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Domestic Violence
Of Concern in Liberty

By John Emerson
LIBERTY — April 14, 2000 -- Dozens of Liberty residents crammed, elbowed and wedged their way into the Liberty Village Board meeting room Wednesday night to express their concern and outrage over two recent slayings within the village.
The largest discussion centered on the death of Gale Lynn Kearns, who was allegedly strangled by her boyfriend, Robert Cole. Police have charged Cole with second-degree murder in connection with the woman’s death.
Several village residents demanded to know why the police had not done more when they were called to the scene less than an hour before the alleged murder occurred. Cole has a prior criminal record, including a conviction relating to a serious assault on a former girlfriend.
Liberty Police Lt. Mike DeFrank said that officers were only called to the Orchard Street home once and that, when they arrived, there was no evidence of violence – merely an argument. He also said that a report on the original call was filed, thereby denying reports that the department had had numerous contacts with Cole and Kearns and had failed to file an incident report.
“[Cole’s] last contact with the Liberty police was for playing football in the street,” DeFrank said. “You have to understand that, without an arrest or an investigation, we can’t check prior criminal history. It’s not something that we like, but that’s the law.”
Betty Dutcher, the director of Safe Passage, a local advocacy group against domestic violence, said she was not attacking the department’s handling of the case but did argue that the police were poorly trained in domestic violence issues. She asked the village board to make yearly domestic violence training for police officers mandatory.
As one of 10 upstate rural counties selected to participate in the state’s Rural Domestic Violence Project, she said funds were available to Sullivan County law enforcement agencies for additional training.
Last November, Safe Passage offered a training seminar conducted by police officers from Orange County to all the police agencies in Sullivan County. While each of the county’s five major police agencies were represented, only six officers attended the training session.
“I found the attendance to be a statement within itself,” she said. “Sullivan County law enforcement agencies have had the resources to bring in at no cost experts in this field to provide invaluable information and provide technical assistance whenever and as often as needed.”

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