Domestic Violence Prevention Advocates: Paterson Report Shows Common NYPD Mistakes

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Domestic violence prevention advocates say the recent inquiry into Gov. David Paterson's handling of a domestic violence dispute involving his aide David Johnson highlights common mistakes New York City police officers make when investigating domestic violence cases. 

According to the report by former state chief judge Judith Kaye, police officers told the victim Sherr-una Booker that Johnson could not be arrested for assault because they did not observe "visible injuries" from the alleged choking.

But domestic violence lawyers says if that's true, the officers misinterpreted state law, which requires an arrest for assault if the choker caused non-visible physical injuries. "They should be asking the victim of a strangulation attack if her throat is sore, if her voice is impaired, if her neck is hurting, if she's dizzy or feels any lasting effects of the attack." says Jane Manning, a former domestic violence prosecutor and the current New York City chapter president of National Organization for Women.

The report did state that Booker told friends her voice was strained after the alleged attack. Manning says this case highlights the need to better train police officers about the range of arrestable offenses in a domestic violence case.

Dorchen Leidholdt, a lawyer who represents battered women at Sanctuary for Families, a shelter for domestic violence victims agrees that officers need better training. Leidholdt says even if there wasn't sufficient evidence to arrest Johnson for assault that night, they could have arrested him for the crimes of "criminal mischief" and "menacing" -- since he allegedly choked Booker, threw her against furniture and ripped off her clothing. Menacing occurs when a defendant places a victim in fear of physical injury. A defendant commits criminal mischief if he damages property, and in this case, Leidholdt points out, Johnson allegedly tore Booker's Halloween costume.

"The training is inadequate," says Leidholdt. "These officers really did not carry out the mandates of New York State mandatory arrest law." She says victims in New York City are too often sent to pursue protective orders in Family Court instead of seeing their attackers arrested. This places the burden on victims to get the legal system involved, and many are too intimidated to actively proceed with their cases.

In a statement, Police Comissioner Raymond Kelly says the department will review the contents of the report and, "Examine deficiencies in patrol's initial [sic] response to the incident."