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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A PFA Won't Stop A Bullet

A month before a Bethlehem mother was gunned down in front of her three children, she made a public plea for help from the Northampton County judicial system. And she got it. Thida Myint, originally from Myammar, was granted what is called a Protection From Abuse Act Order.

Pennsylvania's Protection From Abuse Act (PFA) was adopted because our criminal law is inadequate for dealing with the violence that sometimes arises in a domestic environment. Police are reluctant to get involved, especially when battered wives drop charges only days after they are filed. So this domestic, non-criminal law was adopted. It includes a temporary protection order, which can be issued based on the testimony of just one person, to provide some basic protection from violence, as well as a cooling off period.

Opponents of this law claim it used as a tool of revenge.

Here are the facts.

1) PFAs have declined in Northampton County. - In 2000, there were 1,238 PFA actions. In 2012, the number was 1,038. Given the change in population, there has been a decrease in people seeking PFAs. In 2000, one out of every 216 people was forced to seek a PFA. But last year, it was only 1 in 288.

2) Over half of the PFAs filed are withdrawn or dismissed. - A study of 200 PFAs filed this year reveals that over half of them (117) are withdrawn, dismissed or just expire. 67 were simply withdrawn, in some cases, even after a final PFA Order has been entered. 43 were outright dismissed for insufficient evidence after hearing. 7 cases, emergency orders from a Magistrate's office, simply expired with no further action.

In many of the withdrawn cases, the files contain photographic evidence, showing that violence did occur.

Judges are reluctant to allow a battered spouse to withdraw a PFA. Judge Paula Roscioli, for example, has denied motions to withdraw PFAs. Senior Judge Lawrence Brenner, the jurist who granted Myint's PFA, also rejects motions to withdraw PFAs.

3) PFAs are often very limited in scope and duration, with the focus on minimizing family violence. - Although a PFA can last as long as three years, judges are reticent to make them last that long, especially when children are involved. They usually impose a shorter duration and often allow limited contact between mothers and fathers for visitation purposes with children.They appear to be particularly concerned about children. In one case, where a mother commented in passing about unexplained bruises on her children, Judge Michael Koury requested that they be brought to him that very day so he could ensure there is no abuse.

4) Some PFAs are agreed orders. 14 of the 200 matters reviewed resulted in agreed PFAs.

5) Contempt of a PFA is uncommon, but not rare. Of 200 cases, contempt proceedings were filed in only 17 of them.

6) Jail is rare. - Of the 200 cases studied, only 2 jail sentences were seen. One was for 24 hours and another was for 90 days.

7) The PFA staff is very helpful. - This staff helps in the preparation of complaints, and accompany parties to the courtroom and ensure that Court Orders are timely delivered to police and Sheriffs.

8) A PFA is no insurance policy. - Myint's husband, Win Win Htut, was ordered to stay away from his wife and their three children. He was ejected from their Central Park Avenue residence in West Bethlehem. Sheriffs were even directed to seize his guns, and they did. After the matter was transferred to Lehigh County, the order was made permanent.

The next day she was killed, allegedly by her husband.

From court documents, these are some of her last words:

"[My daughter] was talking with me about colleges and the cost of going to college. [She] started crying about the situation and her father heard this and he got really mad ... . He stated that we are unlucky and this is why he can not make money doing his job. ... He punched a hole in the living room wall - right next to [my daughter's] head. Then he smashed some glasses in the kitchen by throwing them on the floor. Then he started screaming at [my daughter] to get out of his house and leave. [She] stated she would call police and he yelled at her some more and was cursing at me and yelled at [her] to get back in the living room. He stated that he would kill everyone in the house because he will not be able to control himself. Then he called his parents because he knew that he was out of control. He stated that he does not want to live with us anymore. [My daughter] went downstairs and called police and police came out and police told him to leave for the night. Police advised us to file for a PFA Order -so he can not hurt or threaten us anymore.

"He stated he didn't trust me with the kids and he tried to blame everything on me. We can't leave the house at all. The kids can't go play in the yard or even the balcony. Get questioned for staying after school. Can't see friends outside of school. 

"About 2-3 times a week, he will yell and scream at everyone in the household and then he will break things. He states I hope all of you end up dead. ... I can't even go grocery shopping without him."   


Anonymous said...

It's a fucked up world we live in when this sort of stuff strikes so close to home and in the Christmas City of Bethlehem... via Burma!

Anonymous said...

Is this a veiled attack on Jim Gregory? He is not violentl and this is unfair.

Mr. Gregory is not violent and is as much the victim as anyone. People don't go to state prison for a non-violent PFA, so obviously there is more.

Don't try and confuse the issue.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, two PFAs as a result of domestic violence against two different women demonstrate convincingly that he is violent. Both Gregory and Mezzacappa, in addition to berating judges and victims, also berated the law. But this post is not about them. It is about a murder. Only a histrionic personality would think it relates to them.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Gregory showed himself to be an angry and violently dangerous and deranged person. His VICTIM has had to move, change her number and live in fear.

How many more women must pay the ultimate price before we take predators like Gregory seriously.

Clinton Oxford said...

The rule of law prevailed in Jim Gregory's case. All citizens must recognize the Authority of the Court. It is the basis of American society.

Kevin Cerino said...

Speaking of Ms. Mezzacappa, have you made any progress is being awarded damages for your libel suit against her?

Anonymous said...

When a judge hears a case and issues a "PFA" he may make an error in doing so. However, if he is too err, he will always err on the side of caution. In thisi case, he did exactly that. Even though the case belonged in Lehigh County, the Judge immediately handed down a PFA and then transferred the case to Lehigh County.
In the case of Gregory, the judge may have originally erred on the side ofo caution, however, the actions of Mr. Gregory after the PFA was issued showed the Judge made the right decision. these Judges cannot gamble with someones life.
Many people are opposed to issuing PFA's so easily. Judges have very little wiggle room on these issues. They aren't always right, but thank God they err on the side of caution or maybe, just maybe, there could have been a lot more incidents like this one.

Anonymous said...

The question is will Mr. Gregory file a wrongful imprisonment suit when he is eventually released.

I am sure he wants his named cleared.

Bernie O'Hare said...

If Gregory wants to clear his name, it's gonna' take more than a new bottle of Grecian formula. He is going to have to stop violating PFAs and stop listening to cowards who do not take responsibility for what they write while he sits behind bars.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Kevin, that matter was supposed to be heard this week, but my att'y had a ace dueling conflict.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, woman are not protected....when a man is hell-bent on coming after you...he will! One another note to the woman who abuse this law & abuse the PFA system...you are setting up women to be killed!
I speak from experience!

Peter J.Cochran said...

Bernie, I have done several PFA's and with court order taken a man's treasured hunting rifle and shotguns with me.This can be hostile and get down right dangerous!A paper served does not lend itself to conformity . I would suggest as I have done ,that a conversation about what is proceeding be made by the server. This is an indication of conformity by the respondent AT that TIME. This is the most emotional period , and the reaction at that time should be reported in a file and is not.My soul ,like school security knows what is ... for real ,non-combatant types ,have no feel for this.