City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

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City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby buddy431 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:15 pm UTC

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/10/12/ap/business/main20119011.shtml

Spoiler:
(AP) TOPEKA, Kan. — Suspects in Topeka domestic violence cases are leaving jail without being charged, and advocates for abuse survivors say victims are growing more scared amid a public squabble over who should pay to prosecute the crimes.

The mayor and council of Kansas' capital city made a dramatic move Tuesday night in their ongoing clash with county officials by voting to repeal the city's ordinance against domestic violence.

The intent is to force the county's district attorney to back away from a budget-driven decision to stop prosecuting misdemeanors committed inside the city limits — including domestic assault and battery not involving a weapon.

Advocates for victims of abuse slammed all sides of the debate. They're angry with the district attorney over his decision, furious with the mayor and City Council for repealing the ordinance and frustrated that officials can't resolve the budget dispute.

It's been a month since new prosecutions of domestic violence stopped in Topeka.

"It's a slam in our face," Claudine Dombrowski, an abuse survivor from Topeka, told the council. She showed her frustration by throwing dice down on the podium as she spoke, saying, "Roll the dice — that's what we're playing here."

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor contends the county commission forced his decision to cut the budget by 10 percent in 2012, with his office still swamped by felony cases. The city's leaders argue that it can't afford to create the services for domestic abuse victims and rent jail space from the county for suspects.

Also Tuesday night, the City Council authorized Dan Stanley, the interim city manager, to negotiate with county officials over the prosecution of domestic violence cases. He advocated repealing the ordinance, arguing it will help the city in talks with the county.

"I think it draws a line in the sand," he said. "It says we will remove all ambiguity from this question, and we will negotiate from a position of strength."

Taylor's spokesman, Dakota Loomis, called the city's decision "drastic and unprecedented" but said Taylor would re-evaluate his position.

"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. With those cases not being pursued, as of 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.

"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."

It also didn't help that the repeal came during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. City and county officials reported receiving hundreds of emails in just days from people upset over the situation.

"Just the fact that it was on our agenda gave us a black eye," said City Councilwoman Denise Everhart, one of the three votes against repealing the ordinance.

Taylor has said he knew his decision would upset people but added that the cuts his office faces will force him to lay off 11 of his 63 employees. He said he considered employee furloughs and "every angle" before making his announcement in early September.

In a memo issued just days before the county commission finalized his budget for next year, Taylor's office said the 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.

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 municipal court convictions can be appealed to state courts, anyway.

About two dozen protesters gathered outside the Shawnee County Courthouse to protest Taylor's decision Tuesday. Then, many of them went to the City Council meeting to show their opposition to its actions.

"Everyone's just saying, 'Oh, it's not us you need to be talking to. It's this other person,'" said Hannah Rucker, a University of Kansas student among the protesters. "And it's just going in this circle of, 'It's not my fault.'"


This is essentially a story of local budget cuts, but the way it's played have made this an interesting story, even for those of us not in Topeka. Last year, Shawnee County's district attorney's office got hit with some budget cuts. In an effort to save costs, the district attorney announced that he was no longer going to prosecute misdemeanors (including domestic assault and battery without a weapon) that occur within Topeka city limits - the city should take care of those. The city doesn't want to prosecute those cases either, so last night, the city council repealed the ordinance against domestic violence. The upshot is, right now, nobody's prosecuting domestic violence charges that occur within Topeka city limits. Naturally, many people find this upsetting - it's being compared to a big game of chicken, though with the well being of abuse victims on the line. We'll see how it plays out in the next few days and weeks.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby Роберт » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:23 pm UTC

Basically "we can't afford to prosecute domestic violence so we'll make it legal?"

Next thing you know they'll legalize drugs, too.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby podbaydoor » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:28 pm UTC

^Not quite. The prosecutor is saying his office can't afford to handle the cases and if he stops, the city has to take over. The city says they can't afford to handle the cases either. The city council repealed the domestic violence law in a game of chicken, trying to force the prosecutor to take on the cases again.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby buddy431 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:43 pm UTC

podbaydoor wrote:^Not quite. The prosecutor is saying his office can't afford to handle the cases and if he stops, the city has to take over. The city says they can't afford to handle the cases either. The city council repealed the domestic violence law in a game of chicken, trying to force the prosecutor to take on the cases again.


And historically, the county has been the ones to prosecute domestic violence charges in the city, and so the city isn't really prepared to suddenly start doing them. I don't know who prosecutes misdemeanor drug charges in Topeka, but I wouldn't be surprised if the city was already doing that.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby SWGlassPit » Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:11 pm UTC

The city repealing the ordinance doesn't make it legal. Domestic violence still runs afoul of state law. All this does is it makes the case a state one, not a municipal one. Most city prosecutors aren't equipped to handle cases like this, so they're just taking it out of their hands.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby sourmìlk » Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:15 pm UTC

There are some areas that really can't be completely cut from the budget. Prosecuting violent crime is, I think, one of those things.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby buddy431 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:32 pm UTC

SWGlassPit wrote:The city repealing the ordinance doesn't make it legal. Domestic violence still runs afoul of state law. All this does is it makes the case a state one, not a municipal one. Most city prosecutors aren't equipped to handle cases like this, so they're just taking it out of their hands.

Sure. The trouble is, nobody's prosecuting the crime right now (the county doesn't have the money to, and the city now doesn't have the authority to). While there are a lot of crimes that it probably doesn't matter too much if they aren't prosecuted, domestic violence isn't one of them.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby Heisenberg » Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:36 pm UTC

Personally, I think the most important question is: Are officers currently responding to calls of DV? To me, the prosecution of an individual in hopes of preventing further violence is a secondary concern to the immediate violence happening right now.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby sourmìlk » Wed Oct 12, 2011 9:04 pm UTC

Well, the article says that domestic abuse is going to be legal, so once that's passed then the police won't have the legal power to arrest people for domestic abuse.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby BlackSails » Wed Oct 12, 2011 9:55 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:Well, the article says that domestic abuse is going to be legal, so once that's passed then the police won't have the legal power to arrest people for domestic abuse.


Its still assault.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby buddy431 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:01 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
sourmìlk wrote:Well, the article says that domestic abuse is going to be legal, so once that's passed then the police won't have the legal power to arrest people for domestic abuse.


Its still assault.


Even domestic abuse is still illegal, just not by city statute. Presumably police will still be responding to calls (that is, I haven't heard any information otherwise), which seems to be what Heisenberg is asking.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby sourmìlk » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:18 pm UTC

BlackSails wrote:
sourmìlk wrote:Well, the article says that domestic abuse is going to be legal, so once that's passed then the police won't have the legal power to arrest people for domestic abuse.


Its still assault.


You bring up a good point: how does the law distinguish and treat domestic abuse and plain old assault differently?
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby Dauric » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:19 pm UTC

sourmìlk wrote:
BlackSails wrote:
sourmìlk wrote:Well, the article says that domestic abuse is going to be legal, so once that's passed then the police won't have the legal power to arrest people for domestic abuse.


Its still assault.


You bring up a good point: how does the law distinguish and treat domestic abuse and plain old assault differently?


It may be less about police response and about how the cases are prosecuted in court, what services are available to the abused party, ease of getting a restraining order, etc.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby Nordic Einar » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:26 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:Personally, I think the most important question is: Are officers currently responding to calls of DV? To me, the prosecution of an individual in hopes of preventing further violence is a secondary concern to the immediate violence happening right now.


Yeah, because as long as we stop that man from beating his wife RIGHT THIS INSTANT before letting him go twenty minutes later, we've done our duty.

He won't immediately go back to beating his wife or anything. Oh no. That's crazy talk. :roll:
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby buddy431 » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:31 pm UTC

DA says he'll look at prosecuting some misdemeanor DV cases.

http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/da-says-he-may-1199465.html

The article also provides some insight into the Domestic Assault vs. Simple assault issue. It says that the city has already been prosecuting misdemeanor simple assault and battery, but that domestic assault has been left to the county because, similar to what Dauric surmises, "victims often need additional services or shelter".
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby Heisenberg » Thu Oct 13, 2011 1:41 pm UTC

Nordic Einar wrote:
Heisenberg wrote:Personally, I think the most important question is: Are officers currently responding to calls of DV? To me, the prosecution of an individual in hopes of preventing further violence is a secondary concern to the immediate violence happening right now.


Yeah, because as long as we stop that man from beating his wife RIGHT THIS INSTANT before letting him go twenty minutes later, we've done our duty.

He won't immediately go back to beating his wife or anything. Oh no. That's crazy talk. :roll:

Yeah... that's not what I said at all. Thanks for your input, though!

Edit:
HuffPo says that the DA is going to prosecute misdemeanors again, but this quote was interesting.
HuffPo wrote:Advocates against domestic violence said the spat was less about budget concerns and more about misplaced priorities. There is currently an item in the Shawnee County budget, for example, that doles out $200,000 for golf course irrigation, which is close to the entire amount that the district attorney is requesting to be able to continue to prosecute misdemeanors.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby podbaydoor » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:50 pm UTC

But how will the city officials get anything done if they can't chat about it over the 18th hole?
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby sourmìlk » Thu Oct 13, 2011 7:58 pm UTC

And FSM Forbid they instead refuse to prosecute victimless crimes like marijuana possession.
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Re: City of Topeka repeals domestic abuse law

Postby folkhero » Fri Oct 14, 2011 5:39 am UTC

podbaydoor wrote:But how will the city officials get anything done if they can't chat about it over the 18th hole?

And how are there going to be any 18th holes if the government doesn't irrigate them?
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