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Domestic Violence Gun Use Targeted

Legislation: Moorpark mayor, an L.A. County sheriff's lieutenant, helps craft bill requiring officers responding to calls to document the presence of weapons.

October 21, 2001|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like many law enforcement officers, Pat Hunter says domestic violence calls are among the most unpredictable and dangerous situations faced by cops on the street.

The Moorpark mayor, who is also a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, says that is why officers should have all information available to them before responding to such calls.

And Hunter has done his part to ensure that is the case.

He has worked with state legislators to craft a bill requiring police officers to document whether guns are on the premises when they respond to a domestic violence call.

"It makes everybody aware of the presence of guns at the house," Hunter said. "This is designed to protect the abused from further violence and protect the officers responding to the scene. It raises everyone's consciousness."

The legislation could help raise Hunter's political profile as well, although he said his main purpose for working on the bill was to protect his law enforcement colleagues across the state.

"I'm a deputy sheriff by trade and the mayor of Moorpark," he said. "But it doesn't preclude me from getting involved in issues outside my city limits."

The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Rebecca Cohn (D-Saratoga) was signed by Gov. Gray Davis earlier this month and will become law on Jan. 1.

It' not a drastic change from existing law, Hunter said. Currently, officers responding to a domestic violence call must ask if a weapon was used in the incident or whether alcohol or drugs were involved.

The new law will require officers to ask if there are guns in the house and then document the answer for future reference.

Hunter said in the emotion-charged moments after an officer responds to a domestic violence call, the question that doesn't get asked is often the one that could save a life.

"These are typically volatile and emotional scenes," Hunter said. "Deputies would like to know before they go to the scene [if] their job will be made more difficult by the presence of firearms."

The Ventura County district attorney's office handles more than 2,000 domestic violence cases annually, said Tricia Koenig, a prosecutor who supervises misdemeanor cases. Some can be deadly.

Wednesday night, William Oney, a 29-year-old Los Angeles County firefighter, allegedly shot and killed his wife's ex-boyfriend, Todd Michael Thies, after a heated argument at Oney's Simi Valley home, police said. Oney's wife was on the phone with a police dispatcher when the shot was allegedly fired.

Oney was released from jail Friday because prosecutors said they needed more time to investigate. Oney told investigators he acted in self-defense when he allegedly shot Thies, who was unarmed.

On Oct. 13, Thomas Patton, a 56-year-old Thousand Oaks resident, was shot to death by deputies responding to a call about a fight between him and his wife.

Patton threatened the officers with a large knife, authorities said.

In June, Geno Patrick Colello, a 35-year-old Simi Valley resident and Los Angeles police officer, shot and killed his ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend as the man washed his pickup truck in the driveway of his Simi Valley home.

Colello then took his own life.

Assemblywoman Cohn said she sponsored the new legislation in part because of her own experience growing up in a violent home.

"There were also weapons in the home I grew up in, and that was always a threat," she said. "There is a tremendous amount of intimidation going on constantly. If we can remove that piece of it, I think it will be a little easier to cope with the situation."

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Times staff writer Jenifer Ragland contributed to this story.

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