Paul Shockley – Daily Sentential – In a significant criminal justice policy shift, Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein says he will aggressively pursue prosecution of strangulation as commonly seen in domestic violence cases.
That means expect felony-level charges for strangulation, he said.
The district attorney raised the issue in an email sent Nov. 12 to his staff, Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper, Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis, Fruita Police Chief Judy Macy and Palisade Police Chief Deb Funston.
“Right now,” Rubinstein said to police, “our primary concern and the reason for my email is that the (domestic violence) investigations don’t tend to focus on detail surrounding strangulation. I would ask that you all disseminate this to your officers/deputies with the request that they make efforts to gather as much information about the length of time, circumstance, results, feelings, fears, history of prior strangulation and any other potential information.”
“This is going to fall on everyone’s shoulders,” Rubinstein told the Sentinel. “It will fall on law enforcement to step up their game a bit on investigations.”
The prosecutor said first- or second-degree felony assault charges could be filed in one of two forms: For the use of hands as a deadly weapon, or, by having a doctor sign off on injuries constituting serious bodily injury under state law.
Rubinstein said staff members, most notably victim services coordinator Kathi Raley, have pushed for more aggressive prosecution since he took office Oct. 15. According to the National Strangulation Training Institute, an advocacy group on the issue, Colorado isn’t among the 38 states that specify strangulation as the basis for a felony charge.
Mesa County apparently isn’t waiting on the Legislature.
“I want offenders to know we will take this very seriously, I want victims to know, if this is happening to them it should not be taken lightly, and I want the community to know this is no small thing,” he said.
Domestic violence cases in Mesa County now commonly result in a filed charge of third-degree assault, a Class 1 misdemeanor. Arrest affidavits typically reference “choking,” while officers in some agencies are asked to make such a notation on a diagram.
“So what does that mean?” Rubinstein said. “I want them following up with it, not just noting it.”
Officers should also record their interviews with domestic violence victims — a practice not always observed by local law enforcement, Rubinstein said.
Tough talk on strangulation is welcome news for Grand Junction police Sgt. Lonnie Chavez, former chairman of the Mesa County Domestic Violence Task Force. Chavez says roughly 30 percent of all domestic violence calls in Grand Junction involve strangulation. That’s an act of control and, “sending a message, ‘I could kill you if I wanted to,’ ” Chavez said.
“It can be very difficult to prove and most juries want some physical evidence,” he said.
Young officers can misinterpret redness around a victim’s neck, while bruising may only appear days after the incident.
“By that time, they’re already reluctant to go to a doctor and scared,” Chavez said. “Fear plays a big factor.”
Strangulation can prove fatal days to weeks after the fact, with the risk of blood clots traveling to the brain, among other complications, according to the National Strangulation Training Institute.
Law enforcement leaders are warming to Rubinstein’s plans.
“This … is consistent with modern research that indicates strangulation attempts are a major predictor of potential future homicidal behavior, and we support the DA’s prioritization of this issue,” Camper said in a recent email to his command staff.
Rubinstein’s ambitions will soon be tested in the courtroom. De Beque Fire Protection District firefighter Joshua Weishaup, 36, has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial next month on a charge of felony second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, aside from lesser counts, on the basis of an allegation that Weishaup strangled his alleged victim at a Horizon Drive hotel room. The prosecution has endorsed Mesa County Coroner Dr. Dean Havlik as an expert witness to testify about risks of death associated with strangulation.
Rubinstein acknowledges his policy position means increased office time and costs, and particularly, expert witness testimony.
“These are the high-risk situations we are here for,” he said.
To access the original article, please click here: Rubinstein Vows to Charge Strangulations at Felony Level