November 30, 2011

Domestic violence report shows safety net weak spots

Officers detail failures, make some recommendations

Amy Bagley Lake knew her husband was dangerous, so she did everything possible to protect herself and her two children.

If more legal protection had been in place, however, their lives may have been saved.

This is one conclusion drawn from four former and current police officers in a recently released report. The men, who were all volunteers and had no connection to the shootings, spent the last several months interviewing 69 family members, friends, co-workers and experts about the triple homicide and suicide in Dexter this summer in order to suggest ways to prevent future tragedies.

"We knew the system had failed," said Brian Gagan, a former Westbrook and Scarborough police officer, who helped research the report. "We did not know how."

The report makes clear that Steven Lake, 37, of Wellington, was the only person responsible for shooting Amy Lake, 38, and their two children, Coty, 13, and Monica Lake, 12, on June 13 at their home in Dexter. But it points to several ways that the general public, police, bail commissioners, prosecutors and judges could have toughened restrictions on Steven Lake and possibly prevented the killings.

The report listed improvements that may prevent future domestic violence homicides:

* Protection from abuse orders and bail conditions should mandate disclosure of all firearms accessible by the domestic violence offender. Firearms should be kept at police stations, not by family members and friends.

* An offender who seeks, hides, uses or attempts to acquire a gun or ammunition when a protection from abuse order is in place should be charged with a felony and not allowed bail.

* Bail amounts should be high enough to deter an abuser from violating a protection order.

* When a protection from abuse order violation involves a deadly threat, a judge should set bail rather than a bail commissioner.

* The courts should establish that murder does not prevent divorce. If a spouse who was seeking a divorce is killed, the divorce should be granted posthumously.

* Global positioning systems should track abusers during the period of a protection from abuse order when the incident involves a deadly threat or evidence of a weapon.

* A minimum of two officers should be sent to all domestic violence calls when officers suspect violence is likely.

* Use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter should be minimized or eliminated by people involved in a conflict in order to prevent intimidation.

* At-risk spouses should be advised to live in as secure an environment as possible, with deadbolts on doors, secured windows, motion sensor lights and a land telephone line.

* People charged with domestic violence crimes should not wait more than a year to go to trial.

"The community of Maine in general and Dexter, Harmony and Wellington in specific had their hearts broken on June 13, 2011, and may never be the same. But in respect to Steven, Amy, Coty, and Monica, it is vital that what is written in this report as the result of our exhaustive efforts become the first of its kind 'road map' to stopping this Maine (domestic violence homicide) problem in its tracks," the report states.

The research group pieced together the events that preceded the killings. It shows the deterioration of Amy and Steven Lake's relationship as gradual, though there were some significant indicators.

When Steven Lake's daughter was first learning to walk, people said he got joy from tripping her and often flicked her in the face to make her cry. When she was older, she ducked down in the car whenever seeing an approaching Jeep or truck like her father's.

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