Sunday, March 22, 2009

Remember Archie Simonson?

I suspect few people remember Archie Simonson.

Archie was a judge in Madison who ran off at the mouth in a 1977 sexual assault case. Simonson's comments on provocative dress and sexual permissiveness and their effect on a male's sexual response, along with the relatively light sentence he imposed, received wide publicity in the news media and were met by immediate outrage in the community, which eventually led to Judge Simonson's removal from office in a recall election.

But Archie came to mind as I read the Kenosha News account of the sentencing of former Kenosha police officer Kuritss Kessler who entered guilty pleas to domestic abuse related charges of battery and disorderly conduct. Kessler did so as part of a plea agreement in which other possible charges were not pursued in exchange for his immediate resignation from the force. Kessler's victim recanted much of her story and the charges he was convicted on the charges that were not in dispute.

The newspaper story made it look like the judge was minimizing the scourge of domestic violence. While Judge Wilbur Warren III's comments were likely taken a bit out of context, the same was said in Madison 32 years ago. Nonetheless the comments tacked onto the Kenosha News story are almost unanimous in condemnation of the judge's remarks. Whether the online angst transforms into action remains to be seen.

If anything, the way this community pursues domestic violence cases needs a closer look. They're often very difficult to prove in court as victims frequently recant and law enforcement agencies generally don't pull out all the stops in their investigations. A frequent complaint by recanting victims is that the police misinterpreted what they said at the scene. Local practice is for officers to reduce what victims and witnesses say to writing and then have them sign a statement form. Often victims later say they were misquoted.

Fixing that would be simple and cheap. If officers had digital cameras (preferably with a "movie mode") and $30 microcassette recorders they could record what victims actually said at the scene so that if they pull the recantation stunt the prosecutor merely needs to hit the play button so that the jury can hear what the victim actually said.

The Kenosha and Pleasant Prairie Police Departments along with the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department are in line to get nearly $290,000 in federal grant money under President Obama's stimulus package. Will they spend a few dollars of it to help domestic abuse victims? Time will tell.

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