The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Paula Walters spent more than a decade battling health problems before doctors diagnosed the traumatic brain injury resulting from a 2006 night when she was strangled by her abuser.
She stood up in front of a recent meeting of the Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee begging the members not to stand down from calls to enhance punishment for strangulation as part of House Bill 3, a domestic violence law passed by the House and now in consideration by the Senate.
“He used a silent weapon called strangulation, that leaves invisible, lifelong injuries,” Walters said.
A former paramedic, Walters vividly remembers her abuser’s hands around her neck, and she also knows the picture shown to law enforcement didn’t show the lacerations she would find out much later were a part of her injuries.
If she hadn’t had more outward injuries shown in the picture, Walters’ attacker may not have received even the year of probation given to him through a plea deal on a charge of attempted aggravated menacing.
But after 2006, Walters spent her life being medically tested and receiving dozens of diagnoses, before an evasive week of tests finally landed on the true cause: a traumatic brain injury brought on by strangulation.
“I spent 2 hours a day rebuilding my brain and working it so I could stand here as I am today, appearing normal,” Walters said.
The bill Walter came to support is named Aisha’s Law, after Aisha Fraser, who died after former common pleas judge and state legislator Lance Mason stabbed her more than 50 times as she dropped off their children for their scheduled visitation.
Mason had previously served time for biting, choking and punching Fraser, but a plea deal led to only a nine-month sentence. After her death, police found multiple weapons and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition in his home. He was sentenced to life in prison for Fraser’s murder, with the possibility of parole after 35 years.
Aisha’s Law, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, would expand aggravated murder charges to include domestic violence circumstances.
Walters and the other person who testified during the Senate committee meeting, both want strangulation to be a part of the circumstances that lead to bigger punishments as part of the bill.
Det. Sgt. Todd Curtis, of the Perrysburg Twp. Police, said not only do the punishments need to be more sufficient, additional police training beyond the 12 hours given by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy is “essential.”
Curtis said 10% of all homicides in the nation are caused by strangulation, and the charge of felonious assault, which he says strangulation should fall under, is typically more connected to serious physical harm connected to a weapon.
The fact that strangulation has happened in the past should be known to law enforcement so they can be ready for a possibly dangerous situation.
“This potential for severe violence is there and responding officers need to know that when they get there,” Curtis said.
The detective brought up the death of Kirkersville police chief Eric DiSario as one life that could have been saved with better domestic violence laws.
DiSario was killed after less than a month on the job when Thomas Hartless entered the Pine Kirk Care Center in May 2017 and shot him, along with Hartless’ ex-girlfriend Marlina Medrano and nurse aid Cindy Krantz.
Hartless had previously been sentenced to 90 days in jail for domestic violence charges. He served three weeks.
“Those domestic violences included kicking, stomping, beating and strangling his victim,” Curtis told the committee. “He served 21 days, he got out, and he went to the nursing home she worked for, he killed her, he killed her friend, and he killed the chief by ambush.”
Amendments made to the bill during the recent Senate Judiciary Committee meeting slightly changed some of the elements of the bill.
Chair of the committee, state Sen. John Eklund, R-Munson Township, said under the amendments, emergency protection orders can be orally requested if a survivor does not have the means to contact a lawyer, and law enforcement don’t need to officially “serve” someone with an emergency protection order. Rather, they can informally provide a copy of the EPO or simply inform the person of the order.
If a survivor is unable to consent to an EPO due to medical reasons or other incapacitation, law enforcement will be able to request the order on the person’s behalf, and a judge must consider the survivor’s inability to consent, according to changes to the bill.
Police do not, however, have to enter an EPO into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS) due to the amount of time it takes to register in the system, and a petitioner for a denied EPO can not ask another judge to reconsider the same case, Eklund said of the amendments to the bill.