The Journey of Brittany’s Law

Imagine being a mother and receiving the phone call that your daughter and grand-daughter were deceased. Then think how shocked and numb you would feel to discover that they had been murdered at the hands of a domestic partner. Far too frequently we hear of domestic violence and the tragedies that occur as a result. I interviewed Dale Driscoll, the mother who this happened to, about the journey of trying to get legislation for a violent registry passed.

Dale Driscoll is a mother that has suffered an unimaginable tragedy — the loss of her daughter and grand daughter. Somehow through the grief process, she found the strength and courage to write a book titled “Brittany’s Law-The Quest for Justice”. That was in 2009 and the idea of the book was for the violent offender registry that Dale envisioned to become a reality. The book was co-written with Michael Pealo, a novelist and screenwriter of Canandaigua (Dale Driscoll). Dale Driscoll has been advocating for this legislation to be passed since 2009, while domestic violence remains a pervasive problem both here in the states and worldwide.

Dale told me the harrowing story of how her daughter Helen and her grand daughter Brittany were stabbed to death by then Helen’s boyfriend, John Brown. Dale said while the family knew Brown was a convicted felon who had been paroled just months prior to the murder taking place, they did not have the complete story.

In 2003, Brown was convicted of assault for causing severe injuries to his seven-week-old daughter, whom he threw into a wall. He was released early from prison in June 2006 after serving two years of a three-year sentence (Dale Driscoll). Brown had told Helen when they first met that he had been in a bar-room brawl, and the NYS Department of Corrections web-site had Brown’s crime listed as assault in the 2nd degree, which was perfectly tailored for the lie he told Helen.

Brown was so charming and kind to Helen, that no red flags went off for her in the first phase of the realtionship, and she fell deeper in love with him. He then moved in with her and her underage children. One ominous day, as Helen attempted to end the relationship with Brown, he snapped, lost all control, and took her life. As Brittany courageously tried to help her mother, he took her life too.

Dale’s proposed legislation, sponsored by Senator Michale Nozzolio, Republican in District 54, NY, would create a registry of convicted felons that would be accessible to the public.

“All we need now for the violent offender registry to become a reality is for the state Assembly to adopt Brittany’s Law,” Nozzolio said. “New York state currently requires all convicted sex offenders to register with the state and keeps track of those individuals. It makes no sense that we do not do the same for those who commit violent felony crimes against our citizens”(Finger Lake Times 2013).

As for Brittany’s Law, while the Senate passed the bill by wide margins in 2011 and ’12, it has never made it out of committee in the Assembly. Dale told me that assemblyman Weprins office said he had a problem with the already exisiting Sex Offender Registry. The objection most have with the legislation is that once on the registry a person would never come off. The law failed to pass again on January 30, 2018 and is stalled yet again in the assembly.That makes a total of six times that the Senate passed Brittany’s Law, and six times the Assembly Committee failed to pass it. It also makes it the seventh consecutive year that it hasn’t been passed. Dale is understandably dissapointed and also frustrated that almost a decade later the Assembly hasn’t budged in it’s stance.

Brittany’s Law would require everyone convicted of a violent felony to register with the state Department of Criminal Justice Services upon release from prison. If enacted, the registry would be found on the department’s website. Nozzolio said it would be similar to the state registry for sex offenders known as Megan’s Law (Finger Lakes, 2013).Unfortuantely Senator Nozzolio retired two years ago. According to Dale, when he was asked what he wanted before leaving office, he said only that Brittany’s Law gets passed.

Dale also shared that they have the full backing of the NYS Sheriffs Association including the of endorsement Sherrif Virts, who has been a huge advocate for Brittany’s Law. He even came to Albany last year to speak at the Senate Republican News Conference that was held by the NY Senate in Albany. Senator Catherine Young held the press conference at which Sheriff Virts spoke on behalf of the states N.Y. Sheriffs Association. “We will make this a priority to get this passed and I have committed to Dale Driscoll to help however we can. We need to support families, we have the power of knowledge to protect people, let’s use it.” Dale shared that Sherrif Virts is also having the Association get a letter together stating their support of Brittany’s Law and then sending it to the Senate Assembly, NY Senate, and Governor Cuomo.

Dale spoke at the press conference expressing her concern for the fact that some members of the NY State Collation Against Domestic Violence are misinforming others about the real mission of Brittany’s Law. Dale feels the coalition is misrepresenting the truth by saying the pending Registry will put the vitcim in fear of retaliation, and will also give people a false sense of security. Addressing the first claim, Dale said that victims of domestic violence already live in constant fear, and that she feels the second statement is insulting to victims.

NYUp.Com wrote in 2016 that “Tuesday, the Senate passed Brittany’s Law again in a 50 to 11 vote. Once more Brittany Passalacqua’s grandmother rode the grief roller coaster in regard to false hope. That finally, the stabbing deaths of the 12-year-old girl and her mother, Helen Buchel, will be less in vain, in that there would be a law protecting others from domestic violence.” “Driscoll said she was shocked that year when the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence came out in opposition to Brittany’s Law for the first time.”

On it’s website, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence attempted to persuade New Yorkers to “tell their senators not to support Brittany’s Law” It explained that it is does not support these types of registries for several reasons: They are of the school of thought that potential victims may let their guard down, thus opening them up to being targeted again. The coalition also feels that the perpetrators themselves are put in a vulnerable risky position that can result in in dire situations. Lastly, the coalition feels that people of color are unintentionally divided in the outcome.

A spokesman for the Assembly’s Democratic majority said that the Assembly’s goal is also to protect victims of domestic violence “But these registries do nothing to prevent crime and are generally counterproductive to public safety because they make ex-offenders less stable by making it harder to find things like housing and employment,” said Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Speaker Carl Heastie (NewYorkUpstate.com 2016)

Dale Driscoll said she is cognizant of the fact that the registry would not protect everyone. She feels that there is a high probability that the registry could keep some as of yet unrevealed victims safe. Thereby not having to suffer years of trauma and grief as in the instance of her family. She said the registry would not identify domestic violence victims by name, so there is undue concern for privacy.

Dale explained to me and to those that attended the press conference, that the registry would be different from the Sex Offender one in that it would not be lifelong. Whomever sponsored the Bill would create a panel of five to determine level status of the violent offender. The five member board created would determine that level status based on the severity of the violent offense. After that was determined, level one and two offenders are then registered for ten years. Level three would be a minium of ten years, and then until the court deems them no longer a threat.

At the same press conference, Senator Seward who is co-sponsoring the bill said that “NYS has a registry for sexual offenders, terrorists, and even animal abusers.” She expressed the need for the state to have a Violent Offenders Registry too and also doesn’t understand why it’s stalled in the Assembly Majority. Senator Brian Kolb said at the press conference “It’s outrageous, ludicrous, and irresponsible that the bill isn’t passed yet. The assembly Majority has not done it’s job. Every year the assembly majority creates a package, and they have yet to take up Brittany’s Law.” The package is nothing more than “eye wash” according to Kolb. Kolb said other than saying the proposal of the law isn’t germaine, the Assembly Majority won’t say why they don’t support it. Kolb wants the Assembly Majority to speak specifically to what it is about Brittany’s Law that they don’t like other than, “we don’t like registries.” In addition, he would like them to explain what parts they don’t support so the legislation can be improved to satisfy all parties. Unfortunately, this had led to the the important potential life saving bill becoming a Partisan issue.

According to the Center for Family of Justice statistics, “A person is abused in the United States every nine seconds. More than Fifteen Million children witness domestic violence each year in the United States. On average, three women are killed by a former or current intimate partner each day in the United States. Domestic violence costs more than 37 Billion dollars a year in police involvement, legal work, medical and mental health treatment, and lost productivity on the job “(2018).

In April of this year, NY Legislation was passed by Governor Cuomo that prohibits convicted domestic abusers from purchasing and owning all guns. The legislation requires convicted domestic abusers to surrender all firearms. “This effectively closes a loophole in previous legislation that required abusers to surrender only handguns. In addition, New York law previously stated that domestic abusers convicted of a felony or a “serious” offense were prohibited from owning guns. The new measure also adds some assault and battery charges to the list of applicable “serious” offenses”(Huffington Post, 2018).

One of the biggest proponents of Brittany’s Law, Rep Brian Kolb, has a weekly column on Twitter about Domestic Violent Solutions.

Contrastly, in the U.K. there is a law referred to as Claire’s Law officially titled The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. The purpose of Clare’s Law is to give you a way to make enquiries about your partner if you are worried that they may have been abusive in the past. It also allows you to enquire about an ex-partner, if you are concerned about your safety after the relationship has ended. It was created after Clare Wood was killed in 2009 by an ex-partner(Sussex Police).

In other International news about domestic violence protection, three months ago in London, victim support groups were rallying in a protest calling for MPs to back a law giving the police powers to disclose convictions of violent offenders if they start a relationship. The new law would allow police to take proactive steps to determine whether a serious offender has a new partner. Thereby giving the police the authority to inform new partner of any previous convictions. The idea to spearhead the action comes after the jailing of serial killer Theodore Johnson, age 64. He had strangled and battered his ex-girlfriend, Angela Best, 51. He was sentenced to life with a minimum of 26 years (Guardian, 2018).

Under the new prospective law that Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts hopes to enact through an amendment to the government’s domestic violence bill, the following would be put in place: As part of their duty and job responsibilities, police would be bound to create a database. The database would house the convictions and cautions of anyone found guilty of offenses. Specifically, the data would pertain to manslaughter, murder, rape or repeated instances of domestic violence or coercive control.(Guardian 2018). Officers could randomly show up at an offenders residence. If it was then discovered that they had failed to inform the authorities they were in a new relationship, they would then face additional prison time. At which point, the Police would then be within the law to inform the woman of a new partner’s convictions. This is different from Clares Law in that the woman wouldn’t have to do the asking (Guardian, 2018).

In 2016, according to most timely data, 113 women were killed by men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland . In addition, 90% knew their killer, according to the latest Femicide Census. The British Crime Survey estimates 1.3 million women suffered domestic abuse 2016. Conversely, in the same time frame, there were just over 100,000 domestic abuse prosecutions (Guardian, 2018).

During National Gun Violence Awareness Day the stats highlight that gun violence is primarily a womans issue, citing very sobering numbers: “The amount of people killed by firearms annually in the U.S. by intimate partners is Seven-Hundred and Sixty. Eighty percent of those people killed by firearms annually in the U.S. by intimate partners are women. American women are Eleven times more likely to be murdered with a firearm than women in any other developed nation “ (HuffPost, 2017).

Dale Driscoll recently reached out to Assemblyman Makeley of N.Y. to request he help get Brittany’s Law passed. His response is below.

Another group affected by domestic violence are the future of the nation, children. Children who witness domestic violence or are survivors of abuse themselves are at serious risk for long-term physical and mental health problems. That leads to a lower functioning less stable society of adults, and more often than not the cycle of abuse continues.

I interviewed Alexis Moore, author of the book “Surviving A Cyberstalker” who had the following to say about the possible database/registry Dale envisions: “The domestic violence database is far better than doing nothing, and it is a wonderful starting point for addresing the issue of homicide prevention, which is so desperately needed in NYS and across the nation. Domestic violence far too often means life or death for millions of men, women, and children and even for law enforcement responding to calls for service. This database and efforts focusing on homicide prevention are long over due.”

Alexis also wanted to caution folks that the database should only be used as a guidepost, as unfortunately many abusers are ultimately not convicted of domestic violence , instead accepting plea bargains and convictions for other crimes such as assault or battery. That results in many abusers not getting formally charged with domestic violence, which is more difficult to track. That’s why it becomes equally as important on the victims part in honing in on their instincts and acting on them, rather than soley trusting the database (Alexis Moore).

“As a survivor turned attorney-advocate, I can say there is not a day I wake up not thinking of those lost to domestic violence and stalking homicide, these souls will never have a second chance at life. That is why I do what I do and encourage those who have lost loved ones, family members, co-workers to domestic violence and stalking homicide to continue to speak out honoring those lost by joining me and others pursuing homicide prevention efforts and fighting for positive social-changes for all victims. No one should have to live or work in fear”
www.alexismoore.com is her web site and has a wealth of resources for those whose lives are in great distress due to stalking, violence, and other forms of protection.

On this past Mother’s Day, a woman named Melissa Matthews made a formal announcement on Facebook about Dale Driscoll. When I spoke with her briefly, Melissa Matthews shared how she founded Meljourne.Com, which is a foundation that strives to recognize and celebrate women who have transformed tragedy into positive, purpose driven missions. Melissa herself survived a car crash that no one should have walked away from intact, let alone have ever been able to become a contributing member of society again. Her story and what she is trying to do through the company’s first product line — Meljourne Women — has also been published by numerous ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX news affiliates around the country, and she made Google’s top stories list in December (Melissa Matthew, 2018).

We are so excited to introduce our next Meljourne Woman: Dale Driscoll! Her

story is one of unimaginable tragedy — But it is also the story of a mother and

grandmother whose awe-inspiring courage, determination, hope, and love

transformed the most unbearable pain into an extraordinary, life-saving

purpose.

Dale hopes that being recognized by Meljourne Women will lead to additional press for her story, which could then in turn possibly help Brittanys Law move through the Assembly and on to Governor Cuomo’s desk for a signature.

Domestic violence is currently on the rise, an example of that is California. In San Diego alone last year, there were 17,000 domestic violence incidents reported. That equates to a four percent increase from the prior year (San Diego Association of Governments). In San Diego, the District Attorney’s Family Protection Divisions has twenty one pending murder cases, Eleven of which involve the murder of an intimate partner.(San Diego Association of Governments).

‘The District Attorney’s Office is now using $30,000 from California Office of Emergency Services grant to purchase 35 cameras to help officers investigating Domestic Violence better document injuries to victims”(Times of San Diego).

Coincidentally, The Finger Lakes Times published an article on May 22, about another senseless domestic violence death, this time of a three year old.

The three year old was killed after being repeatedly abused by his biological mother Alison Bovio and his step father. His Step-Father Donald Bovio was in jail in Massachusettes for a Domestic Violence conviction. He was to have been released in June, but got granted early parole by a Judge in March. That in turn enabled him to leave the state and he relocated to New York (FingerLakes.Com).

Josh Durso, the author of the article expressed his convictions that it’s time to take preventive action and put measures in place to prevent more domestic violence deaths. Durso expressed that he thought a Violent Registry would be a good starting point. He wrote, “Much like the one advocated by Dale Driscoll. Brittany’s Law has been meandering around the legislative chambers of Albany for years and still has not made it to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk for a signature” (The Finger Lake Times).

Durso acknowledged that even then, there would be no way to be positive that that type of registry would have helped, but he did say “It would provide a chance at preventing those who have proven violent from continuing that violence” (The Finger Lake Times).

That is the reason that Dale Driscoll ended up collaborating with elected officials to enact Brittany’s Law in the first place, to avoid tragedies like this.

For the last six months in Washington State, there is another family member pushing for a Violent Registry, only he wants it to be the rule of law in all of America. Don Estes is the Uncle of Tina Stewart. Last year Tina was killed at the hands of her boyfriend (NBC).

Estes has made it his mission to contact and speak directly with every Lieutenant Governor in all fifty states. “ He’s received multiple responses and even some states willing to adopt Tina’s Law, like Pennsylvania”(NBC).

The NYS Assembly Majority did pass legislation to support and protect victims of domestic violence this May. Carl E. Heastie made the news release and the @NYSA_Majority posted in the press file on their Twitter Account:

On May 8, 2018, the NYS Assembly passed legislation to support and protect survivors of domestic violence.

Assembly Passes Legislative Package to
Support & Protect Survivors of Domestic Violence

The details are in the press release for those wanting to read it: //www.assembly.state.ny.us/Press/files/20180508.php

While the aformentioned legislation is a start, it doesn’t take the preventive measures that Brittany’s Law would if that legislation were passed.

There is a great need for the Brittany’s Law bill to be enacted. It’s difficult to acknowledge that there is such anger and violence in the world and that it is mostly directed at women. Even Eric T. Schneiderman, who was the General Attorney for New York, just had to resign for domestic abuse allegations stemming from years. He is generally not the type of person anyone would peg for a violent offender of women. Quite the opposite in fact that his credentials as an advocate for women, in particular, were admired and encouraged. For many years, his office has published a “Know Your Rights” brochure for victims of domestic violence. “We must recognize that our work keeping New Yorkers safe from domestic violence is far from over,” Mr. Schneiderman said in the announcement for the 2016 brochure(New York Times, 2018).

This drives home the fact that no one is immune to domestic violence even when prestige and social status are taken into account. This also only makes the need for the Registry that Dale has envisioned even more crucial. Under no circumstances should party lines apply in instances of domestic violence and measures that get put in place to help the victims. What also needs to be explored is better access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse services and what is contributing to this extreme level of violence in the perpetrators.

There is an obvious need for Domestic violence measures to be put in place as the examples of stateside and worldwide locations illustrate. It’s very unclear why Brittany’s Law is stalled in the Committee on Corrections in the New York State Assembly, despite being passed by the Senate every time. This writer reached out to Assemblyman Weprin and spoke with his Assistant requesting a call back to talk about why he keeps stalling the bill in the Assembly. Unfortunately, no call back was ever received.

Dale Driscoll remains in touch with the N.Y. Senate members who have advocated so tirelessely on her behalf to get Brittany’s law passed. Many New York Senate members have expresed that they will stand by Dale and friends for as long it takes as they have been with her from the beginning of this journey. Dale Driscoll has spent nine years solely devoted to advocating for Brittany’s Law to be passed. As Misogamy becomes more mainstream and more men are gaining exposure for their actions because they seem to feel women are property more so than a separate entity, the pressing need for this type of legislation to pass is even more critical. Literally, lives could potentially be saved if the NYSA passes Brittany’s Law.

Committe Member in Ward 5 PA; Endorsed by by PA ALF-CIO #AutismMom #IAmWriting #LCSW #ResistanceWarrior #ADHD #ClimateActionNow

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