Friday, April 23, 2010

Domestic Violence by Police Officers: "Zero Tolerance"

I checked the definition of "Zero Tolerance" before I began this article and it means "any policy that allows no exception."

Private law enforcement Web sites around the country and the Fraternal Order of Police are in an uproar over Pittsburg Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's decision to enforce the zero tolerance policy for domestic violence by police officers.

The case is over the firing of Former Sgt. Eugene Hlavac an 18-year veteran of the police force who back in December of 2009 lost his job for assaulting the mother of his child and former girlfriend. According to court documents, the former officer was in his police uniform and, in my opinion, likely wearing his police issued weapon and oh, should I mention he practically dislocated her jaw during the incident.

Former Officer Hlavac, had been charged with simple assault for slapping his former girlfriend was found not guilty earlier this week by a judge, based largely on the testimony of a lone witness, who said that Mr. Hlavac appeared to strike his former girlfriend in self-defense after she "started to beat on the officer," the judge said. The lone witness who lives across the street from Mr. Hlavac and saw the confrontation from her car parked outside, testified that Ms. Maughan "was in a rage" and "attacked" him, Judge Flaherty said. Mr. Hlavac struck her in what the wtiness described as "an instantaneous push-away," according to the judge. "She said she didn't believe he intended to hurt her, it was in a defensive mode," he said. The witness does not know Mr. Hlavac, nor did she know he was a police officer, the judge said. "She just seemed very credible," Judge Flaherty said. "She did not strike me as the kind of person who did not tell the truth."

Because the officer was found not guilty earlier this week his lawyer will meet with the arbitration board for a hearing in hopes of restoring the officer's job with full back pay. But, this is where the case, in my opinion, gets a little sticky. You know what I mean, like gum stuck at the bottom of a good pair of shoes and you just can't get it off.

The police depatrtment fired former officer Hlavac, not because of the criminal case, but because he broke police policies or rather the "zero tolerance" as per the departments code and failure to follow the law enforcement code of ethics.. Unless, maybe at the hearing the former officer gets "grandfather" " privileges because the policy went into a affect after he was sworn in and given his police commission. Now there is a healthy arugment for his defense attorney "policy immunity."

I also should point out that the city's burden of proof in arbitration is lower than a prosecutor's burden in a criminal case.

According to the newspaper, the Mayor was quoted as saying,"the verdict doesn't mean no wrong was done or that there won't be consequences." I love that word consequences especially when it pertains to the accountability of a sworn officer who abuses their position of authority.

Before I get a lot of nasty private emails from my fan club of defense attorneys and law enforcement officers, let me make it very clear; yes, there are two sides to every story. Yes, the officer was acquitted of all charges. But, in my opinion, he should not be allowed back on the police force.

Again, my opinion is based on far too many of these officer related domestic violence cases that I am involved with on a daily basis (most involve a tragedy after the fact). Chances are this was not the first incident between the former officer and his girlfriend. It is however likely this was the first reported and documented incident of violence. Victims involved with officers rarely proceed and press charges. Most involved with officers who are abusive are in fear for their lives and we read about them after the fact because they are afraid of being killed so they suffer in silence. Women like Charoltte Grahn, Kathleen Savio, Theresa Parker, Sonia Garcia, Sandy Silcox, Lori DeKleine, Jessie Raponi, Tera Chavez, Carli Dennis, Barbara Vanaman, Crystal Brame and Stacy Peterson to name only few allegedly killed by their abusive officer husbands.

Who knows, perhaps if other law enforcement agencies adopted a zero tolerance policy maybe fewer officers wives and girlfriends would not end up being visited by loved ones bringing flowers to their grave sites.

"Been there, done that…” Susan Murphy- Milano has turned a tired phrase into demonstrable realism through the gift of her newly published book, "TIME'S UP: A GUIDE ON HOW TO LEAVE AND SURVIVE ABUSIVE AND STALKING RELATIONSHIPS"


Donna Savage said...

I was raped by a NYPD Officer when I was 19 years old. He was in full uniform when I met him in a Brooklyn subway. At the time, I was a victim of domestic violence with visible bruises and thought when he approached me that he would help me with my situation. Instead he lured me to a house, forcefully removed my clothes and hung his gun which was in the holster, strategically on the bedpost as a threat for me to not fight him. I never reported this because I was a mental mess back then with the abuse at home and the rape. I had just had my son by C-Section, 6 months prior and wound up pregnant by this rapist, police officer. When I tried to tell my husband that I was raped and pregnant, he beat me up and accused me of flirting with the cop. I spoke about the rape for the first time in my book entitled "The Blood & Tears of Domestic Violence: A Survivor's Revelation" because now as a survivor and advocate, I refuse to be silent. The officer involved domestic violence is terrible in many lives and has to continue to be exposed, in order for it to be annihilated. Donna Savage

Behind The Blue Wall said...

I started off zero-tolerance, then started listening to all the dv community's concerns about it making it harder for victims - but I've come full circle over the years. Clear boundaries would do wonders. Victim safety? Get ninja with it - because thousands of stories into this now - I don't see where a criminal remaining on the force has ever protected a victim. Badged cops with dv histories kill their intimate partners far too often to think that letting them keep their jobs is an answer. Finally knowing they can't game their way out of charges would be more effective.

I will be amazed however in PA if Hlavac doesn't get his job back. This was their first try putting their foot down and this not-guilty ruling has really jerked the rug on them. Day one the mayor was saying Hlavac can't come back. Day two he was saying Hlavac can't come back unless the arbitrators send him back.

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