Those who have closely watched the administration of Gov. Mike Beebe (D) know that the Governor is rarely stumped. But he says he’s perplexed as to how or if state officials should respond to a recent rash of domestic violence.
In the last several days, high-profile murders have occurred in Arkadelphia, Bryant and Calhoun County.
The Arkadelphia murder involved the death of Amy Huckabee and her husband, Sandy, by her ex-husband, Donald Hux. Hux was eventually killed in Union County by officers who were pursuing him after he kidnapped and killed Amy Huckabee.
Hux had been sending his ex-wife threatening letters stating he was going to harm her.
In Bryant, a domestic dispute between a woman and her ex-boyfriend ended in a murder-suicide. The woman, Jenny Cavender of Bryant, had an order of protection against Ronnie Odell Stewart, Jr. of Maumelle. Witnesses say Stewart accosted Cavender at her workplace and shot her to death in the parking lot before shooting himself.
The Calhoun County murder-suicide involved Dennis Queens, who apparently shot his ex-wife, Rhonda Tacker, four times before killing himself.
According to the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 35 women have been killed in Arkansas since 2010 despite orders of protection against those who murdered them. The Arkansas Crime Information Center did not have an immediate count of the number of Arkansans currently under orders of protection, but were working to provide them.
GOVERNOR WEIGHS IN
Prior to a speech to the Arkansas Sheriffs Association, which represents law enforcement officers from all 75 counties, Gov. Beebe said the alarming violence has been the subject of recent conversation at the Governor’s Mansion.
“I don’t know about the laws needing to be revisited because the law is pretty strict on the books now. [First Lady] Ginger and I were talking about this very thing last night, about the number of the orders of protection that are being reported in the very cases where there’s a spike in the domestic homicides,” said Beebe. “The point was made that a protection order is part of the law, but it’s just a piece of paper. It might have a chilling effect on some folks, but it obviously isn’t having a chilling effect on all of them.”
Beebe expressed concern that the law wasn’t deterring the violent activity as it was designed, but he was unaware of any way to strengthen protection for potential victims.
“I’m always open to seeing if there’s more that can be done, but the truth of the matter is the law is pretty strict right now,” he said. “I don’t know how you change some of this emotional human behavior with a law. But if there is anything that a law can do, changes that can help, I think anybody would be for that.”
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE?
In the last few years, finding ways to curtail domestic violence has been a top priority for legislators, prosecutors, judges and law enforcement.
In her first session in 2009, Rep. Linda Tyler (D-Conway) spearheaded a bipartisan bill that gave discretion to judges to require GPS-type devices for monitoring potential restraining order violators.
Act 1447 says that a person found guilty of violating an order of protection may be placed under electronic surveillance for a minimum of four months or maximum of one year.
Tyler tells Talk Business that she knows the law has been aggressively used in Baxter and Clark counties. She thinks more widespread use could have made a difference in the Bryant murder and other recent episodes.
“With GPS technology today if he [Stewart] had on a GPS monitor that was actively monitored, with restrictions in terms of how close he could get to this person he allegedly killed, it’s possible that her life could have been saved,” she said.
However, there are complications in how to administer the law. The Bryant case, for example, occurred in Saline County, but involved a man from Pulaski County who at one time was under a restraining order issued in Faulkner County. Jurisdictional supervision and coordination could complicate cases like this.
Costs are another limiting factor, if state or local governments are forced to pick up the tab. However, Tyler says GPS devices are much more affordable today than in the past. She said about a year ago, she was given cost estimates of $8.50 to $10 per day for a device.
“Offenders should pay for it,” she said. “I believe the technology exists and I do believe it’s cost-effective.”
Saline County Circuit Judge Robert Herzfeld, a former prosecutor, hears all of the final orders of protection in Saline County and helped with a statewide revision of the process last year.
Herzfeld says the system has been improved greatly in recent years, but he’s not sure it can ever be foolproof.
“Orders of protection provide a valuable role in making sure that people are safe who are in dangerous situations. They’re not perfect. It’s difficult to imagine a way it could be improved significantly and within the realities of our budgets,” Herzfeld said. “But I’m open to further discussions about it.”