Among the hundreds of state laws that went into effect this month in Maryland, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy helped pushed one in making strangulation a first-degree felony.
Besides strengthening the law to increase the penalty for up to 25 years in prison, the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly will allow nurses, doctors and other health care workers use enhanced technology called Cortexflo. The device provides enhanced photos and videos to better assess a victim’s injury such as swelling under the neck that can progress over several days.
The announcement also comes during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.
“It’s a very dangerous form of domestic violence and we’re calling it out for what it is,” Braveboy said during a press conference Wednesday outside the Cheverly hospital.
Hospital officials will share and collaborate information with the state’s attorney office and law enforcement.
The strangulation protocol will also provide domestic violence training for hospital staff and police to better identify and document those in a domestic-violence situation.
Sharon Rogers, a forensic nursing coordinator at the hospital, gave a startling statistic on strangulation injuries treated at the hospital: 22 so far this year, compared to six last year.
“When COVID came in, everything shut down,” she said. “[Cortexflo] helps our victims get justice.”
Melissa Hoppmeyer, chief of the special victim and family violence unit in the state’s attorney’s office, summarized how the strangulation protocol worked Tuesday.
Hoppmeyer’s unit received a call from the sheriff’s office that it received a 911 call after a domestic violence situation. The sheriff investigated the incident, document the injury and notified the Prince George’s County police department’s domestic violence unit.
Emergency personnel transported the woman to the Prince George’s hospital with several pieces of information already collected and specific medical attention needed.
“That’s really what this protocol is all about,” Hoppmeyer said. “Beforehand, it’s not that victims weren’t able to get access to help. It’s that is wasn’t a coordinated response. The importance of that is everyone is talking. I think our county is a little bit safer because of this.”
The penalties for strangulation also increased.
Strangulation now carries a penalty for up to 25 years in prison.
The previous offense was classified as second-degree assault with an up to 10-year sentence. Because it was considered as a misdemeanor, Braveboy said some defendants may have served even less time “or any time in jail.”
Braveboy’s predecessor, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, who served as the county’s first attorney in domestic violence unit, said there’s a few reasons why.
“You need extraordinary proof. People didn’t believe women,” she said. “You need everything but an act of God to convince a jury that this person has been victimized. We need this technology. A woman’s word that someone put their hands around her neck and strangled her until she passed out, unfortunately, has not been enough.”
Domestic violence-related incidents are often encountered by county sheriff deputies who may serve warrants against abusers to leave a location, or remove or seize firearms from a home.
Sheriff Melvin High said domestic violence continues to be one of the toughest crimes to prosecute.
“It’s a tough decision for people to send someone to jail. To have a jury decide that we’re going to decide to take someone’s freedom away … is a tough moment,” he said. “That’s why the evidence is so important … and that’s the way technology will help us.”