Victims ask: Why does ‘justice’ system allow us to live in fear?
When the News-Sentinel reported a June break-in on Oakdale Drive, it blandly stated “no motive was given” as to why David Bahr would repeatedly hit another man over the head with a four-pound clothes iron with enough force to break the appliance and send his bloodied victim to the hospital.
In reality, however, the story contained all the elements of a made-for-TV melodrama: apparent jealously over a relationship gone bad, stalking, violence and, perhaps most gripping of all, the realization among still-fearful victims and their families that the legal system they relied upon for protection let them down.
“Anyone looking at the history and the escalation of the interactions between Bahr and his ex should have been able to see this coming. It is no wonder people take the law into their own hands, is it?” said Patti Quintano, whose 22-year-old son, Ted Popplewell, was allegedly targeted by Bahr in the apartment he was sharing with Kayla Sutphin, 19, mother of Bahr’s 18-month-old daughter and this month gave birth to Popplewell’s daughter.
Such situations can be volatile, and in this case that instability has been exacerbated by what Quintano and even some officials see as a flaw in the criminal justice system. The June beating, after all, was not the first time Bahr had caused trouble at the Oakdale house. According to police reports, Bahr barged in on his ex-girlfriend Feb. 17 — ostensibly to see his daughter — then pushed Sutphin while asking about her pregnancy with Popplewell.
“Are you going to keep it? You gonna kill it?” Bahr asked Sutphin, the report stated.
At which point, Sutphin did the sensible, law-abiding thing: She sought and received a judicial protection order that might have made Bahr think twice before returning in June but for one small problem: Because members of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department couldn’t find Bahr in order to personally serve the notice, it was never considered legally binding. So after allegedly beating Popplewell Bahr was able to post bond and leave the Allen County Jail pending trial.
That trial won’t happen until January, and although Sutphin and Popplewell have since moved and are under the protection of served orders, Quintano said Bahr’s few days in jail following the attack provided “the only good night’s sleep these two kids and we, their families, have had.”
“I can’t believe (Bahr) was out (of jail). My biggest concern is that something will happen. Nobody should have to live with that,” said Jessica Sutphin, Kayla’s mother.”
County Prosecutor Karen Richards said she sympathizes, but noted Bahr could not be denied bail and cannot have his bail revoked on the basis of hearsay. More to the point, she said protective orders must be delivered in person so there’s no doubt the target is aware of his legal obligations. In other words, if Bahr was unaware of Magistrate Thomas Boyer’s February order, how could be be punished for violating it?
Bahr’s attorney, Don Swanson, declined comment.
That sort of question is very much on the mind of Sgt. Gary Grant of the Sheriff Department’s Civil Division, who since May has been the man in charge of serving protective orders and has made personal delivery his top priority precisely because this story is all too familiar.
“The last thing I want to hear is that somebody was seriously injured or killed (because an order couldn’t be personally served),” he said. “I know it can be frustrating for people seeking protection, and my phone rings off the hook. When I can tell them the order has been served, there’s such relief.”
It’s a daunting task. So far this year his staff has handled about 2,053 protective orders and about 23,300 other papers to process or serve. The number of successful personal deliveries has increased dramatically, he said, thanks to such changes as listing work addresses and cell phone numbers on the form. Grant is also considering the use of plain-clothes officers so they’ll be harder to notice and evade.
If someone really wants to do harm, Richards and Grant know a piece of paper won’t deter them. But Richards believes most targets of protective orders will be deterred, and Grant said an order at least gives police more leverage should an incident occur. People who feel threatened, he said, can protect themselves by “having a safe place to stay, being with somebody at all times and call us if needed. No problem is too small.”
To Sutphin and Popplewell, however, such advice simply victimizes them all over again.
“What is the purpose of the justice system if not to protect people?” he asked, noting that even while working he keeps in contact with Sutphin to make sure she’s safe. “And I need to take something to sleep.”
“We keep our doors locked and I shut all the blinds. It’s like Fort Knox,” she added.
But even Fort Knox is well-guarded, and Popplewell made it clear he’s prepared, willing and able to defend himself and his family if necessary. He just doesn’t think it should be.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 461-8355.