Tags Posts tagged with "Domestic Violence"

Domestic Violence

Nick Caracappa during a debate at the TBR News Media offices. Photo by Julianne Mosher

On March 4, acting State Supreme Court Justice John Iliou accepted a motion to dismiss criminal charges against Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) in a domestic violence case.

Caracappa, who took over as majority leader of the county Legislature this year and is the son of the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa, remains under an order of protection for an additional 12 months, after which all charges will be dropped if he obeys the order and stays out of legal trouble.

After newly elected county District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) recused himself from the case, Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly’s office became special prosecutor in January.    

The verdict outraged a vocal group of dissenters, who held a demonstration at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge on March 8, International Women’s Day, calling for Caracappa’s resignation and for greater transparency into the matter.

“The idea that a legislator, who is supposed to create laws to make life better for everyone here, can have such crimes accused of him, and not only keep his job but get promoted, is sickening,” said Leanne Barde, one of the speakers at the event. “Even now, despite whatever deal he has in court, he has not been vindicated.”

Interview with Caracappa

TBR News Media interviewed Caracappa for this story. His ex-wife, whose name is kept anonymous in various reports, is not identified and therefore could not be reached for an interview. TBR News Media would welcome such an interview. Caracappa said he agreed to be interviewed because there are numerous false reports circulating around his private life and asked for his side to be heard.

According to Caracappa, some of his detractors are “professional agitators” who sling mud and stir up controversy for partisan ends. Social media posts obtained by TBR News Media from Caracappa indicate that a coordinated online campaign was launched against him before his reelection bid in 2021. In one such post, Caracappa was referred to as a “convicted criminal abuser who thinks strangling women and possibly buying their silence with a job at the taxpayer expense is justice.”

Caracappa said that the individuals targeting him both online and in the press do not live in his district, do not know him personally and are not familiar with the details of his case. According to him, a careful examination of the timeline of events, spanning from October to December of 2020, would indicate that he was falsely accused.

Caracappa said that his first campaign fundraiser was held on Oct. 14, 2020. Two days later, he received a phone call that his then-wife was having an affair. He confronted her, repeating several times that there was “no violence” during this confrontation. From this incident there precipitated a divorce between the two which was finalized last year.

Caracappa claimed that he and his ex-wife had lived together for two decades without a single accusation of domestic violence made against him. He said the first time police intervened was in November 2020, after he had reported to the police a physical and verbal altercation involving his ex-wife and one of their children.

“I’m with her for 20 years in that house, married 15, and there was never one call to the police on a domestic incident — never once until I made the first call,” Caracappa said. “Now if I had anything to hide, if I was an abuser, would I call the police to my house? Would anybody in their right mind do that?”

According to Caracappa, he served his ex-wife with an order of protection due to the initial incident. He said that approximately three weeks later, his ex-wife retaliated by serving him with her own order of protection on false pretenses.

Caracappa said an alleged assault against his ex-wife would have been nonsensical as he knew he was already under a restraining order.

“Even if I was an abuser, would I abuse someone when I have an order of protection against me?” he said.

Caracappa said he was shocked when police arrested him in December of that year. He contended that his accuser weaponized false allegations against him in an attempt to win more favorable terms in their divorce.

“The timelines don’t add up,” he said. “The statement that was made to the police, being repeated over and over, that I grabbed her throat and that I said this guy [the ex-wife’s alleged partner] is a scumbag and ‘you’re not gonna get half my stuff’ — this is December.” Caracappa added, “I had already been to the [divorce] attorneys, I knew exactly what she was getting and I wasn’t arguing with what she was getting.”

He said that the divorce proceedings were already several weeks underway before any accusation of assault was ever reported to the police. He also suggested that he would not have been granted custody of his daughters if he were abusive toward women.

“I found out [about the alleged affair] on Oct. 16,” he said. “Look at the timeline of events from the order of protections and who did it first. Then I get elected to office and already know what the [divorce] settlements are going to be. Then on Dec. 8 I randomly just do an act of violence on her after 20 years of nothing? She was afraid of losing my daughters, which she did.”

Investigation welcomed

Caracappa said that from the beginning he has welcomed investigators to review the facts. He expressed frustration at the repeated delays and adjournments to his case begun by former Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), as Caracappa believed the case could have been settled immediately by a grand jury.

“I wanted the legal process to resolve this issue,” he said. “That is why we demanded a grand jury at the beginning, adjourned over seven times by the past district attorney. If it was so bad, why didn’t they indict me? That is the most simple question you could ask.”

According to Caracappa, the justice system is in place to determine an individual’s guilt or innocence. He believes his detractors have doubled down in their opposition.

“They’re asking for my resignation,” he said. “Why? Because they didn’t get the answer that they wanted, because justice prevailed.”

Caracappa is asking his critics to make a distinction between victims of domestic violence and victims of false accusations. He said this phenomenon has become commonplace among law enforcement.

“It happens to police officers and law enforcement more often than you could ever imagine,” Caracappa said. “They take their guns, they take their badges and they put them on leave because of a divorce. I’ve gotten so many emails, letters and phone calls — from men and women — who are going through the same thing as I am, falsely accused because of a nasty divorce.”

In recent weeks, Caracappa’s detractors have raised questions surrounding the promotion of his ex-wife to a position at Suffolk Off-Track Betting in return for the dismissal of his charges.

“Recent revelations have been reported that the legislator’s alleged victim, in a flabbergasting coincidence, just happened to receive a taxpayer-funded job, paying almost $50,000 per year, with full benefits and a pension, to work for Suffolk OTB,” said Patty Stoddard of Smithtown, one of the activists present at the demonstration, adding that Suffolk OTB is “a known patronage mill.”

Responding to this accusation, Caracappa said his detractors are searching for underlying motives to support their beliefs.

“It’s not true,” he said. “She’s a Republican, she’s a committeeperson, she’s in the system just like anybody else. She has her own friends in the party.” He added, “But I had to get her that job because it sounds good in their story.”

He criticized his dissenters for belittling the independence of his ex-wife, something he considers self-defeating.

“How do they portray [themselves as] standing up for women, but say she’s incapable of getting her own job, that I must have gotten this job for her?” Caracappa said. “Everything is based on their opinion, assumptions, presumptions. Nothing is factually based.”

Caracappa believes his detractors are disruptive to both his private life and to a functional political discourse. When asked how it feels to have his private life brought into public view, he asked that his critics consider the impact that they have on his family.

“It’s incredibly invasive, it’s hurtful,” he said. “You don’t see anything coming from my family. It’s more hurtful to me to have my kids go through this, to have this stuff printed in the paper and have kids bring it into school and show it to my daughter. My daughter knows the truth.”

Caracappa believes the individuals against him either refuse to confront reality or willingly spread misinformation for partisan gain. He said that these individuals do a disservice to the credible work of civic groups that protect victims of domestic violence.

“I feel bad for those groups that have integrity, that actually fight for women and have a history of protecting real victims,” he said. “Not one of those groups came out because they rely on facts. They’re reputable.”

April Manis with the Long Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Michale Malett’as health class. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Students at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School have been welcoming special guests this month in Michael Maletta’s health classes to cover real-life issues, while taking notes on preventative measures for bad situations.

On Monday, Oct. 18, April Manis, an educator with L.I. Against Domestic Violence, presented a lesson that’s timely and serious for young people — what is and isn’t normal in a relationship.

While Maletta said he’s been hosting guests on a variety of topics over the last two decades, Manis said that there has been a county-wide increase in inquiries from LIADV since the disappearance and murder of Bayport native, Gabby Petito. Petito went missing last month while on a cross-country road trip with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. Last week, her remains were found in Wyoming and Laundrie – who is a person of interest — has not been seen in weeks.

“With the pandemic, we haven’t been doing programs as much in-person — we still have been doing a lot of virtual — but it’s not the same. I love to see the students faces and the participation is so much better in-person,” she said. “I do feel like they get a lot out of it, and nobody teaches people how to be in a relationship, so it’s important to hear some healthy tips.”

The health class helps to cover and address differences between caring, supportive relationships and controlling or abusive relationships in an interactive program. Manis played a game called “Stay or Go?” which consisted of several real-life experiences that show unhealthy relationship traits, focusing on power dynamics, patterns, boundaries and compromises that often arise in relationships.

“I try to keep them awake and engaged,” Manis said. “And even if they just remember one or two things, then we did something.”

Maletta said that LIADV has been coming into his class for more than 20 years and he asks them to visit because the reality is that students will be in relationships and learning about healthy habits in those relationships is important.

“I tell my parents in back-to-school nights that I want to be an advocate for them. What are some of the concerns that they have for the child because I can there for their concerns,” he said. “Fortunately, health class is wide-reaching, and we talk about things like depression, stress, bullying, suicide, drug abuse, drug use, relationships, contraception — all these different real-life situations that they’re going to go through.”

Maletta added he tries to do different things to get through to his students.

“Although the district currently provides the required mental health education by New York State Education Department, the program was initiated by health teacher Mike Maletta, as part of a series of social-emotional instruction and resources to further expand on the mental and social-emotional health of Port Jefferson \students,” said Director of Health, Physical Education, Athletics and Nursing Adam Sherrard.

Earlier this month, Response of Suffolk County spoke to students about depression, anxiety, stress and suicide, while this week the Suffolk County Police Department will be speaking about cyber law and safety. 

In December, Outreach House will speak about drug addiction through the eyes of recovering teenage drug addicts that live at the facility.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) celebrated another milestone victory this week as her most recent efforts to curb domestic violence led to the rehiring of three outreach precinct project caseworkers months after being laid off.

The Long Island Against Domestic Violence non-for-profit organization, which provides domestic violence caseworkers in Suffolk County, did not receive a federal grant to fully staff their outreach project in March, and as a result, was forced to lay off four workers. And while LIADV secured private funding, allowing the rehire of one of the four caseworkers in May, Hahn’s recently passed budget amendment will now provide the organization with $79,000 to rehire the remaining three caseworkers this year.

Although the organization received the federal grant last year, according to Colleen Merlo, executive director of LIADV, its application the following year was denied. Its advocacy department includes seven precinct advocates, two of whom are also full-time court advocates. Victims in need still had the option of calling the organization’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 666-8833 during this time period, however, in the caseworkers’ absence.

Merlo also said the organization reapplied for this same federal grant, since the applications were available under the new funding cycle. The organization will not know if it received the federal grant until October.

Meanwhile, the $79,000 will last the non-for-profit organization until December of this year, Merlo said.

Hahn, alongside Legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) sponsored this bill amendment, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has until July 16 to sign. For Hahn, who said she is a domestic violence survivor herself, this budget amendment will not only help the non-for-profit organization, but also the individuals who benefit from its services.

“I want to help victims get themselves out of violent situations,” Hahn said during a phone interview. While she said she doubts that domestic violence will disappear completely, Hahn said she wants to help these victims know their risks and find advocacy in their times of need.

This was Hahn’s fourth piece of domestic violence legislation to see validation through the county Legislature. Although she would not disclose what is next on her domestic violence agenda, Hahn said Suffolk County is “on the cutting edge” of protecting domestic violence victims. She also said the county will continue to support organizations at the frontline of this issue.

Merlo said non-for-profit organizations like LIADV need funding from multiple levels to successfully provide their services.

“I’m appreciative of the budget amendment,” Merlo said during a phone interview. “But the truth of the matter is that we need to provide our services and we rely on not just the government but private donors as well.”

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If you haven’t yet read The Post and Courier’s “Till death do us part” series of stories on domestic violence in South Carolina, which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, you should. The opening paragraph sets the tone for the series with a shocking statistic: “More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.”

It goes on to say that while “state officials have long lamented the high death toll for women, lawmakers have put little money into prevention programs and have resisted efforts to toughen penalties for abusers.”

The piece is both disturbing and eye-opening, and while South Carolina is different from both New York and the smaller communities of Suffolk County, domestic violence is still a complex issue, and we commend our representatives for not just standing by.

The Suffolk County Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program on Tuesday that would provide 30 new GPS tracking devices for family court judges to assign to offenders with an order of protection against them. The program would also allow victims of domestic violence — if they so choose — to wear their own tracking devices so they may be alerted if an offender is near them.

The legislation is the latest brought forth by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and continues to strengthen county laws relating to domestic violence.

While some may question the use of tracking devices, giving the discretion to judges allows us to evaluate each case on an individual basis. That would hopefully limit the GPS system to the most dangerous offenders and prevent us from violating anyone’s constitutional rights. And 30 devices is a small number when looking at the bigger picture — in 2013, there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in Suffolk County.

If assigned appropriately, carefully and conservatively, the devices could help give domestic violence victims a new sense of safety and freedom to live their lives.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, pitches the pieces of legislation that would employ GPS technology to keep offenders away from domestic violence victims in Suffolk County. Photo from Kara Hahn

The county’s proactive push to empower victims of domestic violence reached another milestone on Tuesday when the Legislature unanimously approved a pilot program that would slap ankle bracelets on offenders under an order of protection.

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) ignited the domestic violence discussion last month when the county approved her legislation providing law enforcement and victims with danger assessment tools that identify high-risk offenders. Her efforts turned another corner with Tuesday’s approval of legislation that she called a multi-faceted approach to making Suffolk’s domestic violence policy stronger than it’s ever been.

The latest pieces of legislation make Global Positioning System technology available to electronically monitor those in the family and criminal court systems who are subject to a “stay away” order of protection — which is more restrictive than a “refrain from” order — and pose a continuing threat to the safety of a victim or their children, Hahn said.

“This has been something I’ve wanted to work on since getting here,” said Hahn, whose personal experience as a victim of domestic violence brings the issue to the top of her list of priorities. “One of the things that was important to me was dealing with orders of protection. I had an order of protection and it’s very frightening — and I’ve heard over and over again over the years — that it’s just a piece of paper with no ability to truly protect the victim. That’s what I’m trying to fix.”

Both bills were virtually replicas of one another, but were specific to criminal and family courts respectively.

The county’s district attorney would acquire the GPS units and the offenders would have to cover the cost of monitoring, she said.

Tom Spota, the Suffolk County district attorney, threw his support behind Hahn’s initiative.

“I have every confidence this pilot program will be successful in effectively protecting victims of domestic violence,” he said in a statement.

In 2013 alone, the state division of criminal justice reported that there were more than 1,500 violations of orders of protection in the county. That statistic, coupled with the fact that domestic violence accounted for 21 percent of all violent victimizations nationwide from 2003 to 2012, was what spurred Hahn to bulk up her agenda, she said.

“In my experience as a federal prosecutor, GPS devices serve as a real deterrent,” said Tim Sini, assistant deputy Suffolk County executive. “In the moment of passion, an offender often thinks twice before reoffending when he knows he is being monitored by law enforcement.”

The pilot program would provide the county with 30 new GPS devices to be used when judges assign offenders to an order of protection. The technology could be used in one of two ways — either tracking offenders so they stay away from victims’ homes or jobs, or acting as proximity detectors and letting victims know if an offender is near them. The latter form of tracking would be optional for victims.

“Having been someone who had an order of protection and was afraid that the offender would come, it gives you peace of mind as a victim knowing you could be alerted,” Hahn said. “If a victim doesn’t like it, they don’t have to [wear] it.”

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As a community newspaper, we value reader feedback and welcome any and all letters to the editor on the stories that compel our neighbors. But we received one letter in particular this past week that we felt warranted a larger editorial response.

Last week, we ran a story on Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) spearheading a new law that aims to more aggressively address domestic violence by empowering victims — connecting them with agencies and offering up a self-assessment questionnaire — and analyzing offenders. The bill was approved without a single “nay” in the Legislature, showing the county’s commitment to the issue.

On Monday, we opened up an anonymous letter addressed to the publisher of this newspaper, responding to our domestic violence reporting.

“Women can be opportunists,” the letter started. “If a man just pushes his girlfriend or paramour or even his wife, the next thing you know, she comes to court with a brace on her neck and bandages and a story that complains how she was pushed down a flight of stairs and strangled.”

Our initial reaction to this argument was scoffs and rolling eyes. (And why is this man pushing his partner to begin with?) While some people may have valid concerns over the consequences of tighter domestic violence laws, our anonymous reader’s remarks underscored the very same symptomatic problem, which affects both women and men, that Hahn’s legislation is looking to end in Suffolk County.

“No wonder guys go off the deep end and murder their so-called girlfriends. If I could not see my children, I would be mad as well. Enough to murder — possibly,” the secret letter writer said about custody battles. “Women are so thick-headed, unreasonable and vindictive, especially where money is concerned, that the greed of a woman scorned cannot be fathomed and we, the dads, husbands, boyfriends, are left out in the cold with no recourse.”

The writer asked that this newspaper “do something about these issues.” That is why we chose to dedicate this week’s editorial to his letter — to do something when we are confronted with a disgusting diatribe that condones violence against a group of people.

We hope the county law, still in its infancy, helps shift the train of thought of those like this reader.

Thank you for the letter.