MD Delegate with History of Violence Proposes Legislation Limiting Victims’ Right to Self Defense
HB-67 is a questionable piece of legislation given that it would put the responsibility on the victim of a crime to flee an attacker or be guilty of a crime themselves. It is even more troubling given that it was introduced by a delegate who himself has a history of domestic violence.
The text of the bill is brief:
A PERSON CHARGED WITH A CRIME UNDER THIS ARTICLE MAY ASSERT THE DEFENSE OF SELF–DEFENSE ONLY IF THE PERSON, WHEN ATTACKED:
(1) DID NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO RETREAT OR ESCAPE THE DANGER; OR
(2) COULD NOT RETREAT OR ESCAPE THE DANGER WHILE MAINTAINING THE PERSON’S SAFETY.
As Maryland Legislative Watch points out, HB-67 is likely in response to controversy over “stand your ground” laws which became part of the public discussion surrounding the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman incident in Florida. The potential for unintended consequences seems obvious. While being attacked, does a victim have the ability to judge whether escape or retreat is even an option? Does the victim know he/she won’t be shot in the back running from the attacker? Does a victim have a legal responsibility to make a split second assessment of whether he/she is capable of outrunning an attacker? This legislation seems to give the benefit of the doubt to the criminal. Conaway Jr. also introduced HB-22 which would specifically forbid Baltimore City from adopting any ordinance that would limit the “common law requirement” that a victim retreat from an attack.
Frank Conaway Jr. was elected to the office of Delegate despite having a history of violence himself. The City Paper reports on the domestic violence complaint filed by Conaway Jr.’s wife, Letsa Elaine Thomas:
Conaway Jr.’s longtime wife, Latesa Elaine Thomas, 44, has had a Baltimore County domestic-violence protective order against her husband for more than three years. The order, dated Aug. 25, 2003, states that Conaway Jr. “threatened to kill” Thomas, placing her “in fear of imminent serious bodily harm,” and that “one year ago [he] pushed her face through back door window.” Thomas also convinced the court that Conaway Jr., 43, was a threat to himself and others as a diagnosed sufferer of bipolar disorder who had stopped taking his prescribed medications, so the court ordered police escorts to deliver Conaway Jr. to two emergency hospital evaluations in the summer of 2003. Thomas is in the process of divorcing Conaway Jr.
In addition to the injuries described in the protective order, Thomas, in her sworn statement in the case, mentioned a “tooth chip” and “bruises all over the body.” She wrote that Conaway Jr. was “having a bi-polar accident. He has not taken his medicine for several months.” She asked the court to help, writing that she and the three children she’s had with Conaway Jr. are “living in fear” because “he is bi-polar and I can’t deal or control his behavior,” which she described as “unstable,” “talking threats, keeping son in garage in fear. My entire family is afraid. He is in a manic state and is unreasonable.” [emphasis added]
The delegate was reluctant to talk about the issue with The City Paper.
Bringing up Conaway Jr.’s own court record prompts the candidate to assume a don’t-go-there attitude. “My children’s mother is a decent woman,” he says. “That’s all you need to know. People understand that things happen between man and woman and the rearing of children.” [emphasis added]
Conaway Jr. was also among the legislators who in 2010 voted to kill HB-700 which would give judges more discretion in issuing protective orders in cases of domestic violence. A Washington Post editorial described the bill:
[HB-700] would replace the current standard of “clear and convincing evidence” to a “preponderance of the evidence.” Maryland is the only state that uses this higher standard when victims — and generally they are women — seek orders to protect themselves from their alleged abusers. In all other civil matters, Maryland courts require only a preponderance of evidence.
Contrary to the fears of some opponents, this would not open up the floodgates to capricious decisions based on false charges. Judges would still be able to judge the credibility of any claim, but they would have more discretion in reaching a decision. Instead of being bound by there being no doubt about a petitioner being in danger, the court would be able to use the more reasonable standard of there being a good chance of danger.
Conaway’s father, Frank M. Conaway Sr., was also a state Delegate and and later a clerk of the Baltimore Circuit Court. Conaway Sr. was interviewed for the same article and dismissed the domestic violence issue, suggesting people take the accusations “with a grain of salt.” It would seem Conaway Sr. is no stranger to to domestic violence charges, having been charged in 1972 for punching his ex-wife in the face and sending her to the hospital. The Conaway family’s own website describes Conaway Jr. as a “chip off the old block.” Statistically, that tends to be the case with men who commit violence against women, unfortunately.
The news clipping from a June 1972 issue of The Afro-American was reportedly discovered by blogger Adam Meister who has had legal run-ins with the Conaway family and writes at the blog No Conaways In 2014. Front Line State found the clipping posted at the blog Baltimore Crime.
Perpetrators of violence legislating on the rights of victims is certainly a tangled mess, but corruption in Maryland–and especially Baltimore–politics is sadly a given. The Conaways are nonetheless willing to call themselves the “premier political family” of Baltimore.