May 7 – KALKASKA – On November 8, 2022, a Rapid City woman filed a request for a personal protection order, explaining how her husband of 22 years kept a rifle hidden in their basement, would take it upstairs, get it out of their case and “hammer” it behind her as a threat.

“He’s never been this bad,” the woman wrote in the petition. “Honestly, he worries me how he will react to him.”

Less than 24 hours later, Kalkaska County District Court Judge Lynne M. Buday approved the ex parte petition, meaning an order was entered without a hearing, setting in motion the standard procedural actions.

The court clerk filed the warrant with the Kalkaska County Sheriff’s Department, a staff member entered the information into LEIN, the state’s police information computer network, a process server located the defendant, in this case the husband , and “delivered” the judge’s order.

For the next year, Terrence VanOchten was prohibited from harassing, calling, mailing or emailing his wife, approaching her in public, confronting her at work, or appearing at her home.

“This is exactly how the process is designed to work,” said Kalkaska County Attorney Ryan Ziegler.

UN Women, the United Nations entity focused on gender equality, calls the rise in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic “The Shadow Pandemic,” with incidences on the rise around the world.

A study from the University of Michigan found that while domestic violence reports in the state did not increase significantly during this period, the severity of the abuse did.

Officials are also seeing an increase in the use of personal protection orders.

A civil court tool

“PPOs are very much a civil matter,” Ziegler said, “cases that haven’t turned into criminal charges, but where someone clearly needs protection. PPOs fill that void.”

Officials like Ziegler say there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about PPOs, what they are for, how long they last, how well they work and how easy, or challenging, they are to acquire.

For example, Michigan county prosecutors do not enforce PPOs; that is the responsibility of the police and, perhaps most surprisingly, of the person who filed the petition.

That’s because while they are the ones in potential danger, they are also the ones most likely to witness violations.

Carl Mormann, a former police officer and current director of advocacy for the Women’s Resource Center, has been working to educate the public and WRC clients about PPOs as a tool to stop and prevent domestic violence.

Not everyone looking for a PPO can afford to hire a lawyer, Mormann said, and a petitioner may feel like the court is intimidating, not be familiar with the process, where to get the right forms, or know what information will be helpful to a judge. .

This sense of confusion can be exacerbated by the stress of a breakup, potential divorce proceedings, and child custody issues.

“They go into a lot of detail about the relationship that is irrelevant to a PPO,” Mormann said. “It’s very important to them. They feel the need to explain it in great detail, whereas in reality the court doesn’t want to read a book. The court wants the facts.”

The role of the judge

A judge will also look at whether the petitioner has documented recent and specific allegations of threats, harassment or violence, said retired 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power.

Power, who was first elected in 1993 and retired last year, said he sees PPOs as an effective tool, though they carry the risk of being applied unfairly.

“Originally, it was thought that this was just a piece of paper, it wouldn’t mean anything, it wouldn’t make any difference,” Power said. “But actually, I think it’s been very effective. You have a warrant signed by a judge, there’s a knock on the door, and it’s answered by a uniformed sheriff with a badge and a gun.”

These displays of authority convey a necessary seriousness, although ex parte petitions, such as the one filed in the VanOchten case, require a judge to basically take the petitioner at his word that the allegations are true.

“As a judge, one side presents you with a statement,” Power said. “You don’t have any way to prove veracity. You don’t listen to the other side because hypothetically it’s an emergency that needs immediate action.”

A judge may issue the order, as Judge Buday did, may deny the petition, or may request a hearing, in which case it is likely that there will be a few days in which the petitioner may be harmed.

Power said these decisions weigh heavily on judges who understand their gravity.

“It’s risky to issue an order against someone without even allowing them a say in what happened,” Power said. “On the other hand, if it sounds really terrible and you don’t issue that order, you don’t protect someone and something bad happens… It’s a very difficult thing for the judge.”

This is exactly what happened in County Roscommon last summer.

when things go wrong

Tirany Savage, 35, of Houghton Lake, on June 24, 2022, petitioned the court for a PPO against her husband, Bo Savage, 35, court records show, stating that he was threatening to kill or injure her, had threatened to commit suicide and recently purchased a firearm

The petition was denied by 34th Circuit Court Judge Troy B. Daniels, who said there was insufficient evidence of immediate danger and that Tirany Savage could seek a restraining order as part of her divorce case.

Two weeks later, county police were called to the couple’s home to find Tirany Savage, her teenage son, her mother, and Bo Savage dead of gunshot wounds. Calling the deaths a murder-suicide, police confirmed that the gun had belonged to Bo Savage and that he had purchased it legally.

Cases like this give judges, police officers and prosecutors nightmares, Ziegler said.

Ziegler, who was appointed prosecutor in 2021, said a grant was paid at one point for staff at the Women’s Resource Center to be in his office part-time, helping residents with court matters, such as filling out applications. of PPO.

When the grant ended, Ziegler and his staff took over. Mormann said he and the WRC staff offer this same service in Traverse City and will even draft the petition and file it with the court on the client’s behalf.

If a judge signs the petition, the defendant is promptly served and if everyone obeys the law, the PPO can be allowed to lapse after one year or whatever term the judge has applied, and that is the end of the process.

However, that is not how it always works.

The VanOchten case

Less than two weeks after a judge signed his PPO, VanOchten’s wife came home from work to find his truck in the driveway and VanOchten inside the house. She called the sheriff’s office, VanOchten was still there when deputies arrived, and there was a copy of the PPO on the dining room table.

An arrest report indicates that the officer read the PPO out loud before taking VanOchten into custody.

Kalkaska County Sheriff Dave Wagner said this is a good example of how a PPO has power.

“Yes, it’s just a piece of paper, but if the protected party is contacted, we can arrest them,” Wagner said. “We don’t have to go through the process of getting a court order.”

Federal agents later charged VanOchten with possession of unregistered destructive devices (pipe bombs), indicted him in federal court, and sought to revoke his bond.

A judge disagreed, US Attorney Mark Totten’s office vowed to appeal, and on Friday VanOchten’s attorney, Sean Tilton, filed a motion requesting that his client’s bond be revoked.

A judge agreed and VanOchten turned himself in Saturday at the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office in White Cloud, court records show.

civil representation

It was the Public Ministry that set this chain of events in motion. VanOcten’s wife testified in court documents that her husband had gone “radical.”

Advocates say they have seen a correlation between extremist views and domestic violence. Among them is Traverse City attorney Mary Kavanaugh.

Kavanaugh works for Legal Services of Northern Michigan, a nonprofit organization with offices in Traverse City, Alpena and Gaylord, whose attorneys are knowledgeable in family law and provide civil services to low-income and senior citizens.

“Most of our customers come to us with them already in hand,” Kavanaugh said of PPOs. “It is when the opposing party files a motion to terminate that we will represent our client. We will step in and defend the PPO.”

Petitioners may be surprised to learn that a judge cannot automatically grant their petition, but they do have the option of holding a hearing where the respondent, the person served, can argue against the petition, as is their right. .

Civil court does not provide a court-appointed attorney like criminal courts do, leaving low-income people to fend for themselves, if not organizations like Legal Services of Northern Michigan.

Kavanaugh echoed Ziegler, Wagner and Mormann’s observations that PPO applications are increasing in the region.

“During COVID, DV (domestic violence) cases skyrocketed, and after the pandemic, they haven’t gone back,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s on an upward trend, that’s for sure.”

Kavanaugh said the “kickback” resulting from calling the police about a domestic violence incident is so severe that many of her clients simply don’t make that call.

“But they have other ways, like a PPO, to keep themselves safe, for themselves and their children,” Kavanaugh said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *