Domestic Violence: Dutchess deserves answers

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Dutchess deserves answers; No county update after the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on DV System Wide Review and Recommendations

For the past two years I have worked for a homicide prevention center and have tried to promote domestic violence reform and awareness in Dutchess County in response to the rise in homicide that has plagued our community. As a woman that continues to fight for justice on behalf of all crime victims in the Hudson Valley in the name of my beloved, late sister, it is about time someone asks this question: What ever happened to Dutchess County’s System Wide Review and Recommendations on domestic violence?

After my sister, Linda Riccardulli was murdered, a system wide review was conducted in the county by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Domestic Violence.

The system wide review contained thoughtful solutions to many problems victims in the county had been facing when in a domestic violence situation. It also contained untruths about my sister’s case. I was shocked at how the review stated that Linda was given an “escape plan” and that “they do not know why she did not follow it”. Linda never mentioned an emergency plan and I never located one in her very neat and organized files. I asked the Advisory Committee Chairwoman and award winner, Leah Feldman to provide me with this plan shortly after reading this erroneous misinformation about my sister and she referred me to “Records” who finally answered my question. I found out that the safety plan mentioned in the review did not exist. A real safety plan would have been an advocate guiding Linda to emergency funds so that she could escape, which is what she desperately needed to do. Victim blaming is cruel, low and inexcusable.

Since our experts pushed out this comprehensive review, the community has not been updated on any progress. Last week, Tri-County Crisis Center inquired about the status of the review on behalf of the center and community and instead of straightforward answers, Chairwoman Leah Feldman dismissed our concerns. We were briefly advised that several issues had been addressed and solutions implemented, such as an improved availability of local judges for arraignments purposes, utilization of lethality assessments, and temporary shelter for companion animals.

Shortly after our communication, the Poughkeepsie Journal releases information about our judicial system, mentioning that at times it has been unresponsive and unaccountable. Very different from what our Advisory Chair has told us. Does this equate to violent perpetrators being put back on the streets after victims had their abuser arrested? How safe do you think that victim is? Where should they go? There are shelters but often times there are lengthy intake processes, no room, and staying at the shelter may mean giving up a particular lifestyle and career. More often than not, federal and state funding never trickle down to victims and as a result, many go without ever fulfilling their basic needs.

Where is the accountability for our Citizens’ Advisory Committee and why are citizens receiving misinformation? Why are we all being dismissed when inquiring about an issue that affects all of us? How long should it take for a proper lethality assessment form to get rolled out to police departments? How long should it take to test a quality GPS monitoring system? How long should it take leaders in our county to handle the issue of judges being unavailable for arraignment? Apparently, 17 months is not long enough to address these problems or provide any real update on where Dutchess County stands against violence.

As far as Ms. Feldman’s response to utilization of lethality assessment tools, she has mentioned that the county has started a pilot project and that they are looking into Jacqueline Campbell’s Lethality Assessment among others, which are all gender- biased and antiquated material. I admit, more efficient than the assessment we use in NYS today, which a short list of questions in paper pencil test format located in a one-inch box on a police report that doesn’t mean much to anyone.

Many more victims have died since Linda’s senseless murder; the same cracks and flaws are to blame. Dutchess County is negligent and they continue to refuse to take responsibility for reforms that they clearly know are needed. Victims are more than a list of names that get pulled out for fundraising or political posturing. These are real people with families; they were loved. They were vibrant parts of the community.

As citizens in the community we are not privy to the protected information the Citizens’ Advisory Committee is withholding. Emails are unanswered, questions are dismissed, and misinformation is passed along to ease the anger that has become palpable in a county searching for answers. We are the citizens. We want answers and we want them now.

Jackie Axt
Board of Directors Tri-County Crisis Center, Inc.

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