June 06, 2020

Attorney general presents funding to domestic abuse prevention project

ELLSWORTH — Maine Attorney General Michael Carpenter told an anecdote Friday that he and other people don’t find acceptable.

“At a restaurant in Augusta, among a group of men, one man allegedly said, `I thought about doing what O.J. Simpson did, but I did not want to upset my dog,’ and everybody laughed,” recounted Carpenter. “That’s not funny anymore. That’s got to be the time for us boys to get up and walk away.”

Carpenter was in Ellsworth Friday to present The Next Step, one of 10 domestic violence projects in Maine, with a check for $2,700. More than 25 people attended the meeting at Ellsworth City Hall.

The money is part of a $7.2 million settlement that the Keds Corp. made to several states, including Maine, in which that company allegedly engaged in price fixing. After the corporation settled without acknowledging any liability, a court ordered that the money be given to agencies that assist women.

The attorney general said his office decided to give Maine’s portion of the settlement — a total of $27,000 — to the Maine Coalition for Family Crisis Services, a statewide coalition of abused women’s advocacy programs that includes The Next Step in Ellsworth.

The money presented Friday will allow The Next Step to hire a part-time staff member for its 24-hour crisis line, now staffed by volunteers.

During the meeting, Carpenter said he believed that while government and law enforcement involvement in domestic abuse was needed, community enlightenment was equally important.

Comparing the issue to that of drunken driving, the former legislator recalled that during his term in the Legislature, it was socially acceptable to have a 0.15 blood-alcohol level. He described a public service announcement which shows a young man joking about his drinking, and his companions “melt away from the table because it is not funny.”

“Drunken driving is not funny, and this issue (domestic violence) is not funny, either,” he said.

Ronelda Whitmore of The Next Step said she would like to take her organization’s educational program about domestic violence to pupils in elementary schools, where it would do the most good.

“High school is too late,” she said. “By the time they enter high school, they already have opinions and ideas they learned from the time they were little, from how grandpa treats grandma, and dad treats mom, or mom treats dad.”

Carpenter said more money was needed to train law enforcement officers and for social service programs that deal with women in abusive situations. He said that money for domestic violence projects would have been available from the federal government through the anti-crime bill that went down in a procedural defeat Thursday.

Hancock-Washington County District Attorney Michael Povich described the efforts of his office and state agencies to work with victims of domestic violence. He said there was a talented group of attorneys who worked hard statewide in the area of domestic violence in the face of diminishing state funds.

“Your attorney general has worked on a shoestring,” said Povich. “He has taken a lot of money from his department to get prosecutorial services delivered up front through the DA’s offices, not because we are better than the AG’s office, but because we are the ones who try these cases … and there has been great cooperation between my office and Mike’s office.”

Victim-witness advocate Pat Roach said that because of the O.J. Simpson case in California, in which Simpson has been charged with killing his ex-wife and her male friend, more women had asked for protection orders.

“They say they have been threatened (by men) who said, `I’ll do to you what O.J. did to his ex-wife,”‘ Roach said.

Carpenter and Povich also said there was a need for stronger and stiffer laws that would do more than just fine abusers or put them in jail for a short time.

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