I-Team Investigates: Electronic monitoring of domestic abusers used sparingly, but growing

The use of electronic ankle monitoring is growing in Maine as a tool for keeping domestic violence abusers away from their victims.

AUGUSTA (WGME) -- The use of electronic ankle monitoring is growing in Maine as a tool for keeping domestic violence abusers away from their victims.

Bullet holes left behind at Sandra Goulet's Casco cabin are no match for the scars she bears inside.

"I still can't even wrap my head around this whole mess," she said.

She calls herself a survivor of domestic violence.

"I think he just was gonna go around and shoot whoever he could that I knew, and then get me last," said Goulet.

She said her ex-boyfriend, Norman Strobel, came close last Thanksgiving, wen he fired shots at her daughter, Alyssa and Alyssa's boyfriend, Jason, who was hit four times.

It was the culmination of years of abuse.

"When he drank he just was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," she said. "He just was not the same person."

Goulet said Strobel choked her, broke her glasses twice while she was wearing them, and pulled her hair so hard she thought her neck would snap. There was also a constant stream of verbal threats.

"He said, 'I ought to duct tape your wrists and your ankles and burn you in the house here, like the movie The Burning Bed,'" she said.

Goulet took out a protection from abuse order in July, and court records show what followed was a pattern of Strobel in and out of jail for violating it.

When he was charged for the second time in July, he was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet if released on bail. According to the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office, Strobel opted to stay in jail. He eventually got out and re-offended.

"Why should they have a choice? They shouldn't have a choice," said Goulet. "If the person's violating all this many times and it's just a misdemeanor slap on the wrist, well put a bracelet on 'em."

"We can't force anyone to participate in the program," said Faye Luppi, the executive director of the Violence Intervention Partnership in Cumberland County. "If they choose to stay in the jail, that's their choice."

Electronic monitoring of domestic violence abusers is still evolving in Maine. It was just launched in Cumberland County in June of 2016.

"It's been a year," said Luppi. "I think we're up to 22 or 23 offenders who have participated in the program."

Exclusion zones are put around places like a victim's home and workplace. If the offender sets foot inside the perimeter, the ankle monitor alerts authorities, triggering an immediate response, and a phone call to the victim.

"That response has to happen quickly," said Luppi.

"A violation is treated very seriously," added Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties. "People know that ahead of time, and by and large, they don't violate."

Maloney said monitoring has been used in Somerset County since early 2014, and costs defendants about $8 per day.

"We've had 35 people on the monitoring equipment," she said.

Maloney said it's used sparingly, and with the help of a risk assessment tool, called the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment, or ODARA, which predicts which cases have a higher likelihood of future violence.

It's scored on a scale of zero to 13, with anything over a seven considered to be high risk.

"If someone is very dangerous, I want that person to stay in custody," said Maloney.

If they're less of a threat, they'll likely be released on bail. But it's the defendants assessed in the middle Maloney worries about, asking for monitoring instead of bail.

"Those are cases where the victim expressed to us that she felt extremely fearful and the monitoring really put the victim's mind at ease," she said.

Luppi said it's beneficial for the defendant, too.

"It allows an offender to be in the community and continue working, which many victims want their offenders, the offenders to continue working, particularly if they're paying child support," Luppi said.

Right now it's used nearly exclusively while someone is awaiting trial, but Luppi said the threat doesn't always disappear when someone is finished serving their time.

Goulet's case is a prime example. She said Strobel called her within days of being freed, and a warrant was out for his arrest, but police couldn't find him.

He didn't surface until he showed up at her cabin with a gun.

"I had very little sleep that week," Goulet said.

Luppi and Maloney said there's talk of expansion, like using monitors as a probation condition. They said the probation department can monitor, but they use a different program and it's not necessarily what victims may be used to.

"I think it's something the victims have expressed interest in," Luppi said.

Goulet is one of them. She hopes her story will lead to change.

"I can't have other families going through what I went through," said Goulet.

A proposed bill at the statehouse would expand electronic monitoring with nearly $1.9 million in funding, in part to cover the cost for those offenders who can't afford it.and victims who would like corresponding devices, which is available in Cumberland County.

That bill is still in committee and will likely be carried over to next session.

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