Archive for Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Topeka repeals domestic violence law

October 11, 2011, 9:25 p.m. Updated October 11, 2011, 10:55 p.m.


— Over the past month, one by one, people suspected in domestic battery cases in northeast Kansas have been set free with no charges against them. Prosecutors say they’re overwhelmed with felonies and, faced with budget cuts, can’t afford to pursue the cases.

Busted budgets have forced tough decisions by governments and law enforcement officials nationwide, but the Shawnee County district attorney’s move to stop investigating domestic abuse and other misdemeanor cases has angered victims’ advocates who say austerity has gone too far.

The advocates are also outraged by the response from the capital city of Topeka, where the City Council and mayor repealed the city’s domestic abuse law Tuesday night — a move designed to ensure the city wouldn’t be stuck with the bill for prosecuting such cases.

“I absolutely do not understand it,” Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said after the vote. “It’s really outrageous that they’re playing with family safety to see who blinks first. People could die while they’re waiting to straighten this out.”

City and county officials are still hoping to strike a deal to end the budget dispute. Interim City Manager Dan Stanley said repealing the local ordinance “removes the ambiguity” and puts Topeka, the county’s largest city, in a better position to negotiate.

Most council members put the blame for their situation on the county and emphasized that they want to resolve the impasse, not deny abuse victims protection.

But City Councilwoman Denise Everhart, who voted against the repeal, said: “I just ask everybody to consider the message we’re sending.”

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has said he knew his decision would upset people but contends his hand was forced by the 10 percent cut in his budget for 2012, which he said will force him to lay off staff. He considered employee furloughs and “every angle” before making his announcement in early September.

His spokesman, Dakota Loomis, called the city’s decision drastic and unprecedented but said Taylor would re-evaluate his position. The repeal doesn’t end negotiations between city and county officials; “it just means there is a new dynamic in play,” Loomis said.

Topeka has had at least 35 reported incidents of domestic battery or assault since early September. Those cases are not being pursued, and as of last Friday, 18 people jailed have been released without facing charges, according to Topeka police. Prosecutors and police have refused to discuss details of the cases out of concern for victims’ privacy, making it difficult to assess in what situations suspects aren’t being prosecuted.

The use of a weapon in an assault or battery makes a crime a felony, which would be handled in state court.

Taylor’s decision has prompted furious reactions nationwide, and county commissioners say they’ve received hundreds of emails in the past few days from people upset by Taylor’s move and the city’s response. Outside the Shawnee County Courthouse on Tuesday, about two dozen people carried signs protesting the moves.

It also doesn’t help that the possible repeal comes during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“It can’t continue like this. They have to be prosecuted,” said County Commissioner Ted Ensley, a Democrat. “Supposing they’re charged and they’re not prosecuted and it ends up they go back and cause a death of a woman or a child.”

In a memo, Taylor’s office said budget cuts would force it to drop its prosecution of misdemeanors occurring within Topeka’s city limits and “of greatest concern are domestic violence cases.”

Topeka officials feared the city’s ordinance against domestic violence could have forced the city to take over prosecuting cases and file them in its municipal court. Local officials said Topeka couldn’t handle the $74-a-day cost per inmate of renting space from the county to jail several hundred suspected abusers or hiring additional staff to handle prosecutions.

The city already handled misdemeanor cases of simple assault and battery, and incidents of assault or battery against its police officers. Domestic assault or battery involves a person in the same household, and victims often need additional services or shelter.

City Council members who voted to repeal said the moves would help victims by ensuring such cases are prosecuted in state court.

For years, the city and county agreed that the district attorney’s office would handle domestic violence prosecutions in the better-funded state courts. City officials also note that the county has more services for victims and runs the jail.

As in other places across the nation, state and local governments in Kansas are struggling to balance their budgets and find new revenue. Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback won big cuts in general aid to public schools and eliminated state funding for arts programs while forestalling any effort to raise revenue through taxes.

A recent National League of Cities report said cities’ property tax revenues, a key funding source, are expected to drop nearly 4 percent in 2011.

“No one wants to make these cuts in essential services, but that’s where we’re at,” said Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the League of Cities.

Cities including Cleveland and Sacramento, Calif., for example, have laid off police officers. And in many Midwestern states, sheriffs have stopped busting meth labs after federal money aimed at cleaning up the crime scenes ran out.

The current budget for the Shawnee County district attorney’s office is just under $3.5 million, and would drop to a little more than $3.1 million in 2012 under the spending plan county commissioners adopted in August. Taylor said the cuts imposed by the commission would force him to lay off 11 of his 63 staff members.

County commissioners said Taylor decided independently not to prosecute misdemeanor cases, and that all county departments are taking cuts.

Advocates for abuse victims are irritated that officials couldn’t resolve the dispute. Advocates see plenty of examples of dwindling resources for courts, services and law enforcement. But publicly backing away from prosecutions or repealing an ordinance to avoid potential costs?

“People all over the country are amazed that they’re even having this conversation,” Smith said.


Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

Good call. Unless persons by virtue of living inside the city have different needs regarding domestic violence, then the law was redundant. County law should be fine.

parrothead8 6 years, 7 months ago

There's nothing good about it. The county can't afford to prosecute, and the city has made it legal. This situation is akin to two lifeguards standing at the side of the pool arguing over whose turn it is to save the drowning guy ten feet away. It's not ethically or morally defensible to play a legal game of chicken when people's lives are at stake.

TopJayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

It is a budget thing. Parrothead. Not a big deal.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

Can he county afford it less than the city? And your lifeguard analogy is a good one. Now there is only one lifeguard, so there should be no argument over who saves the drowning man.

madameX 6 years, 7 months ago

No, now there is no lifeguard at all because the only lifeguard says the budget only extends to certain kinds of rescues. And the "extra" lifeguard only quit when it looked like he might actually have to pitch in. This is a horrible call.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

A Kansas statute addresses domestic abuse. Relief can be sought in state court. If the prosecutors aren't doing their jobs, that is a problem and they should be replaced via the democratic process or required to prosecute criminal laws through the courts.

Kansas has statutes that address the matter so:

Chapter 21: Crimes And Punishments PART II.--PROHIBITED CONDUCT Article 34: Crimes Against Persons

21-3412a: Domestic battery. (a) Domestic battery is:

  (1)   Intentionally or recklessly causing bodily harm by a family or household member against a family or household member; or

etc, it's long.


Chapter 19: Counties And County Officers Article 7: County Attorney Statutes:

19-703: Same; appearances on behalf of state. Each county attorney, when requested by any judge of the district court of the county, shall appear on behalf of the state before such judge, and prosecute all complaints made in behalf of the state of which such judge has jurisdiction; and upon like request shall appear before such judge and conduct any criminal examination which may be had before such judge and, except as otherwise provided in subsection (b) of K.S.A. 19-702, and amendments thereof, shall also prosecute all civil suits before such judge in which the county is a party or interested.

madameX 6 years, 7 months ago

If we were debating the same technicality as pertains to another issue I might agree with you, and technically you're not wrong, but I'm sorry, someone who's getting beaten by their SO should not have to sit around and see if the democratic process will vote in someone who will actually do their damn job, or vote in a county commission that will give the DA's office enough funding to do it's damn job.

Besides, the overlapping laws didn't seem to matter to anyone until now. The only reason it does matter right now is that the city doesn't want to be forced to do what it sees as the DA's job. Maybe they are redundant, but just having them on the books doesn't actually hurt anyone. Whereas removing the redundancy at this particular time is going to result in people getting hurt, I pretty much guarantee it.

lecomres 6 years, 7 months ago

Well then why have the city prosecutors office at all? Get rid of the city prosecutors and have the county prosecute all crimes. That will save lots of money.

pace 6 years, 7 months ago

They are planning tourist events. "Slap your grandma day' Bring your spouse to Topeka if you want to send her to the Moon Alice events. Awards for the most bruised but still living loved one.

Fossick 6 years, 7 months ago

“Supposing they’re changed and they’re not prosecuted and it ends up they go back and cause a death of a woman or a child.”

Shouldn't that be "charged"?

Christine Anderson 6 years, 7 months ago

Good call, my arse! The Topeka City Council and mayor feel "these cases" are better handled at the county level. But Stupidheads, your Shawnee Co. DA has stopped prosecuting these cases. So, the City of Topeka and Shawnee Co. are simply playing a game of pass-the-buck. And it's going to be a deadly game for women, men, anyone who is being abused.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

They can't play "pass the buck" any longer because one of the players went home. Now the Shawnne county DA needs to decide if he is going to enforce the law or get replaced at the next election. This move has taken the ambiguity out of the law and equally protects all the persons in Shawnee country. I can't see why people would not find this simplification of the law a good thing.

Is there a reason the city needs a law when a county law already protects it's citizens? Are the "city people" better than the rural folk? Is the woman beaten in the trailer on 200 acres of land less entitled to the protection of the law than the one that gets punched in a downtown apartment?

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

Any evidence that the county will prosecute these cases?

According to the first paragraph of the story, they've not been doing so, and people are just being let go and not charged at all.

Liberty275 6 years, 7 months ago

See above. They are required to by state law.

jafs 6 years, 7 months ago

If that's the case, how can they stop doing it, as they've just done?

TopJayhawk 6 years, 7 months ago

So do you. Probably with more suction too.

5rings 6 years, 7 months ago

The prosecutors are now between a rock and a hard place. With no funds to go after misdemeanors (although I BET they continue to prosecute traffic infractions...) then victims of long term, repeated assault (usually domestic violence) may feel trapped into resorting to violence to escape the situation. Because a physically weaker person must escalate the level of violence against a physically stronger person in order to prevail, this may well result in a homicide. Which the prosecutor will have no choice but to prosecute, as it's entirely likely that a necessary element of traditionally accepted self defense is likely to be missing, that is, immediacy of the threat. But, without a reasonable expectation of the protection of law, then it would seem that ongoing threats become proximate. So, if YOU are called to the jury pool for a case where a long term abuse victim kills an abuser, remember, the very state that is prosecuting this domestic victim is the same one that is financially unable to protect that victim. The state will argue that without an immediate threat such violence is unjustified. But place yourself in the abused' shoes. If you believe that, absent help, escape is impossible, then suddenly the definition of "proximate threat" changes. And violence may become necessary. The system does not want to hear this... But, don't just automatically trust the prosecutor's opinion. Ask yourself what YOU would have done, knowing there was no protection available from the law... And vote to convict or acquit accordingly.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 6 years, 7 months ago

I guess this is the wild west ag'in. Git y'r leg iron on'n' shoot the bash t'rds.

Lindsey Buscher 6 years, 7 months ago

Welcome to your new reality, Conservitards. Paying for prosecution is a good use of taxpayer money but we gotsta cut cut cut those taxes.

BigAl 6 years, 7 months ago

But we have plenty of money to implement new laws for non-existent voter fraud?

Paul R Getto 6 years, 7 months ago

People voted for smaller government (Muscular Sam) and this is part of what it looks like.

Lisa Medsker 6 years, 7 months ago

Oh, indeed... But "Secret Task Forces" and "initiatives" that tell me I have to get or stay married, no matter what, are not exactly a "reduction".

somedude20 6 years, 7 months ago

OK if they cannot afford to go after crimes of this level what crimes will they go after? I bet there are at least a few laws on the books that they will enforce that, on the grand scale of things, are not nearly as severe as domestic battery

Lisa Medsker 6 years, 7 months ago

Maybe it's just me, but I kinda think this is going to be counterproductive in Brownie's "Get Married, Stay Married" agenda. It's not all about the money...

tolawdjk 6 years, 7 months ago

Its not counterproductive.

You get married, and even if he beats you, you stay married cause beatin ain't a crime.

"Spare the rod, spoil the wife."

Lisa Medsker 6 years, 7 months ago

That's what concerns me. Although it's supposed to be the only reason we draw breath, this might make a few of us who actually think reconsider actually getting married, or allow any adult at all to share domicile.

notorious_agenda 6 years, 7 months ago

This has nothing to do with Kansas Republicans. It has everything to do with Kansas Liberals. The liberals of Topeka made this happen. They could cut other things, but they cut this so they can say "oh we've been spending too much money but now women and children and even men are being abused without recourse so give us more!"

Lisa Medsker 6 years, 7 months ago

I wasn't aware that Topeka had been overrun with Liberals who wanted "smaller government".

What jafs said: Wow.

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