New Castle News

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February 27, 2014

County hopeful of grant for domestic prosecutions

NEW CASTLE — The Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County is pursuing a $300,000 federal grant for prosecuting domestic and sexual assault cases.

The funds, through the U.S. Department of Justice, office of Violence Against Women, would be shared among the shelter and the Lawrence County district attorney and adult probation offices.

The funds will be used to centralize and coordinate police enforcement, prosecution and judiciary proceedings for sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking cases, Debby Hennon, executive director of the shelter, explained to the county commissioners at a public meeting this month.

She said if they are received, the funds would span a three-year period and be used to pay for a prosecutor, who would work as part of a domestic violence task force created by the district attorney. The money also would pay for a specialized sexual assault probation/parole officer and a sexual assault and domestic violence advocate.

District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa said he already has formed a task force for sexual and child abuse and is waiting for memorandums of understanding to be signed by local participating police departments. Those memorandums stipulate how police officers will be paid outside their jurisdictions.

He explained the task force would operate similar to the county drug task force, with police officers who will become trained investigators in the sexual and child abuse areas and have countywide jurisdiction, with an attorney assigned to the task force to prosecute those cases.

“We want to train specific (police) officers to respond to sexual assault and child abuse allegations.”

The task force would operate under the district attorney’s office and, with the incorporation of the grant, would expand its horizons to include domestic violence cases, Lamancusa said.

The state police recently have been inundated with child sexual abuse cases, he said. The task force will make prosecution of those easier if trained individuals are involved.

Lamancusa said he has a list of officers from various police department who are willing to join the task force.

“We want to embed prosecutors (assistant district attorneys) in these cases and get them involved in the investigations and the prosecutions.”

Lamancusa said he believes the program would be a success, because his office has found success with its drug task force, which has an assistant district attorney assigned to its cases who can make legal decisions.

“We have a 100 percent conviction rate in our drug prosecutions.”

He wants to take the same approach with the sexual and child assault cases, he said, and expand it to domestic violence as well, partnering with the Crisis Shelter.

Lamancusa said the sexual and child abuse task force is already formed. Officers will have to be trained to interview sexual assault victims and suspects and others involved in the cases, he noted.

If the shelter does not receive the grant for the domestic violence task force, “we move forward anyway,” Lamancusa said, adding the funds are highly competitive.

“The grant would expedite the formation of the task force,” he said. “Our overall goal is to seek justice for the victims of these crimes in the most professional and efficient way possible.”

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)

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