Posts Tagged Victim Impact Statements

WHERE’S THE HEART IN JOURNALISM FOR THE PLIGHT OF VICTIMS OF VIOLENT CRIME?

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In bygone years, journalists were supposed to stick to the “W’s” – Who, What, Where, When, Why …and How  to present a factual account of a journalistic piece.  However, as a survivor of crime, I now clearly see that reams of paper and ink are devoted to the “who” meaning the perpetrator and the “what” with a more than healthy dose of sensationalism, frequently at the expense of the crime victims. Victims’ families are nearly ignored in this process. The more grisly the better in journalism and viewers flock like a feeding frenzy.  Like it or not, that’s the way it is.

This leaves them as “second class citizens, “out in the cold”, “at the back of the bus” and “a virtual afterthought at best!”  Do journalists really give the public what they want?  Or, is this just rationalization or an excuse for reprehensible behavior in presenting such a skewed image of the people and circumstances involved? I would like to think that the general public, irrespective of their thirst for the immediacy of social media, would “take the high road” if guided.

What is “the high road?” The high road would include: presenting a balanced picture-not to sensationalize; to stick to verified factual information; to not “rush to judgment “ for the sake of beating to the punch  a competing news organization; to humanize the victims above all else, rather than used as a pawn in the ever complex judicial chess game.

The truth is, if journalists did a better job of humanizing the victims, I’m certain there would be positive “spill over effect” to court personnel and the enforcement of crime victims’ constitutional rights!

Enter, Stage Left, my customized victim impact writing service designed for victims “lost in the media swirl” who desperately need a cohesive, objective, experienced voice to convey the heart and soul of their loved one!

A prime example of getting caught in the abyss of the horror of mass homicide without as place to turn is Philip Russo, widower,  former husband of Shelia Russo passionate advocate for the downtrodden, working as the Tribal Administrator on tribal land in Alturas, California (although the mass shooting took place in the tribal office, the building itself does not sit on tribal land). In February, Phil’s entire world “faded to black’.  It all went horribly wrong in an instant!

In order to assist Phil in his quest to the correct the misconceptions of this tragedy, to focus on all victims, including the memory of Shelia, (as opposed to the press the murderer has received,) I submitted selected interview questions to Phil to reflect upon. Readers should keep in mind that his responses reflect a very new and early and very thoughtful perspective

In addition, in more than 30 years of working with crime victims, I have NEVER heard of a more egregious failure of “the system,” a more convoluted, complex, bureaucratic wasteland forced upon this man; lacking in sufficient resources for a crime victim in my life, all due to many circumstances beyond Phil’s control.        It is the proverbial “black hole “you would not wish upon your worst enemy.

This is the very circumstance, which calls for others to step up and step in, including assistance with victim impact, where applicable!

However, on the positive side, I must say at the outset, with people connections, resources and some support, Phil is just beginning to “see the light of day” ever so slowly, with his overwhelming sense of grief the most difficult part of his battle.

I am honored that he chose to participate and offer his voice for the benefit of others.

Questions and Responses for Phil Russo

Thus far, what is the one most difficult lesson you have learned about being a victim of violent crime?    

Personally speaking, it was the realization that all of the programs and people everyone thinks are out there to aid someone in my situation are either nonexistent or were or little to no help to me. I went through all of the traditional sources for victim’s assistance, not one was able to connect me with the help I was seeking.  I was thrown into a quicksand of red tape. Having to jump through hoops to complete paperwork and make phone calls. Dealing with bureaucracy is the last thing you want deal with when you’re experiencing debilitating grief. For me, the ability to speak with people who had experienced losing someone to gun violence, just as I had, was crucial. I’ve had the good fortune to speak with many other survivors, who tell me they all had the same experience. It was only through reaching out on my own that I was able to find people like you, who were able to put me on the right path.    I feel grateful for having come across the people I’ve met through social media. If it weren’t for all friends that I’ve made by striking out on my own for help, I don’t know where I’d be today.  I’m lucky in that whatever it was that possessed me to use social media to reach out has led to meeting so many caring people.  I hate to think about all the other victims who aren’t as lucky as I am in that regard.  On the positive side, one of the enlightening things that I’ve learned is that in times of tragedy, you need to surround yourself with caring supportive people. When Shelia was first killed, I was determined to make it through this on my own.  I realized though, that I was never going to make it alone. I needed help. So I opened my heart and reached out to others and it has made all the difference.

What is the biggest misconception that the media has concerning this horrible crime?  

article-2565664-1BB8DBDF00000578-661_634x826There are a few things. First, regarding Shelia’s role in all of this, Shelia’s job as Tribal Administrator was to implement the decisions made by the tribe.   Shelia had no role in the decision making process for the recall elections or the evictions.  Her job was to merely oversee the proceedings to make sure they were carried out per the tribe’s by laws.

Then, there are some who are of the opinion that this is just a common occurrence with Native American’s on reservations. I believe this is a misconception fueled by prejudice.

Regarding the matter of the embezzlement, it’s hard for me to believe that Cherie Rhoades would kill 4 people and try to wipe out the entire tribe merely over her eviction. There were 19 people in the building that day, and according to testimony by law enforcement, Rhoades made statements that she intended to kill everyone.  Remember, this is woman who was receiving $80,000 a year and living in her house for free, simply for being a tribal member.  She could have simply packed up and moved elsewhere very easily.  Sources put the dollar amount of the embezzlement at $50,000, but that was just according to the 2012 financial audit. The accounting records for the previous years were so poorly kept, that they were going to have to recreate them forensically.  Cherie Rhoades was the chairwoman for 10 years.   I believe that if they dig deeper that they would find a lot more.

Hypothetically speaking, do you feel that if but for multiple victims, victims within the same family and culture as the perpetrator, your wife’s murder would not have “gotten lost”? Why/Why not?

That’s a difficult question to answer.  I don’t know why this story, as a whole, has gotten very little attention. Even some of the activist groups that I’ve become a member of didn’t even know this shooting occurred.  I’m not sure if it’s because of all the reasons you’ve listed or our extremely remote location. Those all very well could be the reasons. Then again, maybe not. I’m not sure why.  I’m still trying to figure this out.

In your opinion, what can realistically be done to incentivize journalists to begin focusing on crime victims versus the perpetrators?

I’m not sure if it’s a matter of trying to incentivize or the need to humanize them…  People have commented to me that the media is just giving the public what it wants I think that’s a cop out. People are still going to read the stories to learn the facts. I believe that media can still report the news without glorifying the perpetrators and all of the sensationalism.  I can understand why some people are apprehensive about talking to the media. They’re afraid of being taken out of context and exploited and rightly so.  It certainly does go on, but I think that we as victims need to speak out more.  We need to talk about our loved ones.  We need to tell the stories of their lives and all the good things they did so that they are remembered for WHO they were and not by how they were killed.  Remember, for every positive story that we DON’T tell, the media will only publish the negative. I want people to see real cost of this violence, the human factor. I think that honoring the victims is something that everyone can relate to and hopefully, in some way, it may help to bring an end to this violence.  I think that we also need to hold the media accountable for what they publish.  If you see an exploitive news story, call the news director or station manager where the story appears and let them know that it’s insensitive to the victims. It’s just something that needs to be taken on one battle at time. That’s activism 101.

One of the ironies of this case is that your wife’s background was rich in accomplishments with much to be written about as a feature story. What would your feature story include about Shelia? 

The wonderful thing about Sheila is that for all of her accomplishments, she always remained just a humble country girl from Bakersfield. Shelia was one of the most caring, loving, non judgmental and down to earth people that you’d ever meet. She was driven by an innate passion to help others and it was her compassion that was really the key to her success.  Major accomplishments aside, it was all the little things she did in between that made Shelia who she was.  After her death, people that had known Sheila in the past came out in droves to contact me. People I never knew or heard of before.  They shared wonderful stories with me about Shelia had impacted their lives. They told me Shelia was a mentor to them, how Shelia gave them jobs when other people gave up on them. One woman told me how Shelia was able to “work her magic” and save her grandmother’s house from being taken away by the Bureau of Land Management. People were so compelled to reach out to tell me, they sent their cards and letters in care of the Modoc County Sheriff’s Office because they had no other way to reach me.  Even in her free time Shelia took every opportunity to write in public forums about issues that were important to her.  She was very well educated on the issues of the day and not afraid to debate on healthcare and immigration reform, environmental and climate issues, and marriage equality. In true Shelia fashion, always fighting for the underdog.  Not more than a week before she was killed, I asked Shelia the question if what she did for work seemed like a job to her, or if she loved it so much that it didn’t seem like work. She thought for a second and then answered me. She said that she loved what she did so much, that to her, it wasn’t work at all. In fact, she would do it even if she was never paid for it. It was just a way of life for Shelia.  That’s the kind of person Shelia was.Unknown
People have asked me if this tragedy has hardened my heart. The answer is no, and quite frankly just the opposite is true. It’s really caused my heart to open more. I hate to sound cliché, but it does make you realize what is truly important in life and how trivial most the things that conflict us really are.   Sheila already firmly grasped this “big picture” of life, even without suffering the tragedy. The things that meant the most in life to Shelia were her children, her family, friends, her love for nature and animals, and her desire to do good things in her lifetime.  A few years ago, Shelia posted on Facebook “What makes life worth living is working to create the mark that you leave on this world”. The people who have recently come to know Shelia through me all tell me how inspirational her story is. This is the reason why I try so hard to tell her story.  I know that Shelia will continue to inspire and open hearts.  This is the gift that Shelia has given to me.  This is the mark that Shelia has left on this world. This is the Shelia that I want people to know.

Comments and Conclusions:

I am truly touched at the thoughtful, sensitive nature of Phil’s reflections, revelations and truths regarding the circumstances and the character of his wife – even at this early stage in his journey.  There truly is no “right or wrong responses” when we try to access one’s intellect combined with places in the heart… It is only through the process of reaching out to others in times of need that we really begin to understand the richness of life itself. Sheila would have wanted it that way. I feel it! We will attempt to keep you updated on this story. To contact Phil Russo: philip_russo@yahoo.com;

Contact me for information about Victim Impact Statement Services available if you have the need:  Email ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com

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The Most Important “Head’s Up EVER! The Victim Information Notification System (VINE)

 

VINEA counterpart to Connecticut’s Office of the Victim Advocate is the Judicial Branch Services in the Office of Victim Services. They oversee the Victim Information Notification System (VINE), otherwise known locally as CT SAVIN – Connecticut Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (System).

CT SAVIN is a free, confidential service that provides crime victims and their family members, victim advocates, and members of the community  no cost, confidential notification of court related events. The Connecticut Judicial Branch provides this toll-free, automated notification service.

VCRs- VINE Service Representatives

CT SAVIN is operated by the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) service and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. In addition to VINE Link, CT SAVIN offers a free and anonymous telephone service that provides crime victims and interested individuals with information and notification. Accommodations are available to those with communication impairments and Spanish speakers as their primary language.  (I would check in advance to ascertain if representatives and documentation is available to assist in other languages).

Registration Information: Notifications can be received by telephone or e-mail.  Fair warning! Should you misrepresent your identity, you could be prosecuted!  You are encouraged to update your status and personal information whenever a change occurs!

And just to be CLEAR, in our state where bureaucracy rules CT SAVIN provides notification messages regarding court related events whereas the Office of Victim Services and the Department of Corrections OVS/DOC provides information about changes in inmate status.

For help with registration for Connecticut incarcerated inmate related notifications contact OVS toll-free at (800) 822-8428 or DOC Victim Services Unit toll-free at (888) 869-7057. http://www.jud.ct.gov/webforms/forms/vs005.pdf

Why can’t every state have a “one stop shopping procedure” and be an “opt out” system? “Just askin’.

The Proof is in the Pudding….Generic_VictimNotification

Although I have been registered with the Department of Corrections and the Office of Victim Services Notification Systems, I was negligent in registering with VINE! Shame on me. So, as a “test case,” for this blog, I went through the process via phone registration.  They will ask you identifying information regarding the inmate and your name. They will also respond to any related questions or get the answers (Seems to me, I was put on hold about three times.)

TYPES OF NOTIFICATIONS GIVEN BY SAVIN:

  • A 30 day advanced  notice of the prisoner’s  release
  • Information concerning a prisoner’s transfer to another facility
  • Information concerning the escape and re-capture of the prisoner
  • Information regarding the custody status of the inmate

Other Important Points

  • You may register other family members with their phone number or e-mail address  and a password;
  • It does not matter where you are based, you will receive the notification
  • There is a free app available via Apple ITunes as well;
  • CT SAVIN notification messages will be left on an answering machine
  • Notification from CT SAVIN should be just one part of your safety plan

APPRISS, the Kentucky based software company, devoted to safety notification, administers the program, and includes a wide range of services.  (As they are undergoing management changes, a Shattered Lives radio show is still pending.) http://www.appriss.com/default.html

A Quick Reference Guide: How to Register: 

https://www.vinelink.com/docs/VINELinkQuickReferenceGuide.pdf;

Please check the procedures and provisions in YOUR State, as they may differ!

This is a great opportunity to remind readers, that the VINE alerts you to changes with court related events regarding the perpetrator.  However, who is there to be your voice to the court, or with Board of Pardons and Parole when you clearly are too distraught and consumed with emotion to convey your opinion on the fate of the murderer?

  • Can you trust someone else to present a generic picture for you?
  • Can you trust that another relative  or friend will say what is needed?
  • Can you trust yourself to maintain control?

If the answer to any of these questions is doubtful, trust in me, a skilled writer and homicide survivor and advocate with over 30 years experience.  If you have been given sufficient time to prepare a victim impact statement, perhaps I can help.                    

For more information, please contact me about Victim Impact Statement Assistance.

VIGraphic.001

 

The Most Important “Head’s Up EVER! The Victim Information Notification System (VINE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ms. Gore Goes to Washington D.C. for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week

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How does one possibly capture the pulse of this city, the heartbeat of the nation, particularly when it is juxtaposed with such an important week out of the fifty-two?  Darned if I know for sure.  The fact is I wish I had all of you in my pocket for a bird’s eye view of this whirlwind trip.

The sights, the sounds, the flavor of the city and the reason I had travelled here and my entry into what some say is the inner circle of crime victim rights was quite amazing and sometimes surreal!   I can provide you with some sense of it through words, photos and inspiring videos of Award winners. I can give you a sort of “mini-travelogue.” However, to capture the formal, procedural ebb and flow of the House of Representatives and the “old world palatial” Department of Justice surroundings is one thing.  The newness of the airport check-in style entry into all buildings, the daily trek to find a parking space, or hail a taxi, the 24/7 existence of what Washington DC stands for, and to see the demise of a hotel serving its purpose since 1949 only to be demolished forever in just a couple of days from now isn’t too difficult, if you use your imagination and former experience!  BUT, but, but, the intangibles are the emotions felt from the beginning to end and the warm welcome afforded me by so many, once the ball was rolling.

I would be remiss if I did not give a vast amount of credit to one Anne Seymour, THE WOMAN in crime victim rights circles in this town who commands so much respect, knowledge and is a “virtual encyclopedia “of persons to know, to go to for assistance, to form bonds with.

Anne Seymour, Donna Gore, Victims Advocates

Anne Seymour, Donna R. Gore

In a way, she struck me as the “Martha Stewart of the crime victim advocacy world” with important differences.  Warmth, no pretense, generous to a fault, always willing to share, and watching over her flock (of which I was becoming a part, I suppose) and utterly comfortable with a thousand people on her “apartment with personality” vintage books, knick knacks and memorabilia, just a bit bigger than a postage stamp (but average for this city’s standards). Anne does not coddle, she nurtures, AND provides a stage for you (if you want it) to speak in her lovely bricked garden patio.  Congressman Ted Poe, a neighbor who was an officer in the military, and all manner of non-profit and Federal workers either took the stage or just chatted freely, beverage in hand, waiting patiently for the pièce de résistance varied buffet meal. (Even gluten-free items!)

Anne asked that we “give a little sugar” to her guests who spoke extemporaneously and she gave it touting her friend’s accomplishments.  She is a devoted Aunt and sister as well.  Within the confines of the political edifices she appeared to be in her element with the movers and shakers of the political set.

One thing is for sure, Anne knows how to get the job done in whatever way needed, as friends and colleagues shared many stories of how they met, their favorite episode telling each with good humor.  My one regret is that we did not have the opportunity for our private chat, but, no doubt we will in the future.

In addition, I have to say that meeting and spending time with Marlene Young and John Stein, the original founders of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, was such a pleasure after 30+ years in between meetings.  They and sister, Sherilyn Young, International Organization for Victim Assistance Program Director, a very accomplished women in her own right, were very hospitable to me.

Currently, I am awaiting contact with many from that week. They may be resting, I don’t know the meaning of that word.  Many people I met are interested in connecting for a radio show, circulating my customized  Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service or connecting with my various and sundry colleagues for other projects.   They were all warm, welcoming, interesting and listened to me, my passions and the resources and people connections I may have for them.  But alas, several did not carry their business cards in the three days I was there so they must contact me.  How do I say, “You know the lady in the red dress, a POMC Board Member” (who was wildly enthusiastic about me, by the way.

Here s a list of contacts you may see on “Shattered Lives” 

  • S. Daniel Carter- Director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative (He was my new friend, my savior, my taxi at times and knew of some of my friends in Virginia)
  • Marjorie Castro- Dan’s right hand woman and Director of Development at VTV Family Outreach Foundation
  • Victor Stone, Esquire, Maryland Crime Victim’s Resource Center-(Interest in VI Service)
  • Blair Bjellos. Legislative Assistant, Victim Right’s Caucus Coordinator for Rep. Ted Poe (Had a very interesting topic for Shattered Lives)
  • Jessalyn Dorsey, Past President, BOD VI Crime Victim Advocacy Council, Atlanta Georgia – (Homicide Survivor)
  • Erik Coyne Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air Force
  • Eileen King, Executive Director Child Justice Washington, D. C.
  • Stephanie Handel, Wentt Center for Loss & Healing
  • Herman Millholland, Consultant, Los Angeles, California
  • Nancy E. O’Malley, Alameda County District Attorney
  • Suzanne Brown McBride, Deputy Director Justice Center-The Council for State Government New York, New York ‘Collaborative Approaches to Public Safety”
  • Sandra Pavelka, Ph.D. Director, Institute for Youth & Justice Studies Florida Gulf Coast University Fort Meyers, FL
  • Pat Tuthill – Homicide Survivor Founder of the Peyton Tuthill Foundation – Creator of Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision
  • Lee Kitchen – Husband of Pat Tuthill, former TV Personality, Professor of Technology at Tallahassee Community College
  • Hazel Hatchers – Denver, Colorado Crime Victim Advocate for Identity Theft

 

A few of the  2014 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) Award Winners

Life’s Just Like a Travelogue

April 8

Good Morning to Ya! Well… my transportation is delayed a couple of hours. . (Let’s get all the travel annoyances out-of-the-way!) In the spirit of the National Crime Victim’s Right’s Week, I must reiterate that one of the significant people in this realm is Anne Seymour. We had the unique opportunity to interview her on Shattered Lives” discussing a plethora of interesting issues! So… here it is again for you! Enjoy and circulate for this befitting week! Thanks!

Nurturing the Heartbeat and Pulse of Crime Victims: The Imprint of Anne Seymour

donnagore.com

April 8

Howdy from Washington DC! An old world charm hotel on the waterfront that will be closing in 20 days as the government seeks to tear down buildings and make more money, I guess! A couple of glitches… but I’m dealing! More people out of jobs! Anyway, connected by phone with Dr. Marlene Young, original Founder of NOVA. I hope to see her tomorrow. Don’t think she remembered me from 30+ years ago… Why not?? LOL Here’s a bit about her stellar career below! I’m solo for now! Tomorrow the special Victim’s Awards and a private dinner. May walk down to the Crab place on the water before it’s gone!
LJ- Your roving reporter!
http://www.iovahelp.org/About/MarleneAYoung/

Hi Again! A study in contrasts…. An old hotel with character soon to be rubble. This was once a bustling area according to the locals and the murals…but no more. At Philips Crab House – you look out at the glistening water on the Bay amid the cabin cruisers…while someone is sitting next to you slurping crab legs with a metal bucket…or chose from the huge buffet style all you can eat -fried and otherwise. I had an excellent broiled salmon and “broccoli’s” and my one cheat in many months – a delectable delight HUGE bread pudding (Sorry Dr. A!) Had to come to the lobby for this as two of my three room lamps don’t work… Very intimate! LOL
FYI SL Radio shows looking’ good…. June almost filled Woo Hoo! PLEASE, PLEASE, celebrate with Jonathan Fleming & Bob Rahn and Company. Listen to our exclusive pre-release from prison show! Goodnight!

Had to brag! UConn Women Huskies Victorious! Watched the game against Norte Dame! 58-79. Geno’s 9th National Championship! Our worn are 40 and 0! Woo Hoo1 I remember going to their games at Gampell for $5.00! Those were the days! These are the days too! Go CT We are proud!

 April 9

Good Morning All! Great day here in Washington! Marlene Young in the room talking international focus of victims. I did make introduction!

On other topics- Did you know that the recent shootings at Fort Hood may have stemmed from a disagreement over taking leave from work?? One of my most read blog dealt with workplace violence and disgruntled workers! http://donnagore.com/2011/03/14/disgruntled-workers-“going-postal”-and-other-human-tragedies-from-connecticut-to-california…/

April 9

This afternoon at 2 pm: https://ovcncvrw.ncjrs.gov/awards/about.html

Office for Victims of Crime – National Crime Victims’ Service Awards

ovcncvrw.ncjrs.gov

April 9

Oh so tired… but a really fine awe-inspiring day in Washington DC today… With more on the way! Three Cheers for Anne Seymour and her HUGE entourage of friends who are movers and shakers! So heartwarming to know they are interested in me and my colleagues! More later! Goodnight! LJ

April 10

Good Morning from Washington DC! Wow! I met so many people yesterday…and was so impressed with the OVC Special Awards Ceremony at the DOJ. Hope to have some people as guests on SL.Woo Hoo!

The First Ladies | National Museum of American History

americanhistory.si.edu

Hello Everyone! I am virtually speechless with all I have learned, shared and exchanged in Washington DC. What a great opportunity to share gifts and continue to help victims of crime. Another Awards Event sponsored by the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus this morning! Such impressive recipients!
The political world is an inner sanctum, world unto itself. . We need to educate the bureaucrats every chance we get. Senator Ted Poe is definitely one of the good guys as is Anne Seymour! Marlene Young, John Stein and her sister Shari are great as well. Human Trafficking is not being ignored at the Federal level. Glad to say there is much bipartisan support. Will try to write a future blog on the bills proposed in our Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus Policy Forum this afternoon. . Can’t say enough good about everyone I met! Let’s hope they keep the connection! Have to pack… ‘Bye for now! LJ

April 10

BREAKING NEWS from CONNECTICUT! The State has decided to approve a pre quest for compensation for 21 years wrongfully incarcerated Kenneth Ireland! (See my former blog). An attorney has been appointed to review how much he will receive. Can’t help but wonder if Jonathan Flemings case… “cracked by the crack team at Management Resources, LTD in neighboring New York may have had a positive influence! Congratulations Ken and Jonathan! Wow!

State Won’t Fight Paying Millions To Wrongfully Imprisoned Man

http://www.courant.com

April 10

Final adventures in Washington winding down. After packing set out to find a new restaurant within walking distance. The Cantina Marina- beautiful setting on the water but open seating and “animal house “atmosphere. Even the fish tacos were not G-F. So climbing over hill and dale, rough terrain in parking lots and tree ruts, went to “Stage Four”- a really hopping place with lots of atmosphere too busy barely any service. But I persevered. The neighbors recommended the bowl of mussels appetizer and GF fries cooked in duck fat??. Anyway just right ..as salads were so boring every meal. Did I mention the Safeway grocery store looks just like a skyscraper? You’d never know! Anyway a brisk careful walk back… Sitting too long today!
Writing is a good companion when you are by yourself… just ask a writer! LJ

April 11

Good Morning! The end of the tour for Ms. Gore Goes to Washington”. I bid a fond farewell and hope to stay connected with lots of people!

 

Parting Comments:

What I learned:  That Washington D.C. is not at all like the reputation that some portray it to be.  If we take each day, each encounter on an individual basis, and see it for what it really is, that’s the key to success and the key to life!  Once again, thanks Anne for opening doors, and “thanks for the sugar.” So looking forward to the ride and the future!

 

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In the Shadow of Sandy Hook What Should be the Yardstick for Victim’s Privacy?

 

mass media, privacy, victim privacy

Even 15 months after the most horrendous mass killing of children and adults in recent history, the wounds are still fresh…

A year anniversary passed in December….

A Governor appointed Advisory Council is still grappling with the “why of it” in hopes of gaining insight into the prevention of another mass tragedy of its kind.

Guns, mental health, school oversight, and parental responsibility aside, a town grieves daily. But there are signs of renewed hope with a new architectural design for a new school just completed and a Selectwoman who continues to lead with grace and thoughtfulness.  Using a delicate balance of completing town business and always keeping those who died in our hearts and minds., Pat Llodra accomplishes her mission to ensure the safety and best interests of her residents.

 

A MATTER OF PRIVACY

Release of the 911 tapes: “Release of the audio recordings will also allow the public to consider and weigh what improvements, if any, should be made to law enforcement’s response to such incidents,” Superior Court Judge Eliot Prescott said.

Pat Llodra, First Selectwoman of Newtown compared the steady leak of information about the investigation of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School to “Chinese water torture she now believes recordings of 911 calls from the school should be made public.

“Every day, there is something in the media that drags us back to that terrible day,” Llodra said. “I think everything that can be released should be released.” She asked that media “treat us kindly” in December 2013, just three months ago.

Although each and every victim has their own opinion regarding what is appropriate and what they can personally tolerate, in the final analysis, dispatchers were calm and handled the situation as trained.  However, this event has opened up a Pandora’s box in that victim’s privacy issues have never been so exposed. Does anyone really want or need to see photographs of dead children and carnage from perpetrator Adam Lanza?

Does the “principles of Free speech” and journalism trump human decency?  Should we rein in the Freedom of Information Act in certain circumstances?

Raised Bill 388 of the Connecticut General Assembly-                                                                       

AN ACT IMPLEMENTING THE RECOMMENDATION OF THE TASK FORCE ON VICTIM PRIVACY AND THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW.

Link to Text of the Bill: http://www.cga.ct.gov/2014/TOB/S/2014SB-00381-R00-SB.htm

This bill seemingly covers all bases in scope with 29 separate provisions stating: “Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act shall be construed to require disclosure of…” in situations in which various documents, files or images, it has been determined that the withholding of such in the public’s interest clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure and such disclosures would constitute an invasion of personal privacy.

Specific provisions added  as they relate to crime victims include 27 through 29:

(27) Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state, or municipal governmental agency consisting of a photograph, film, video or digital or other visual image depicting the body or any portion of the body of a victim of a homicide, to the extent that the disclosure of such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, [of the victim or the victim's surviving family members.] provided nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prohibit the inspection of such a record in accordance with section 2 of this act;

(28) Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state or municipal governmental agency consisting of an audio recording of an emergency 9-1-1 call or other call for assistance that is made by a member of the public when such call (A) relates to a homicide, and (B) captures, conveys or relates to the impaired physical condition of the caller or another person, to the extent that the disclosure of such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, provided nothing in this subdivision shall be construed to prohibit listening to such record in accordance with section 2 of this act;

(29) Any record created by a law enforcement agency or other federal, state or municipal governmental agency consisting of an audio recording that is an operative communication among law enforcement personnel when such communication (A) relates to a homicide, and (B) captures, conveys or relates the impaired physical condition of the caller or another person, to the extent that the disclosure of such record could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, provided nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit listening to such record in accordance with section 2 of this act.

(Bracketed text is recommended for deletion while the remainder of 27-29 was underlined in the Bill, meaning that it is new information to be added). As can be noted, this language covers records, photos, videos created by law enforcement,, depicting a body or a portion thereof, audio recordings that convey information concerning a homicide or the impaired physical conditions of victims, and requests for copies of images and audio recordings, including copying of images in which victim families have submitted a written objection  to the image.

The other provisions include “everything but the kitchen sink” such as medical files, trade secrets, financial and commercial, content of real estate appraisals , records between those with privileged relationships, school enrollment records, investigative records, adoptive records, town petitions, educational and mental health records, security manuals, emergency plans, correctional institution material, records from government owned or leased institutions, security system information, Department of Transportation records, parks and recreation  minor attendees, etc.

STATUS:

This Bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee as of 3-4-2014 after which a Public Hearing  of the Government Administration and Elections Committee was held  on 3-10-2014, lasting  5½  hours (inclusive of all bills within that committee.)                                                                                           Link: http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/ctnplayer.asp?odID=10015

The number of entities testifying on behalf and against this bill is listed as follows:

To date, the GAE Committee voted 8 to 6 in favor of the bill. It may pass on to other committees prior to the end of the session on May 7th (a short legislative session this year.)

 

Judiciary Committee
03/10/2014 American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut – David McGuire 03/10/2014 CCFOI and Privacy and FOI Task Force – James H. Smith
03/10/2014 Connecticut Bar Association – Daniel J. Klau 03/10/2014 Connecticut Broadcasters Association – Michael P. Ryan
03/10/2014 Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information – Claude Albert 03/10/2014 Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association – John T. Walkley
03/10/2014 Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association – Chris VanDeHoef 03/10/2014 Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission – Colleen M. Murphy
03/10/2014 Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists – Jodie Mozdzer Gil 03/10/2014 CT Daily Newspapers Assoc. – Chris VanDeHoef
03/10/2014 CT Division of Criminal Justice 03/10/2014 CT Office of Chief Public Defender – Susan O. Storey
03/10/2014 CT Office of the Victim Advocate – Garvin G. Ambrose 03/10/2014 Don DeCesare
03/10/2014 Freedom of Information Commission 03/10/2014 Mitchell W. Pearlman
03/10/2014 Rep. Angel Arce 03/10/2014 Rep. Leonard A. Fasano
03/10/2014 Senator Donald E. Williams, Jr. 03/10/2014 South Windsor Police Department – Matthew D. Reed
03/10/2014 The 26 Families of the Victims of the Sandy Hook School Shooting 03/10/2014 The 26 Families of the Victims of the Sandy Hook Shooting – Morgan Rueckert
03/10/2014 The Freedom of Information Commission    

 

IN MY OPINION:

The Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and the public’s right to know need to be forever balanced. When respect and human dignity are “thrown out the window” in favor of media ratings than we have sunk to a new low in society. I am not sure when we veered off course in favor of sensationalism and gore.  However, I do know that the pendulum needs to swing back. Crime victims need to take control and draw clear boundaries for themselves. This is an area with which we should not have to be concerned.  However, we are placed in this position by the sheer number of atrocities occurring. Let’s stop the madness and   use some common sense and human decency.  Government should not have to legislate human decency! If this legislation is passed by the end of the session, may it serve as a model for other states as well as a cautionary tale regarding journalists’ lack of moral compass.

With that said, an answer to reliving some of the pain of a surviving family’s experience following homicide, is my customized Victim Impact Statement Assistance.  Using my skills and experience, I can paint the picture with and for you, such that the court or Board of Pardons and Parole can truly know your family member.  It will be a testament of the heart, relieving you of the burden at a most vulnerable time.   If I can help you or your family, please contact me.

In the Shadow of Sandy Hook What Should be the Yardstick for Victim’s Privacy?

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