Baker cries at emotional domestic violence roundtable

Governor refiles bill on criminal dangerousness

IT IS HARDLY UNUSUAL for Gov. Charlie Baker to cry in public. But on Wednesday, after a gut-wrenching hour listening to stories from survivors of domestic violence, the governor not only cried, but admitted failure about his inability to get a bill addressing criminal dangerousness past the finish line.

“We filed this legislation…four years ago,” Baker said. “I have to say I’ve never been so distressed about my incompetence and my ability to actually deliver for someone than I am right now.”

“I literally wrote in my notes, ‘I sometimes wonder who’s side we’re on,’” Baker admitted.

Baker participated in a roundtable with survivors of domestic violence at the Plymouth Public Library, moderated by Sandra Blatchford, the executive director of the South Shore Resource and Advocacy Center, which helps survivors. He held the event to announce the refiling of two bills, both of which he introduced for the last two legislative sessions but which the Legislature has not yet acted on.

One bill would expand the list of offenses for which a person can be held in jail because they are considered dangerous. It would add certain crimes of sexual abuse, some weapons crimes, child pornography, human trafficking, threatening violence, and others. It would let a judge consider prior criminal history in determining dangerousness and hold a dangerousness hearing later in the judicial process, if one does not occur at an initial arraignment. It would empower a judge to revoke someone’s release if they violate certain bail conditions – like an order to stay away from a victim – rather than requiring a finding of dangerousness. It would require better notification of victims when an abuser is released. The bill has previously raised opposition from those concerned with defendants’ rights.

A second bill would create criminal penalties for adults who distribute sexually explicit images for revenge purposes, so-called “revenge porn,” while sending minors who distribute sexually explicit images to a diversion program.

The roundtable, which was live streamed, was a far cry from the typical gubernatorial event featuring media savvy politicians and advocates.

One participant said she was 33 when she started dating the man she referred to as “monster.” The man had a long list of convictions for violent crimes against men and women. He beat a woman almost to death, but was released on bail and got a suspended sentence and probation. He shattered another woman’s leg. The woman said her abuser was arraigned five times for his abuse of her. He broke her back, crushed her arm, strangled her, and gave her concussions. Yet he was never held for dangerousness. He served a five-year prison sentence and is now out on probation. “I know most likely he’ll keep his promise to kill me,” she said.

Another woman said she was sexually assaulted and strangled in 2019 as she breastfed her baby. Her abuser was released with a GPS tracker, and she has had the police contact her multiple times telling her his ankle strap came loose. “All I could think about was where was he when he was unaccounted for?” she said, since the man had threatened to set her house on fire and kill her.

“If my abuser was held because of dangerousness, he would have never got the opportunity to stalk me, break into my home, strangle me, and kidnap me and my baby,” another woman said. Despite a record that includes murder and escaping prison, she said the man was able to cut off his GPS tracker, break into her home, break eight of her teeth, and rip her hair out. Her older children have moved out “because my home isn’t safe,” she said.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Publicly, Baker called the survivors’ courage for telling their stories “breathtaking.”

Privately, caught on an open microphone as he got up from the event, the governor put it even more bluntly: “That was brutal.” Yes, governor, domestic violence is.