating violence.

In a statement against the bill, the Maryland Judiciary said the definition of the new eligibility is confusing and problematic.

The state Office of the Public Defender wrote that the new classes of eligible people did not match “the domestic nature or level of intimacy” as the existing classes.

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