Domestic shooting homicides trigger changes in laws

Written By Gina Joseph, The Macomb Daily

He tried to kill her with a knife.

But she got away.

She ran and barricaded herself and her three children in a room upstairs, hoping the 911 call her son had made would bring help in time.

But he grabbed his shotgun and blew the door open, hitting both his wife and son.

He saw that she was still alive.

So, he dragged her into the hall and shot her five more times. Then he held the gun to his chin and in front of his children, pulled the trigger one last time.

That’s when Dave Herrington of Mount Clemens, a retired high school math teacher and former Mount Clemens City Commissioner, got a call from his granddaughter.

“She said, ‘Grandpa! You got to come quick, Daddy shot Logen and he shot Mommy many times,’” Herrington said, recalling the horrific night of Dec. 6, 2011.

By the time he and his wife, Mary Jane, arrived at the family’s home, everyone was gone but the police and stunned members of the rural Lapeer community where they lived.

Left for the Herringtons were the terrible realities of domestic violence. Their daughter, Lara Herrington-Stutz, a successful family law attorney, former U.S. Air Force officer and Sunday school teacher, was shot to death by her husband, Marcel Stutz, in front of their three children.

Herrington knew there were problems, which is why he made sure his grandson had his own cellphone. But his daughter always told him not to worry. “Everything would be OK,” she would say. “That was Lara,” Herrington said. She was optimistic and energetic by nature. “As a family law attorney, she helped a lot of women get out of bad situations.”

Yet, she never helped herself.

“At her funeral, women came up to me saying, ‘It was Lara who helped get me out of an abusive marriage,’” said Mary Jane Herrington, in an article by the Michigan Bar Journal. “They said, ‘that could have been me if she hadn’t gotten me out.’”

At times things got better but then the drinking and verbal abuse would return. At one point, police were called to the home and Marcel Stutz was arrested. He spent a weekend in jail and was ordered by the court to take anger management classes, attend Alcoholic Anonymous and relinquish his firearms. “He started the classes but eventually blew them off and since no one showed up to take his gun away, he kept it,” Herrington said.

DOMESTIC SHOOTINGS
The tragic shooting of Herrington-Stutz is among at least 15 domestic violence deaths across Macomb County involving firearms between 2006 and 2014, reported to local police agencies, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Associated Press. Those agencies include the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office and police departments in Chesterfield Township, Clinton Township, Eastpointe, Macomb Township, Roseville, Shelby Township, Sterling Heights and Warren.

Nationally, an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns annually by their spouses, ex-spouses and dating partners between 2006 and 2014, according to The Associated Press analysis.

In the past two years, stories of women like Herrington-Stutz and statistics showing hostile relationships often turn deadly when guns are present, has triggered a response. According to The Associated Press analysis, more than a dozen states have strengthened laws designed to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers in the last two years, a rare and growing area of consensus in the nation’s polarized debate over gun rights.

Under the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment to the Federal Gun Control Act anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse crimes or subject to a domestic violence protective order can’t own a gun or buy guns. The law does not apply to dating partners, does not ban guns during temporary restraining orders and says nothing about how or when an abuser must surrender their firearms to authorities.

It is these legal loopholes that a broad coalition of advocates for domestic violence victims, law enforcement groups and gun control supporters hope to close.

STRENGTHENING LAWS
Among the states making changes are South Carolina and Wisconsin, usually dominated by Republicans and with a strong tradition of gun ownership.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2014 requiring people subject to domestic abuse restraining orders to turn over their guns within 48 hours. The National Rifle Association has taken a cautious approach toward such bills, opposing the farthest-reaching measures but staying neutral or negotiating compromises on others. In this case, the NRA stayed neutral after negotiating language that allows individuals to seek the return of their weapons after restraining orders are lifted.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina recently signed a measure that includes a life ban on gun ownership for the most serious domestic violence offenders. “South Carolina is no longer thinking about the convenience of the abuser,” Haley said after signing the bill in June. “South Carolina is thinking about strengthening the survivor.”

Michigan is not among the states listed as strengthening its laws but that could soon change.

ZERO TOLERANCE
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan) and Congressman Robert Dold (R-Illinois) introduced the Zero Tolerance for Domestic Abuse Act.

“It’s personal for me,” said Dingell, who is a domestic violence survivor.

“No woman and no child should ever live in fear of their life or their safety because of domestic violence. We should do everything we can to prevent families from experiencing senseless tragedies. This bipartisan, common sense bill will help ensure every woman and child is protected — and it will save lives.”

When Dingell was a young girl, about to start middle school, her father came close to shooting her mother.

“It was another of their many ugly fights,” she wrote in a Washington Post opinion column. “I got between them — literally — and tried to grab the gun. I will never forget that night: The shouting, the fear, the raw terror that we would all die, my brothers and sisters along with my parents. We survived that occasion, physically. Emotionally, I am not so sure. My baby sister, Grace, was supposed to start first grade the next day. I walked her to school because I believed in trying to be normal, to keep everything together. She died several years ago, after suffering all of her life from demons that haunted her. I cannot help but think that night was the source of many of them.”

That’s what pushes Dingell to push for change.

“If I can help someone else not go through what I went through, then I have a moral responsibility to do so,” she said.

Among the supporters of the legislation is Suzanne Coats, CEO of Turning Point, one of four domestic violence and sexual assault service agencies in the tri-county area.

“This legislation will address key loopholes such as allowing for the seizure of firearms when temporary protection orders are issued, and expanding the definition of ‘intimate partner’ to include dating partners and convicted stalkers,” Coats said. “Many are under the false belief that just leaving a domestic violence situation ends the violence. Many women are stalked and harassed long after they leave and some are killed. Many are forced to see their abuser during custody exchanges.”

Critics who argue against gun restrictions believe that if an abuser is determined to hurt someone, he or she will just find another way. The chances of escaping are greater when no firearm is present.

“If you’re in a domestic violence situation and there’s access to firearms it increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent,” Coats said.

The data used by The Associated Press is a summary from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports for 2006-2014. The SHR includes data from law enforcement agencies in 49 states and Washington, D.C. Florida does not report its data to the FBI. The report includes more than 122,000 homicides over the nine-year period.


Forensic Nurse Examiner Program

RFT

Program Highlight
Since 1999, Turning Point’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Program (FNEP) has provided services to the community for survivors of sexual assault. The program, open 24 hours a day and seven days a week, is staffed with Forensic Nurses and First Response Advocates. About 250 cases come into FNEP a year with the oldest client being 97 and the youngest, just days old. In addition to providing emergency services, the Forensic Nurses are also available to provide expert witness testimony at court proceedings, suspect exams at local law enforcement agencies, and trace evidence collection at homicide scenes as requested by the Macomb County Medical Examiner. First Response Advocates are available to speak with sexual assault survivors confidentially, offering support throughout the process and providing survivors with information on sexual assault, what happens next, the criminal justice system, and other support or resources they may need. Check out our resources page for links to the IAFN and SANE-SART for more in-depth information.

To learn more about Forensic Nursing: Click Here


What we should know about sexual assault

Recent reports about sibling sexual assault in the Duggar family have brought this issue along with much confusion to the forefront. What is the difference between natural child exploration and abuse? What should parents do?  Is sibling sexual assault harmful?

Sibling sexual assault is not rare but it is vastly under-reported and not understood by parents and even some professionals. Some studies indicate it represents a quarter of all child sexual assault incidents. Sibling abuse includes relationships with foster and step siblings. It is an abuse of power and trust. Acts of abuse can include penetration to touching, and also nonphysical acts such as exposure to pornography, taking pictures or watching siblings shower, bathe or use the toilet.
This is vastly different than natural sexual curiosity between equally curious children. Sexual exploration is natural as children are curious about each other’s differences. Exploration is considered “natural” when the interaction is between children who are of a similar developmental and emotional age, and where their knowledge and experience are on a par with each other.

Parents and even some professionals often minimize sibling assaults failing to recognize that it is a serious family and social problem with potentially serious mental health consequences.  Victims of this type of abuse often get the message that no harm was done, that it was child’s play while at the same time hearing a message that it is taboo and wrong. This response can be as harmful and confusing as the abuse itself.

There are multiple reasons that victims do not disclose.  Most often it is the fear of being blamed or getting their sibling into trouble or upsetting their parents.  Often adults interpret this silence about what was happening as consent or complicity. For some victims the behavior is misinterpreted as attention, affection and normal.

People who are isolated, powerless and lack information about sexual assault are the most at risk to experience sexual violence.  These factors along with gender inequality within the family and what the abuser has experienced or learned about power in their family escalate the risk factors for child sexual assault and sibling incest.

Victims of sibling sexual assault often suffer the same emotional consequences as other victims of child sexual assault. Due to the typically long duration of the abuse and the violation by a trusted family member many victims report lifelong difficulties with intimacy and trust, depression, anxiety and other symptoms reported by parent child incest survivors.  Bullying, emotional abuse and other forms of physical abuse may also be present and compound the traumatic aftermath. Victim/survivors need a trauma informed intervention and to repeatedly hear the message that the abuse is not their fault and that they did nothing wrong. Parents and professionals should reassure them that they will do everything they can to keep them safe and get the abuser help. Adolescents who have abused their sibling or other children should receive appropriate counseling to help them understand and stop their behaviors and determine if they themselves experienced abuse or neglect.

Prevention education is the key to avoiding these detrimental consequences. Successful prevention programs recognize that children are more at risk for sexual assault from the people they live with and trust than a stranger.  Ensuring that all children receive age appropriate sex education that includes consent education and information about their boundaries, bodies and safety can prevent the devastating and lifelong consequences of sibling sexual assault.  For more information on child sexual assault visit stopitnow.org or to contact Turning Point at 586-463-6990


New Shelter Opening

Hundreds of Turning Point supporters came together to celebrate the grand opening of a new emergency domestic violence shelter on September 6, 2013 in downtown Mt. Clemens.

Sue Coats, President & CEO of Turning Point, Sharon Ciaramitaro, Turning Point Board President, Mark Hackel, Macomb County Executive, and Kate Markel from the McGregor Fund participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the grand opening. “We have been planning this facility since 2007,” said Sue Coats, CEO and President of Turning Point. “We are very pleased and excited that our dream has come to fruition.”

Residents moved into the new shelter in early October, 2103. The new shelter increased capacity from 37 beds to 52. Thirteen rooms with private or adjoining bathrooms allow for the sheltering of both small and large families, families with teenage boys and families with physical illnesses or handicaps needing a private room.