In Connecticut, law officials confirm that when police are called to a domestic violence complaint or a restraining order is issued, weapons are always a chief concern. This article gives some insight into the process and procedures undertaken in such cases.

Guns a chief concern in domestic cases
by Adam Wittenberg, published on 14 June 2011

State law allows police to seize any firearm in plain view at the scene of an incident even if no arrest is made and to seize a weapon from someone suspected of committing a crime, even if no arrest has been made. Protective orders require the surrender of weapons and judges usually order the same of people subject to a restraining order.

Area police said they don't hesitate to use those powers and often work pre-emptively to remove weapons in criminal cases before the courts issue orders the next business day.

While involved parties will usually surrender their guns voluntarily, police said, the system isn't foolproof. People can lie or hide weapons, or there can be filing irregularities in the computer database that tracks pistol permits and registrations. And some weapons, such as hunting rifles, don't have to be registered with the state.

The relationship between weapons and domestic violence is in sharp focus locally after an apparent murder-suicide in Southington Saturday, the second such incident in less than a week. Both involved a man apparently killing his ex-wife, then turning the gun on himself. The other incident was in Wallingford.

Saudina Mehovic, of Plantsville, had told the court in October 2009 that her husband, Nurija, "says he has a gun," and that she was "in constant fear for my life and that of my children."

A restraining order was granted and Southington police removed Nurija Mehovic from the couple's West Street home the next day but did not find any guns there.

An investigation is pending into the paperwork associated with a Glock 9mm handgun police recovered from the scene Saturday.

Sgt. Lowell DePalma did not have specific details about the case but said officers often seek assistance from the state police firearms division when they can't find information about a pistol.

"It could be a digit of a serial number is entered wrong or there's a misspelling of a name," he said. "That part is still under investigation. (State police) have the database. All the files are there."

Although Saudina Mehovic had told her attorney of her husband's claim that he had a gun as part of obtaining the restraining order, it was unclear whether she told local police the same thing, DePalma said. She had complained to police two days earlier about a domestic incident and threatening but declined to provide a written statement and no arrest was made.

Officers typically ask all parties in a domestic incident if they have guns or if there are weapons in the residence.

The laws pertaining to domestic and family violence are constantly evolving and many changes have been made over the last two years in particular, thanks largely to a task force formed by House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden.

A bill that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign will no longer allow seized guns to be transferred a family member or other licensed owner. Instead, the weapons will either be confiscated by police or go to a licensed firearms dealer.

The confiscation remains active until a criminal case is resolved, and authorities can destroy weapons held after one year.

"We destroy quite a bit of firearms," said Lt. Marc Mikulski, Wallingford police spokesman.

Issues arise when police must return after an incident to confiscate weapons.

This can happen because the guns weren't voluntarily surrendered during the incident or because state records show there are weapons outstanding associated with the person or address that police didn't know about during their first visit.

At this time, usually the first business day after the initial incident, Wallingford police launch a secondary investigation.

"We make an arrangement to have them turned over from the person authorized to possess them," either to police or someone allowed to have guns, Mikulski said. "And if not we'll go over and actually seize the weapons ourselves."

Police can hold weapons they seize during an incident for seven days but that is typically a moot point if an arrest is made since a criminal protective order will be issued the next business day in court which will require the surrender of any weapons.

Restraining orders are a civil matter and judges have discretion to order the confiscation of guns, something they typically do. Although the order allows 48 hours to get rid of the guns, area departments said they try to get them sooner.

Lt. James Fasano, Cheshire police spokesman, said he couldn't recall an incident in which someone refused to give up guns at the scene of a domestic incident.

"Rather than having a restraining order issued by the court the next day and go after the people, we'd rather take them right at the scene," he said. "The person understands that when the protective order is over they can come back and take them."

While protective orders typically last through the duration of the criminal case, restraining orders are issued for six months and can be renewed if the threat remains.

Saudina Mehovic's restraining order was renewed in May 2010 for about another month and expired around the time her divorce was granted. There was no order in effect at the time she was killed.

Another provision of the new bill will crack down on the practice of illegally discounting bail bonds fees, something which helped spring Selami Ozdemir of West Haven in January of last year after his second domestic violence arrest in four months.

He put no money down on a $25,000 bond and then returned home, shot his wife and killed himself, authorities say.

Donovan said discounting undercuts judicial efforts to set bail amounts that will allow dangerous offenders "a cooling off period." The law includes more regulation of the bail bonds industry.

Other work includes a pilot global positioning system to alert people if they are violating a protective order and redoing the state's criminal justice computer system to ensure better sharing of information across all facets of law enforcement, Donovan said. There's also been money added this year and for next year to keep shelters for family violence victims open day and night, seven days a week.

Acting Lt. Jeffrey Herget, a nine-year veteran of the Meriden Police Department, welcomes the changes.

"The legislation has changed and that's a positive," said Herget, a member of the Connecticut Coalition of Police Officers to Prevent Domestic Violence. "I definitely think we can change laws and can still work harder to improve what we have."

Donovan said there's more to be done and he'd like to expand the monitoring system statewide.

As for Saudina Mehovic, a family member from Idaho is soliciting money to pay for the body's transfer to the Netherlands, where Mehovic's family lives. They are originally from Bosnia.

Merima Hamzic, of Boise, said she's hoping to collect $5,000 to $7,000 to pay for the shipment and burial. Details on how to contribute were not available Tuesday afternoon.

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