Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Domestic Violence Remains #1 Cause of Homicide Death in Maine

So far this year in Maine, 19 people have died by murder or manslaughter in the state. In 10 of those cases, the killer and the victim had been closely involved in a relationship, continuing an unfortunate trend in Maine homicides.

"In Maine you are far more likely to be killed by someone who loves you, or who loved you, than by a stranger," said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Maine's 19 homicides is the highest total recorded in the state since 2001, when there were also 19. The lowest number of homicides in the last decade came in 2002, when there were 14 killings, with three attributed to domestic violence. The highest number of homicides ever recorded in Maine was 40, in 1989.

This year's cases included:

Janet Hagerthy, 74, who was beaten to death in her Farmington home on Nov. 30. Her son-in-law, David Grant, has been charged with murder.

Mark Dugas, 39, who was stabbed to death in his home in Waldoboro on June 4. His wife, Amy Dugas, 32, was indicted for murder in July.

Chevelle Calloway, 41, and Sarah Murray, 71, were both shot to death at Murray's home in Boothbay Harbor on Aug. 21. Jon Dilley, Calloway's husband and Murray's son, was charged with two counts of murder.

The victims in the 10 domestic cases included seven women, two men and one 2-year-old child.
The Deprez case raised serious questions about the state's ability to protect domestic-violence victims. Days before the beating that killed her, Deprez's one-time boyfriend Gregory Erskine, 50, was jailed for threatening her with a kitchen knife and was released on bail. The judge who released him did not know that Erskine had an extensive history of domestic abuse, both with Deprez and other women. Erskine is scheduled to go on trial for murder next month.

Maine Commissioner of Public Safety Michael Cantara says the state continues to work to lessen domestic violence and create safe options for its victims who want to escape abusive relationships. He is scheduled to deliver a report in February to Gov. John Baldacci that identifies state priorities to reduce domestic violence. Cantara says police receive more training in recognizing and responding to abusive relationships than ever, and the public is more likely to report what once may have been seen as minor incidents, but he predicts that over time, some of the work will have to be done outside the criminal justice system for the number of homicides to decrease.

"It's bigger than the Department of Public Safety," Cantara said. "We are going to have to expand our efforts throughout society for the barriers of silence to be broken down."
Cantara says the courts are implementing domestic violence programs around the state in which a single judge rules on the civil aspects of an abusive relationship, such as a protection-from-abuse order, alongside criminal charges. He also cites a recent effort by the state Department of Labor to create standards within workplaces so victims can be safe and abusers cannot hide behind their jobs while they harass.

Besides the domestic cases, there is no single cause connecting other homicides in the state.
Julius Petrovic, 60, was shot to death in the Yarmouth Information Center parking area on May 15. Authorities believe he was killed in the course of an attempted armed robbery, which is a common cause of murder in other states, but rare in Maine.

Rafael Rosado III, 26, was shot to death outside his home in Biddeford on June 8. No one has been charged with causing his death. It is the only homicide this year that is still under investigation.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Update on North Carolina Wrongful Discharge Case

I recently shared about a wrongful discharge case related to domestic violence up before the North Carolina Supreme Court regarding James Edwards Imes, a bus driver and dispatcher with the city of Asheville who was fired in 2001 after his wife, Sandra, shot him in the stomach.

The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the the decision of the Court of Appeals denying the claim in this wrongful discharge case -- so there will not be a written decision in the case). See

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Peace At Work Releases Study of Domestic Violence Assaults at the Workplace

A new study of 155 domestic violence assaults that occured in the workplace by Peace at Work reveals trends and risk factors that may guide security planning. Two recent workplace murders of women by their husbands occurred at the same time and day. As revealed in most of these cases, they both were shot in the parking lot, just before the entered their workplace.

On November 29th, two women were murdered at work by their husbands at almost the exact same time though they were a world apart. Shennel McKendall of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Dikeledi Onica Nkatingi of Pretoria, South Africa share more than a tragic death; the factors that characterize their homicides fit the most common scenario surrounding this type of workplace violence. The majority of the 155 cases (31%) occur in the parking lot and at the beginning of the workday, just as both McKendall and Nkatingi were confronted by their killers before they began their day as receptionists.

Just as 25% of other victims who were assaulted on the job had done, both victims had attempted to protect themselves by obtaining restraining orders. In these recent cases, both abusers had violated the order but were released from jail when they committed their final act of control. Just as 77% of these crimes are carried out with a fire-arm, both of these suspects used a handgun, despite a US federal law banning gun possession of anyone who has a restraining order placed against them.

If a piece of paper could not stop these perpetrators, would other security measures? It is clear that most of these offenders are not trying to escape nor do they avoid being caught by the authorities. Forty-two percent (42%) commit or attempt to commit suicide while an additional 11% even turn themselves over to the authorities. In a dramatic example last August in Montana, Carl Yetman murdered his young wife (again, in the parking lot as she arrived at work) and then drove to the county courthouse, waiting for the doors to open in order to confess. McKendall’s husband killed himself while Nkatingi’s murderer surrendered to the police after the shooting.

Aside from the trauma of witnessing the shooting, no one but the victim was injured in these cases, similar to 75% of the incidents noted in the research. John Lee, the founder and director of the non-profit agency that produced the study, states that this may dispel a common fear that employers and supervisors may harbor. “While some supervisors may fire the victim of abuse in fear that they or other workers are endangered as well, this may actually lead to greater risk. Employees will not disclose about potential threats and concerns in order to keep their jobs.”

As with other domestic violence statistics, the vast majority (94%) of victims are female with their male (ex-) partner committing the crime. Interestingly, when the victim in the relationship is male, 75% percent are assaulted by either the woman’s boyfriend or even a hit man. These cases are not the typical domestic violence situation whereas the victim is living in fear. Often, these men apparently had to indication that their life was in danger.

In this study of workplace incidents of domestic violence, 88% occurred in the United States with the remainder mostly being in Canada and the UK. 79% occurred since the year 2000. While further research in needed, some surprising figures arise when the details of the case are known. Only eight percent (8%) of the businesses reported taking any precautions to safeguard the employee or workplace -- though in 23% of the cases, there were warning signs such as direct warnings from the employee victim or prior threats and disturbances at the workplace committed by the abuser.

Lee states there are several implications that the study provides for businesses trying to prevent a similar tragedy at their workplace. As so many perpetrators are not trying to escape, companies cannot rely solely on the traditional security measures such as increased lighting or surveillance cameras. It is vital to “target-harden” the victim, moving their work station, job site or at the very least, their parking space to reduce their exposure to risk. As local law enforcement should be notified and consulted for their support, requests can be made for patrols during shift change if that service is limited to only certain times.

Warning signs such as repeated visits, disturbances, threats and the stated or observable fear of the victim needs be addressed with an immediate response. Once a threat has been identified, management needs to pull together their internal resources such as human resources, security, employee assistance, legal consul, etc. and also community services including domestic violence agencies, law enforcement or a security consultant to assess the risk and implement protective measures. However, true prevention starts with a workplace violence policy that demonstrates support and protection for victim employees. Next, all employees need training on recognizing the warning signs and dynamics of domestic violence, how to refer to available services and the importance of notify a supervisor if there is a potential danger.

“If an employee sees their workplace as a source of support,” states Lee, “they are more likely to disclose their predicament and the potential threat to management. This initial warning is the vital first step to any security planning.” It is unknown whether the employers knew about the risk posed to McKendall or Nkatingi. However, this type of forewarning could have prompted an intervention that may have prevented their murder. When a victim has left the abuser, the one place that they can easily be found is at the workplace. That is why is crucial for companies to be informed and prepared to prevent this spill-over threat to their businesses.

Shooting At School - Teacher Dies, Husband Charged

Aysegul Candir waited until her husband was out of the country before leaving him just days ago and had lived in fear since, according to a close friend. Those fears may have been realized when the ESL teacher at Bramalea Secondary School in Brampton (Ontario, Canada) was gunned down in her workplace parking lot on December 10, prompting a complete lockdown of the school's 1,700 students and 130 staff.

Candir, 47, was pronounced dead at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre at 9:30 p.m. "She was so scared of him," said a friend of nearly 20 years, who didn't want his name used. "She was worried he was watching the high school to see when she came and left. She told me she didn't want him to know where she was living."


Police have charged her 62 year-old husband, Erhun Candir, of Bolton, Ontario with murder. Students hid under their desks in darkened classrooms for several hours while anxious parents feared for the worst following the shooting. After three hours of uncertainty, and the arrest of Erhun, the 1,700 students at the school emerged shaken but uninjured. Police said the gunman did not intend to harm the students, and the lockdown was just a precaution.

Because the late morning shooting took place in the parking lot, many of the school's students had no idea what had happened as teachers closed the blinds, turned down the lights and ordered them to sit on the floor.

"It was scary, nervous, really bad," a student named Danielle said after she was allowed to leave the school. "We didn't know anything. We were under desks. People were crying, wondering if one of the students was shot."

Witnesses saw a cool and unruffled man walking calmly away after Aysegul was shot in the head. "He was very casual. He wasn't nervous, he wasn't scared," a witness, who didn't want her name used, said. "He didn't run, he didn't walk quickly, he just kept looking behind. He didn't even drive away fast."

Ambulance crews found the victim with head wounds and without a pulse in the parking lot of the school, but were able to resuscitate her en route to a local hospital. She was later transferred to Sunnybrook, police said.

Aysegul Candir's friend said Candir left her troubled marriage a week ago while her husband was vacationing in the couple's native Turkey. Candir was "treated like garbage" in her marriage, said her friend.

Students said the teacher, who started at the school last year, was a "wonderful" person.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Victims say violence at home led to job loss

When Kathleen D'Innocenzo showed up for work at a paper-products company two years ago with a broken arm and finger marks on her face, she lost her job -- then her home, and her horse, and more.

She was fired, she said, because she was a victim of domestic violence. And now, she is following very closely a case that came before the North Carolina Supreme Court on December 7 that could prevent that from happening in the future.

"I had no income, other than child support," said D'Innocenzo, 39, whose former husband later was charged in the incident. She is now a home-health aide living in Wendell. "So you're not just a victim when the assault happens."

Twenty-nine domestic-violence groups from across the state and nation are following the case, too. All have signed on in support of the victim in the case: James Edwards Imes, a bus driver and dispatcher with the city of Asheville who was fired in 2001 after his wife, Sandra, shot him in the stomach.

Imes, who turned 59 this year, died over the summer of an unrelated illness. But his estate still pursues the case. The reason: Advocates are looking for precedent-setting workplace protections for victims of domestic violence.

"Economic security is one of the most important factors of whether a victim of domestic violence will be able to separate effectively from an abuser," said Deborah Widiss, a staff attorney for Legal Momentum, a national women's rights organization. "Certainly a court has not stated explicitly that firing someone for being a victim is against the law. This is a good place to establish the case law."

Power to fire is issue

At the heart of the case is the "at-will" employment doctrine. That legal standard, followed by North Carolina and most other states, allows employers to fire anyone at will, unless state law explicitly forbids it -- or unless doing so would violate the state's public policy.

It is that latter exception that lawyers for Imes used Tuesday before the state Supreme Court.
His attorneys argued that although domestic violence victims are not an explicitly protected class, allowing them to be fired thwarts the state's efforts to end such violence.

They argued that North Carolina has a long history of protecting victims of domestic violence. One state measure allows unemployment benefits for victims who lose their jobs or must quit; another, passed this year, prohibits employers from discriminating against victims who need time to go to court to seek domestic-violence protective orders.

"What we're saying is: You've already made clear that you can't discriminate against people for going to court," Widiss said. "It doesn't make sense if you can discriminate against them just for being a victim."

Lawyers for Asheville and its transit contractor, CCL Management Inc., argued Tuesday that to diminish employers' rights to fire for any reason would make North Carolina a less hospitable place to do business, thwarting economic development. State law prohibits firing on the basis of a few categories, including race and sex. It should be left up to the legislature to expand that list with explicit laws, the lawyers said.

"Everyone has sympathy for victims of domestic violence," said Fred Hamlet, a Greensboro lawyer representing the bus company. "However, we're a society ruled by law. And the best place to make that law is in the General Assembly, not the court."

One point not raised in Tuesday's arguments is the concern among employers that employing victims of domestic violence could prompt their abusers to do violence at the workplace -- and open employers to liability.

Beth Posner, a lawyer for Legal Aid of North Carolina who argued on behalf of Imes on Tuesday, said that allowing employers to fire someone over such concerns makes no sense because it discourages victims from telling their employers anything.

Instead of firing victims, she said, employers should take steps newly allowed by the General Assembly -- for example, one measure that allows employers to seek protective orders barring abusers from the workplace.

Termination, in contrast, "really raises the specter of further violence," Posner said. "Victims will be less likely to tell an employer and less likely to give an employer the opportunity to take safety precautions."

A decision is not likely from the court for several months.