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Shooting of police officer puts domestic violence back in focus during Penn State Harrisburg forum

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 10/23/19

The incident in a Lower Swatara Township trailer park that led to a township police officer being shot is a reminder that domestic violence is not something that just happens to other people in other …

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Shooting of police officer puts domestic violence back in focus during Penn State Harrisburg forum

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The incident in a Lower Swatara Township trailer park that led to a township police officer being shot is a reminder that domestic violence is not something that just happens to other people in other towns, officials said during a domestic violence awareness event at Penn State Harrisburg on Thursday.

There had been “numerous incidents” of previous abuse involving the same couple, before police Oct. 14 responded to the trailer in Swatara Shores where the defendant, Andrew Park, had broken in and was threatening the victim with a gun, said Patrolman Keegan Wenner, a Middletown police officer and one of many officers who responded to the incident.

“I myself had dealt with a domestic with that same couple,” Wenner said during the event, put together by the Penn State Harrisburg School of Behavioral Sciences and Education as part of October being domestic violence awareness month.

Wenner pleaded with anyone in the community who has or is now experiencing domestic violence to reach out to police so police can be more “proactive” in preventing domestic violence.

Otherwise, by the time police respond, it is often too late, Wenner said.

“You have the power and you have the strength to follow through” with filing a Protection From Abuse order, and taking other steps to protect yourself from further harm, Wenner said.

These can include changing your phone number, changing the schools your children attend, getting another car, buying a gun, getting a dog, changing the locks at your home, getting a security system including cameras and a device so you know who is at your door and, if you move, telling police where you now live about your abuser and giving them a photo of the abuser and any other “characteristics” about the abuser that police should know, Wenner added.

If you are starting a new relationship, or have a friend or relative who has starting dating someone new, Wenner suggested checking online court records at the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website, to see if the person has ever been charged with offenses typical of domestic violence, such as simple assault, aggravated assault, harassment and disorderly conduct.

Despite all the violence that occurred, the incident at the trailer park is “a success story” because the police officer and the victim both survived, said Jen Gettle, chief deputy district attorney with the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office.

“Unfortunately over the years I have prosecuted several homicide cases where the people could not reach the victim in time to save them from their attacker,” Gettle said.

“I have listened with jurors, in a courtroom, as they heard 911 calls where a woman is heard crying for help and ultimately taking her last breaths after being attacked by a person who once proclaimed their love for her,” she added.

Gettle also pointed out that domestic violence calls are among the most potentially deadly incidents to which police respond. Each year, domestic violence incidents are responsible for more than 20 percent of police officers who are killed in the line of duty, she said.

Domestic violence calls take a toll on police, as evidenced by Wenner’s remarks.

“I have seen too much death lately in my line of work,” Wenner said, trying to describe the horror of finding someone shot to death, as in the Jan. 2 murder-suicide in an apartment on South Union Street, after Marvin Caddell shot and killed Nightflower Staats, their 7-year-old son Joaquim Caddell, and then himself.

“I’m just tired of seeing it. I’m tired of seeing people bruised and bloodied at scenes. I’m tired of seeing kids crying. … We need to do better and you guys need to reach out to us.”

Gettle spoke in support of Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment question on the Nov. 5 election ballot that, among other things, would give victims the right to be present at a bail hearing before a domestic violence offender is released.

“The scales of justice are supposed to be equal, but unfortunately the scales weigh heavily in favor of defendants’ rights,” Gettle said, adding she does not favor denying defendants any of the protection they now enjoy under the state and federal constitutions.

The state League of Women Voters and a Pennsylvania registered voter have sued to try and keep Marsy’s Law off the ballot. The league contends the question should be voted on as separate amendments.

Wenner also referred to VINE, a website victims can use to see if an offender has been released. It is www.vinelink.com/#/home.

Also speaking was state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, R-Lower Swatara Township, who talked about introducing legislation to license behavior analysts who work with people having anger and addiction issues, and those at risk of suicide and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The best way we can do this is beat it (domestic violence) before it happens,” Mehaffie said.

The forum was organized by Maria Turkson, assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Harrisburg, where she teaches various psychology courses, including gender psychology and domestic violence. She is the recipient of the 2018 Kathryn Towns Women's Award for her work raising awareness on campus about issues impacting women.

Others who took part were David Zayas, a domestic violence civil coordinator and victim's advocate with the Dauphin County Victim/Witness Assistance Program; Becca Zelner, advocate and field staff member for Marsy's Law for Pa.; and Jeffrey A. West, a financial planner and founder/partner of Freedom Financial Wealth Management in Lemoyne. He spoke about financial abuse of domestic violence victims.