THE LACK OF CRIMINAL HISTORY REVEALS LITTLE ABOUT INTENT TO HARM IN CASES OF DV

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Sedona, AZ

 Michael Sefton, Ph.D.

New Braintree, MA  Once again domestic violence has resulted in deadly force being used to stop one man from killing his intimate partner and the child they have together.  This cowardly man paid no attention to the court ordered protection order that was in place bringing lethal force to bear upon his family.  His guns were not removed from his control leaving him armed and dangerous.  Only this time, it is he who died in the violent final act before he could finish what he had come to do.  Police were ready for violence and met force with appropriate force resulting in death.  The surviving victims are fortunate for the action of the brave and courageous officers on duty in Calais, Maine on this night or they may have lost their lives in a murder-suicide – now all too common in northern, Maine.

The details of this Calais, ME case of domestic violence are being carefully guarded.  It is known that Daniel Phinney, 26 was out on bail after being arrested and charged with domestic violence and criminal threatening in May 2013.  At that point he must have both physically assaulted his significant other and threatened to kill or maim his family resulting in the charge of criminal threatening.  Police are quick to say that Phinney had no prior criminal history perhaps in an effort to circumvent the obvious outrage evoked by the system of bail in Maine that releases violent abusers over and over again.  Had anyone made an effort to determine the degree of risk posed by Daniel Phinney prior to his release?  Had anyone registered safety concerns based on the defendant’s behavior and history?  Had they undertaken a psychological assessment of Phinney that may have provided important details about his impulse control, substance use, and proclivity toward violence?  These details may become more apparent in the coming days.  Perhaps a second look at the Psychological Autopsy of the Dexter Maine Homicide may be of value in terms of understanding risk and red flag behaviors that warrant containment of domestic terrorists.

The Phinney case is reminiscent of the 2011 Steven Lake homicide in Dexter in too many ways.  Lake had twice been released on bail before murdering his family.  The medical autopsy concluded that “in spite of psychological counseling (the state) failed to appreciate the degree of anger and violence in (Steven Lake)”.  He too had been charged with criminal threatening after holding his family at gunpoint as he drove home the point about how much he loved them but he could not let Amy move on.  Perhaps criminal threatening behavior should trigger a closer look at risk factors when setting conditions of bail.

I was a member of a team that conducted a psychological autopsy on Lake that resulted in over 50 recommendations to the esteemed Maine Attorney General’s Homicide Review panel in November 2012.  At first glance what is clear is brash indifference toward the court protection order and the availability of firearms to the defendant.  It is now important to study the case of Daniel Phinney and learn from the many red flags he waved in the weeks prior to his death.  These events can be stopping and containments points in future cases of domestic violence and domestic violence homicide.  No family should be kept in fear by a spouse whose loathsome behavior derails all human spirit and sense of dignity.

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