Strangulation Examination Pilot Program is the First of its Kind in New York State.
Riverhead, NY - October 12, 2018 - In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy D. Sini, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart and Suffolk County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Caplan were joined by L.I. Against Domestic Violence and medical professionals from Suffolk County to announce a new pilot program to enhance law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute instances of strangulation.
“Strangulation is used by abusers as a tactic to assert power and control, but it also signifies an abuser’s intent and willingness to cut off their victim’s breathing,” District Attorney Sini said. “What the abuser is doing is sending a clear message - a clear threat - that he or she is capable of murdering the victim, and research indicates that abusers who strangle their victims are in fact more likely to ultimately commit murder. If we can successfully prosecute a strangulation case and put that violent abuser behind bars, we could very well be preventing a homicide.”
The program includes enhanced training for Suffolk County Police officers and domestic violence service providers on recognizing and investigating instances of strangulation. In addition, the program will include the use of highly-trained forensic nurse examiners to conduct clinical assessments of strangulation victims when the crimes occur and to serve as expert witnesses during the prosecution of strangulation cases.
“Domestic violence is an issue that does not discriminate; it affects men and women of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Commissioner Hart said. “It is often difficult for victims of domestic violence to come forward because they have been in a long-standing relationship with the aggressor and love that individual. But what the victim of domestic violence doesn’t realize is the danger he or she is in. As part of the Suffolk County Police Department’s ongoing effort to help victims of domestic violence, we welcome this partnership with the District Attorney’s Office to implement the forensic nurse examiner program.”
Strangulation became illegal in New York State in November 2010 under Penal Law Article 121, which includes three criminal statutes: Criminal Obstruction of Breathing or Blood Circulation, an A misdemeanor; Strangulation in the Second Degree, a D felony; and Strangulation in the First Degree, a C felony.
Strangulation is often undetected because victims may not display any visible indicators of abuse. Symptoms can include redness, scratch marks or bruising of the neck and chest; hemorrhaging or swelling of the eyes; coughing or hoarseness when speaking; and the loss of bladder or bowel control, among others.
According to a study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine in 2008, victims of strangulation were six times more likely to later be victims of attempted murder and seven times more likely to be killed by their abusers.
As part of the pilot program, the Suffolk County Police Department recently incorporated an online training video on strangulation by The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention into its training requirements for sworn officers. The video explains the physical dangers of strangulation, demonstrates the signs and symptoms of strangulation, and provides actions law enforcement should take to help a victim.
A training program on identifying and investigating strangulation has also been implemented at the Suffolk County Police Academy. The course is taught by Dari Schwartz, Bureau Chief of the District Attorney’s Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Bureau, and forensic nurse examiner Michelle Tepper, NP-C.
Another component of the pilot program allows for forensic nurse examiners to be called to assist Suffolk County Police officers in investigating domestic incidents in which a subject is arrested on a felony Strangulation charge or other felony charge coupled with a misdemeanor charge of Criminal Obstruction of Breathing.
Six forensic nurse examiners in Suffolk County will be participating in an advanced strangulation training course this month, provided by The Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention, which will qualify them to conduct clinical examinations of strangulation victims and to provide expert witness testimony at trials of strangulation cases. Initial funding for participation of the seven nurses, including Tepper, in the program will be provided by the District Attorney’s Office during the pilot period.
Additional oversight and resources for the forensic nurse examiners, including training, will be provided by the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office.
In addition to strangulation training for law enforcement officers, training will also be provided through the pilot program to victim advocates from L.I. Against Domestic Violence, a not-for-profit organization. There are currently advocates from L.I. Against Domestic Violence stationed in all seven Suffolk County Police precincts who provide crisis intervention services and support to victims of domestic violence. The advocates will assist in identifying victims of strangulation; coordinate services with the forensic nurse examiners to ensure victims receive appropriate services; and provide support to victims.
“By working together from the time a strangulation occurs through the prosecution, we will be able to build better and stronger cases against abusers; we will be able to put those perpetrators behind bars; and ultimately, we hope this program will help us save lives,” District Attorney Sini said.
"In the Medical Examiner's Office, we see the worst outcome of strangulation. The signs of strangulation, even in deceased persons, may be very subtle and difficult to see. Our role is to share our knowledge of these strangulation cases with the forensic nurse examiners and law enforcement to create a more robust understanding and response to this crime. I want to thank the District Attorney's Office, the Police Department and the nurse examiners for their partnership on this initiative,” said Dr. Michael Caplan, Chief Medical Examiner of Suffolk County.
“Strangulation is one of the most lethal forms of domestic violence and, unfortunately it is very common in instances of domestic violence for a victim to suffer strangulation. We also know that strangulation is a significant predictor for future lethal violence. And for these reasons, L.I Against Domestic Violence is eager to continue to provide crisis intervention services and support to victims immediately or as soon as possible following an incident that has been reported to law enforcement and to partner to increase safety to victims and offender accountability,” said Colleen Merlo, Executive Director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence.