Middlesex DA Ryan seeks action on domestic violence

The Metro West Daily News

By David Riley

July 11, 2013

FRAMINGHAM—Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said Wednesday she wants state lawmakers to adopt several anti-domestic violence measures, including bills allowing tougher prosecution of people who repeatedly violate restraining orders or choke their partners.

Prosecutors usually can charge choking suspects only with misdemeanor assault and battery, Ryan said. While police sometimes may charge defendants in such cases with assault with intent to murder, "it’s very difficult to be successful in that prosecution," she said.

Ryan, who described domestic violence as a crime of "power and control," said she wants to see a felony option left open to prosecutors in choking cases.

"Holding your windpipe doesn’t get much more powerful and controlling," she said.

Ryan detailed these and other priorities Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview with Daily News editors and reporters. After 34 years as a Middlesex prosecutor, Ryan became DA in late April when Gov. Deval Patrick appointed her to replace the departing Gerry Leone.

She confirmed she plans to campaign to hold onto the position in a 2014 election.

Ryan said her staff was at a marathon Joint Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday at the State House to testify on domestic violence-related bills, including one on tougher penalties for people who repeatedly violate the terms of restraining orders.

She described a case where a defendant violated three separate orders 17 times, but could be charged only with a misdemeanor each time.

"That’s really an affront to society," Ryan said of repeat violations.

Separate legislation would remove domestic assault and battery from a list of offenses in which both sides can reach "accord and satisfaction" to resolve a court case. Ryan said perpetrators sometimes pressure victims to use this option to drop charges.

Another bill would allow past convictions for serious offenses to be considered aggravating factors in domestic violence cases.

Domestic violence problems seem to be on the rise, Ryan said, describing how technology now allows perpetrators to more easily harass victims by phone or text message. Still, Ryan said she believes her office’s prevention efforts, such as educating young people about avoiding abusive situations, are working.

"You can’t measure what you prevent," she said.

Ryan also weighed in on a swath of other state issues. Without addressing specific gun control bills proposed in Massachusetts, she said there are good ideas that might help prevent gun violence, even if they will not completely solve the problem.

For example, "I remain unclear why somebody needs to be buying an AK-47," she said.

Ryan also said her office submitted a letter supporting a measure sought by Attorney General Martha Coakley to update the state’s wiretap law. The law now is focused too narrowly on organized crime and could not, for example, be used in certain gang cases, she said.

The district attorney said she was not familiar with a proposal by Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, generally requiring search warrants for police to obtain certain phone data. Spilka recently spoke against the wiretap proposal, according to State House News Service.

Ryan also said she does not know when her office will wrap up an investigation of the fatal police shooting of 27-year-old Andrew Stigliano of Ashland last Tuesday. The DA’s job is to determine if the officer acted with justification or criminal conduct, she said.

"As you can imagine, we do that in a conscientious way, which is by its nature time-consuming," she said.

Ryan described other priorities for her office, such as youth education, preventing elder abuse and workplace safety. Her office also launched a water safety campaign this summer.

"Our hope is we save one child," she said.


In the Spotlight

Use Our Interactive Map
to find current news and community events in your neighborhood and through out Middlesex county.
Click Here

Keeping children and families safe.
Learn more

Speaking for those without a voice: focusing on unsolved homicides.
Learn more