Nine-month court process follows alleged abuse

By KAITLIN GREENOCKLE and The (Hanover) Evening Sun – Associated Press – Saturday, April 28, 2018

HANOVER, Pa. (AP) – was having a bad night at work when she got a message from

’s job would bring him to her place of employment regularly. While he was there, he had picked up on her mood and asked what he had to do to make her happy.

had heard good things about him, so after their shift, the two of them went for breakfast.

They continued talking and started dating a month later.

Everything between them was “really, really great.” would pick up on small details about her life, like an empty decorative wine bottle in her kitchen, that would lead him to surprise her with a trip to that specific winery.

But for how great things could be, they could get just as bad, said, and things started to change six months into their relationship.

First it was belittling comments, then it was yelling.

“He started calling me stupid, and every little thing I did, he would pull it apart … I’m doing things the complicated way and that he does it better,” she said.

Two months later, said the physical abuse started with hitting and kicking.

“There were about three or four episodes where it was just him screaming and doing that … And then it really escalated May 9,” she said.

It was that night, after an almost four-hour long beating and 53 documented injuries, when , who was 27 at the time, decided she had enough and wanted to end the relationship with .

May 9, 2017, was the start of a nine-month long court process for after police charged with two felonies and four misdemeanors.

chose to be present during process, which is difficult for many victims of domestic abuse, but she utilized local resources – Survivors and Victim Witness – to arm herself with the support she needed to get through it.

“That ‘love’ is what keeps you around (an abuser) … and you have to reach your breaking point,” she said.

Four-hour beating

On May 9, arrived at her Cumberland Township home a little after 7 a.m. after her shift at work.

She had a stressful night, so she sat down at her kitchen table and called her mom. Her grandfather had died a few days before, and they were still coping with the loss.

At 9 a.m., she got off the phone with her mom because she heard walking down the stairs and figured he might wonder why she hadn’t gone to bed yet.

“He started yelling at me for ‘not communicating,’” said. “Things just snowballed from there.”

beat her for almost four hours, according to an affidavit filed with District Judge Mark Beauchat.

, who lost her cellphone during the attack, was heard screaming by a passerby outside, who called police. When Cumberland Township Police arrived, said strangled her with his hands and foot, dragged her up the stairs by her hair and held a loaded pistol to her left temple, police said in the affidavit.

Initially, was in shock. She wasn’t sure what she should tell police. She was afraid that would hurt her again or even kill her if she told police all that had happened in those four hours.

Victim Witness Advocate Beth Coutts said sometimes victims, out of self preservation, aren’t always forthcoming with police at first.

When police respond to a domestic violence call, they have certain criteria that they have to follow. They have to figure out who was the aggressor, and if that person should be taken away, Coutts said.

Cumberland Township Police Officer Eric Yost was the officer dispatched to ’s home that afternoon and said she was very quiet, looked pale and was hesitant to answer questions.

“Often victims are reluctant to tell us what happened because they are being controlled by that person (the abuser),” Yost said.

Police were able to see signs of injury on , so they placed under arrest and took him to the Central Booking Center in Adams County, he said.

When went into work the night of the attack, she made sure to wear clothing that covered up most of her bruises, but she couldn’t hide the bruising on her face.

Her co-workers encouraged her to talk to police again.

That night at work, wrote up a statement, and the second she was done her shift she called Cumberland Township Police to pick it up.

Coutts said that domestic violence victims often call police because they want to be safe in the moments right after the abuse and for their abuser to be taken away until everyone involved has calmed down. They don’t necessarily want their abuser to be charged.

“There is that balance of a person’s need for safety and then their need for their family to be intact,” Coutts said.

In Pennsylvania, specifically Adams County, it is not the victim who presses charges against the abuser; it’s the police.

Once law enforcement steps in and has grounds for charges to be pressed against the abuser, that’s when process begins, Coutts said. Charges are then pressed by the Commonwealth.

Victims also might not tell police everything at first because they simply can’t remember all the details of what occurred.

“Especially in (‘s) particular incident … it was ongoing for several hours,” Coutts said.

When someone experiences trauma, the brain can shut down intermittently causing the victim to forget certain details, Coutts said.

also gave police a verbal statement and had a safe nurse take photos of her injuries so they could be documented for court.

was charged on May 11 with strangulation, terroristic threats, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault.

A nonprofit group aims to bridge the gap in services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Dustin Levy, The Evening Sun

‘Accountability for his actions’

Five months later, stood trial, and took the stand.

The experience was unsettling.

“Know(ing) that I am probably being judged for what happened, like how did I let it get that far,” she said.

Coutts said that victims can feel belittled, and it can be embarrassing for them.

The worst part of the trial for was listening to defense attorney Kristin Rice.

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“”I was making him take accountability for his actions, and that feeling was priceless.”“

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When took the stand at his trial, he claimed self-defense, said assaulted him and that made up the allegations, according to Assistant District Attorney Miranda Blazek.

During a hearing before the trial, the Commonwealth tried to get permission from the judge to allow women to testify that they had alleged abusive relationships with in the past.

When the defense argued against allowing their testimonies into the trial, Rice called the past relationships ‘your garden variety of domestic violence,’ Coutts said.

Coutts, who was ’s victim advocate and present during process, recalled the judge’s reaction to that comment, and she said he did not seem to be pleased with Rice referring to someone’s experience as ‘garden variety domestic violence.’

Ultimately, the judge allowed testimony from ’s past relationships to show a pattern with his behavior, and that it was not the first time he had held a gun to a woman, Coutts said.

“I didn’t know his history of domestic violence … if I had known, I don’t think that we would have dated,” said.

The ‘garden variety’ domestic violence comment really shocked ’s mother, Cathy, who was present at the hearing.

“People like (Rice) are another reason why women do not move forward with filing and going through the process because to have to hear another woman say that, it’s unacceptable,” Cathy Nonemaker said.

“Any woman who would be a victim, I feel like that would just be defeating to hear that.”

Rice could not be reached for comment after multiple attempts.

“It was not the best choice of words. I know I cringed,” Blazek said.

There is no one right or wrong way for a victim to respond when going through system, Coutts said.

“It’s OK to face an offender with head held high. It’s also OK to avoid the individual if that is what a person needs to feel safe and secure in the moment,” she said.

Many times in situations like this it is hard for a victim to stick with a prosecution, Blazek said.

“I remember how brave () was facing her abuser … and admired her courage and ability to describe what had gone on,” she said.

’s feelings of anxiety, anger and frustration during the trial were overpowered by how proud she was of herself. She was also relieved.

“I was making him take accountability for his actions, and that feeling was priceless,” said.

By the end of the trial, was found guilty of terroristic threats, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault.

He was originally also charged with two counts of strangulation, but the jury found him not guilty of those charges.

Blazek pointed out during the sentencing that through process they have learned about ’s history of domestic violence.

“We know this is not the only woman he has threatened with guns,” she said. “… it’s obvious to the Commonwealth that he is a very dangerous person and that he is still not taking responsibility for what he did.”

said at his sentencing that he graduated the NOVIS Program – Non-Violence Intervention Service – and since he finished the program, he said that he has been there every week during class and hopes to be certified to help teach the class, according to sentencing transcripts.

“While I hope you are showing remorse at this point, clearly you took the witness stand in this case and you lied,” Judge Shawn Wagner said at the sentencing in reference to ’s testimony that had fabricated the assault.

He also pointed out that what did went “well beyond” a domestic violence incident.

Wagner called it a beating that went on for hours and reminded of the 53 separate injuries that were documented.

was sentenced 11 and a half months to 23 months in prison and seven years probation and has since filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Blazek said.

Dealing with ‘the aftermath’

After the assault, had some reassurance for her safety, but started the work release program, so she said some of her reassurance is gone.

“I still have a lot of anxiety about it, and I’m still scared that he is going to come after me when he gets out of prison,” said.

One of the issues with domestic violence, Cathy Nonemaker said, is that no one really explains what happens once an abuser is reported.

“ was petrified that he was coming back,” said.

Blazek said that each domestic violence situation is different and what happens after reporting an abuser depends on who the victim makes the report to.

When law enforcement is ed, a victim can expect to be asked questions about the incident, to make a statement, to have pictures taken and to be referred to a hospital if needed, she said

The police have to complete their investigation, and victims shouldn’t have the expectation that charges will be filed.

In Adams County, if there are physical injuries and probable cause police have a mandatory arrest requirement, but it is possible that an abuser could post bail, Blazek said.

Coutts explained that once someone is sentenced they are almost always eligible for work release unless they have had some type of behavioral issues at the prison.

“(The aftermath) is something that I am dealing with on a daily basis,” said .

Safety is paramount, and in order to help the victims, the Victim Witness Office provides them with information about shelters, Protection from Abuse Orders, counseling, medical treatment and process. Survivors and Victim Witness also both do safety planning with them as soon as possible, Coutts said.

They also provide a victims compensation assistance program, which will help pay out-of-pocket medical expenses and counseling expenses, she said.

When was in her abusive relationship, she thought that things weren’t going to get worse, that would stop.

“Obviously that is not the case at all,” she said. “Get out while you can before things get so bad.”

says she was lucky. She wasn’t relying on for anything and was able to do things strictly in her best interest. She wasn’t dependent on him financially, and they were living in her house so when she filed for a PFA, “that basically evicted him,” said.

Even though the PFA is just a piece of paper, said it kept her from having to see him at work, and he knew that if he violated the order he would go right to jail.

Survivors in Adams County helped get an emergency PFA and provided her with a lawyer, she said.

Therapy has been the biggest help for , and it’s paid for through the Victim Witness Office. She has been going once a week every week since July.

“My family, my friends, my family at work, everybody 100 percent supported me,” said.

She said it took her about three weeks for her to feel comfortable sleeping in her home alone, and in those three weeks every night she had someone there with her.

Her mother was also a huge help, “probably more than anybody else,” said.

The first thing did after the assault was change the locks to her house and she also had an alarm system put in.

For others who find themselves in a domestic violence situation, she said to do anything that will make you feel more protected.

She said she had already had a conceal carry permit, but she also went out and bought a Taser.

“It made me feel a lot better knowing that I had that in case he came after me somewhere,” said.

She also said she realizes that there are many reasons why some people choose not to follow the prosecution against their abuser, but there are places that can help people get the resources they need.

“You don’t know what it’s like until you experience it,” said.

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Sidebar

Changes in the law

On Dec. 27, 2016, strangulation became its own charge and no longer falls under assault charges.

Since the change, Assistant District Attorney Miranda Blazek said strangulation has been reported more frequently.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2HGKeYR

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Information from: The Evening Sun, http://www.eveningsun

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