Not a 'useless' piece of paper: While imperfect, advocates say protection orders can save lives

Posted at 6:16 PM, Mar 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-10 18:16:38-05

An 8-week old girl is now growing up without a mother, after she was gunned down in a domestic violence dispute.

News 5 has learned she found out she filed for a temporary protection order against the man who eventually killed her, but it never went into effect.

It turns out, many victims never complete the process. As for why, there are several reasons, but a big one is fear. Now, there is a push to make changes to the current system to help victims feel safer.

Kaitlyn Carroll-Peak, 22, never followed through with her court protection order. Authorities say domestic violence played a role in the Mansfield women's murder on March 8. They allege her boyfriend pulled the trigger. Dakota Steagall, 20, later shot himself.

"Whether it's safety, whether it's the legal process, it happens quite frequently," said Megan Gergen, a justice system advocate for the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland.

Peak's case was dismissed back in the spring of 2015 after she did not appear in court.

"There are a lot of reasons victims don't show up,” said Linda Johanek of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center.

A flawed system

Johanek said Peak's tragic death, at the hands of her boyfriend, highlights serious issues within the system.

"The current way we're set up sets victims up to fail," said Johanek.

The majority of the time victims have to act as their own attorney and convince the judge they are in a dangerous situation.

"So we know these things are happening, but how do you prove that in a court system? How do you submit evidence? How do you call witnesses?" Megan Gergen

Gergen is a justice system advocate who helps guide people through the process, but she can't provide any legal advice.

"I would like to see people have access to legal services," said Gergen.

Simply scared

While alleviating that pressure might help more victims complete the process, the other big concern is safety.

"We have them check in in two separate areas and then we have a safe waiting area for everybody who comes in," said Monica Christofferson, Cuyahoga Domestic Violence Dept. Director.

However, victims are still required to appear before a judge, standing feet away from their alleged abusers.

"It would be best practice if the victim doesn't even have to show up in court for her own safety," said Johanek.

Johanek is proposing a closed circuit television system, so victims could appear from another undisclosed location.

"The logistics--and always money--is really a difficulty in setting up a full new process like that," said Christofferson.

Useless or life-saving?

Nevertheless, it is still something the Cuyahoga County Domestic Violence Court director says they can support moving forward.

"No, the system is not easy, but our job as a court is to make sure that you still have access to it, you know what's going on," said Christofferson.

To address safety concerns the Domestic Violence Court recently added security cameras in all waiting areas and hearing locations along with the hallways.

In addition, a grant helped pay for two in-take specialists to guide victims on how to complete the protection order process.

For critics who say protection orders are a useless piece of paper, statistics show 75 percent of victims who got one say the violence directed at them either stopped or was reduced.