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Bill introduced in Maryland General Assembly would broaden scope of protective order

Legislation was a response, in part, to the shooting death of Hagerstown resident Heather Harris

February 05, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — A bill introduced in the Senate in the current session of the Maryland General Assembly seeks to broaden the scope of a protective order, to better protect those in or formerly in intimate relationships from domestic violence.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, introduced a version of the bill in 2012 but he said that even though the bill last year had some “general support, the language of the bill needed to be worked out.”

Shank has been speaking out for the need to expand the definition of a protective order, which currently is restricted, among others, to married couples, those who have a child together or those who are living together.

The senator said Tuesday that his bill was a response to a few “tragedies” in Washington County where someone had either been killed or injured because they were not qualified to get a protective order.

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One incident involved the shooting death of Hagerstown resident Heather Harris in June 2011.

According to reports, her ex-boyfriend, Randy McPeak, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the incident and was sentenced to life in prison last year.

Harris was not eligible for a protective order, but did have a peace order from the court, which affords lesser protections.

“A peace order is basically something that was designed by the General Assembly to decide on neighbor-on-neighbor disputes,” Shank said. “… they do not provoke the kind of law enforcement scrutiny and resources that a protective order does.”

The bill, if it becomes law, would redefine who would be eligible for a protective order.

“We want to make sure that law enforcement has the tools to deal with domestic violence,” Shank said.

According to a previous Herald-Mail article, law enforcement officers can detain someone for violation of a protective order, but in the case of a peace order they would have to obtain a sworn complaint and a warrant.

In written testimony last year, Hagerstown’s then Police Chief Arthur Smith pointed out that even though Harris had a peace order against McPeak, he was still allowed access to a firearm, according to the article.

“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.”

A committee hearing for the bill last year included testimony from Cherie Sue Myers, who was assaulted by her ex-boyfriend, Howard Ray Jenkins II, in Aug. 2011.

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

Shank said Tuesday that his bill has the support of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Last year, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, also testified in support of the bill.

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