Flaw and Disorder

The criminal justice system, always on hand to defend the defenseless and bring the perpetrators to heel.


Doesn’t always work out that way. Two fresh examples from our own backyard: A judge vacates emergency protection orders against a sheriff who faces multiple charges related to domestic violence, and a cop shrugs his shoulders over a series of hate crimes.

Let’s take the latter first. Seems that some brave patriot is running around at night on Isle La Motte, setting pride flags on fire. VTDigger quotes “police” as saying “this is one of several similar incidents in the area occurring in the last month.” In at least one case, the same address has been repeatedly targeted.

Which must make the occupants feel vulnerable indeed, although the perp seems to have no appetite for direct confrontation — preferring to act under cover of darkness. As I’ve said before, these guys are paper tigers.

But I hope those occupants aren’t waiting for the police to swing into action. State trooper “Not That” Jordan Peterson:

“I think it will take the community coming together to try to figure out who did this and hold them responsible.”

Oooookay then. How about we make law-abiding drivers responsible for traffic enforcement or tell banks to solve armed robberies?

I mean, this case doesn’t exactly require the brains of Hercule Poirot or the insight of Father Brown. You know an address where the same thing has happened repeatedly. How about, I don’t know, having the homeowner hang a pride flag on Tuesday evening and stake out the joint Tuesday night? Or, if that’s too much of a strain on police resources, how about a motion-activated camera, $34.99 at Lowe’s?

Let’s hope Peterson’s superiors take a dim view of his passive approach to public safety and maybe tell him to get off his ass and try to solve a goddamn crime.

And now we turn to the other end of the system, the courts, doing their part to fail the vulnerable. For those just joining us, Addison County’s highest-ranking disgrace, Sheriff Peter Newton, is resisting calls (from just about everybody) to resign after a “domestic disturbance” resulted in, um. two counts of sexual assault, one count of domestic violence and one count of unlawful restraint. Some “disturbance,” that.

He was also slapped with an extreme risk protection order and an emergency restraining order. Just what you want in your chief law enforcement officer, right?

Well, fear not. Those pesky orders were vacated last week by Superior Court Judge Kirstin Schoonover, who said that the state had “failed to establish clear and convincing evidence” that Newton presents an extreme risk of harm to others. Also, referring to Newton’s ex-wife and victim,

“Though Plaintiff testified that she has concerns for her safety due to the video and fears (Newton) based on this and other evidence she feels represents a decline in his mental health, the Court finds her testimony to reflect an unspecified subjective fear rather than an objective fear of imminent serious physical harm,”

Yeah, sorry about that, ma’am. We sure hope you’re okay. We trust that you’ll sleep well at night knowing that your assailant isn’t quite clear and convincingly dangerous enough for us to restrain.

Maybe the judge is right on the law. But when someone is under threat from an unstable person who’s facing felony charges stemming from a previous attack, what exactly does “clear and convincing evidence” mean? Do you need a literal smoking gun?

Over the corpse of a victim?

If the judge is right on the law, I say the law needs to change. I’m not a lawyer so I won’t pretend to know how to change the law so it actually protects victims of domestic violence which, need I remind you, is catastrophically common. If you’re not sure about that, read this batch of statistics and then tell me we don’t have a severe systemic problem.

Also, and perhaps this is unfair to the judge, but is there a double standard at work here? Does Newton get the benefit of every doubt because of his position? There are certainly cases where a domestic partner is abused by “a pillar of the community” and nobody believes her and the courts don’t take her seriously.

We’ve seen this story far too often before, from the system completely failing Kiah Morris to small-town bullies running wild to yes, victims of domestic assault getting shafted by the courts. If your legal system is supposed to be protecting those at risk, well, it’s failing. How many more stories do we have to see before someone takes this seriously enough to, I don’t know, set up a study committee or something?


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