Protection orders: Are there too many loopholes?

Protection Order loopholes

CASCO, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- When victims of domestic violence look to get away from their abusers,  in many cases they seek court orders to offer them protection.   In some cases they ask the courts to take away any guns or weapons, but our NEWS CENTER investigation has found that there are loopholes in that system, that can make it difficult to get weapons out of the hands of those accused of domestic violence.

Norman Strobel,  the ex-boyfriend of Sandra Goulet seemed to exploit those loopholes.  On a drizzly November night last year, he went to Goulet's summer cottage and opened fire through a window.  Goulet wasn't there but her daughter Alyssa Goulet, and Alyssa's boyfriend Jason Almeida were.  After shooting at the young couple, and injuring Almeida,  Strobel killed another man, and then died in a gunfight with sheriffs deputies.

"I think his whole plan was to kill as many people as I knew before he came and got me," Goulet said.

The evidence of  that violent shooting rampage is still evident to this day around the cottage.  There are bullet holes in the countertops and walls.   

"The minute he saw my daughters face up came the gun and she just dove to the floor right here and started to crawl to the bedroom and he jumped on top of her and was pushing her and because he was up higher than her he got shot four times," Goulet said.

The young couple survived the shooting, but Jason Almeida bears the physical scars of several surgeries.  Both have psychological scars.  Sandra Goulet says she does too from years of abuse.

"I was constantly under stress and not sleeping. he'd wake me up at night," she said.

It is when Sandra filed a protection from abuse order against Strobel, what typically is the deadliest time for abuse victims, that she says things escalated. She filed the order on July 5, He violated it on July 20th by showing up at her front door.  He received five days in jail.  But the jail time and the protection orders didn't seem to deter him.  He continued to seek out Goulet.

Strobel was a convicted felon with a history of violent crimes in Rhode Island.  He had no legal right to own a firearm, but Goulet says he had one and showed it to her once and often threatened her.  She told authorities in the protection order that he had a gun and asked authorities to confiscate it, but they didn't.

Cumberland County Sheriffs' Deputies say they asked Strobel if he had a gun and he told them he didn't.   Under Maine law, they have no right to search for that gun.

"They can lie yeah," admitted Cumberland County Chief Sheriff Deputy Naldo Gagnon. "They could say they have 100 guns, give you 100 and they have 101. how do we know they have 101.”

Gagnon added that If deputies can prove the individual's lying they can then go before a judge and get a court order to search, but the burden of proof often falls on the victim     In Goulet's case,  she said she had no idea where Strobel kept his gun.

"I knew he would lie and say no he would lie to the judge,"  she said.    

It's still unclear where Strobel got the gun. The Attorney General's Office is still investigating the officer involved shooting of Strobel. Once completed, it could provide more details. 

Strobel's case is one of many.  According to court records, there were 2336 final protection orders filed in 2016 and nearly half ,1091 had orders prohibiting firearms or weapons.  

If you want to find out how many firearms were confiscated, our investigation found there's no easy way to track that information. The courts don't keep those records.    They referred us to local law enforcement agencies.

NEWS CENTER did check with some of the largest police departments in the state and found they confiscate very few guns.  In all of last year Lewiston Police only confiscated 3 guns from protection orders.  Bangor Police served 475 protection orders last year.  They could not tell us how many of those orders had orders prohibiting firearms, but they did tell us they confiscated 0 guns. Portland police told us, they didn't have that data available..

"it always comes back to it costs too much,  we don't have a space to put them," explained State Representative Lois Reckitt.  

Reckitt, a lawmaker who has been pushing for tougher domestic violence laws, says any laws seeking to confiscate guns meets resistance for practical and political reasons.  She's not surprised law enforcement doesn't confiscate many guns because storing them is a logistical problem.  

She added that the law also allows those served with protection orders to give their firearms to family members for safe keeping instead of police.

"If you give it to a relative how are you going to be assured that that relative doesn't give it back to you if you say hey I need my gun back?"  Reckitt said.

Some Domestic violence Support groups also have concerns that the law does allow those accused of domestic violence to hand over guns to a family member.

"I think a lot of the people that we work with who check off the box to have the firearm prohibited from the abuser assume those firearms are going to law enforcement and when they're not they feel betrayed and unsafe,"  explained Casey Faulkingham, of Spruce Run WomanCare Alliance.

Faulkingham says that under the current system, a protection order is only one tool, and its not right for everyone but that it can help under the right circumstances and with careful planning.  There are several Domestic Violence Prevention groups across the state that do help with planning.  You can find one near you by calling 211.

 

© 2017 WLBZ-TV


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