FRANKLIN CO., Ohio (WCMH)–Following a deadly workplace shooting in Kansas, law enforcement there revealed that the gunman had been served with a protection from abuse order at the factory where he worked about 90 minutes before he started shooting.
NBC4 looked into Ohio’s procedure for protection orders to find out if they actually protect victims or those in abusive situations.
Franklin County Domestic Relations Judge Elizabeth Gill said in 2015, there were 2,010 civil protection orders filed.
“Any violation of it is automatically criminal and those charges then can obviously have more serious consequences,” Gill said.
Gill said that people in domestic violence situations can file an emergency civil protection order “ex parte,” or without the other person present. The person may have an emergency hearing the same day, but there has to be a full hearing with both parties in seven to 10 business days.
If victims don’t come back after the emergency hearing, Gill said protection orders are dismissed and will expire.
She told NBC4 that people may file orders if they’ve experienced abuse or if they believe they are in “imminent physical harm.” But protection orders are not foolproof.
“It cannot stop a bullet,” Gill said. “And so the reality is, folks do have to be safe about that and keep their head on a swivel and think about how they wish to address those.”
Michael Smalz, senior attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center in Columbus, is a board member for ACTION OHIO Coalition for Battered Women. He, too, said that sometimes protection orders backfire, causing danger to the victim or to other people.
“In some cases, the abuser will react with great rage and may ignore the protection order and may even pose greater danger to the victim,” Smalz said.
Smalz said there are two types of protection orders in Ohio—civil and criminal. A criminal protection order can be brought when there are criminal domestic violence charges against someone and lasts the duration of the criminal case. A civil protection order may last up to five years if it passes the preponderance of evidence standard, or more likely than not to be true.
Both Gill and Smalz said they encourage people to file protection orders but urge them to be cautious as well.
“Even though they’re an important remedy and they’re often effective, they’re just a piece of paper and you can’t count on your safety simply by having a protection order,” Smalz said.
Gill said people should keep a copy of the order on them at all times and verify with local law enforcement once someone has been served.
Smalz urged victims to have a safety plan, including “moving to a safer location, possibly even going to a domestic violence shelter. It can also involve changing your door locks or locking your windows.”
People filing emergency protection orders can have a hearing the same day. Gill said they can file at the courthouse or get the forms on the state Supreme Court website.