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Domestic violence is no longer illegal under Topeka, Kan., law

October 12, 2011 |  1:46 pm

Domestic violence It's no longer illegal to abuse a spouse if you're in Topeka, Kan. -- at least under city law.

The Topeka City Council voted Tuesday night to repeal the city’s misdemeanor domestic battery law. The issue, which had become a bargaining chip in an awkward battle over local and county budgets, has so far seen the release of 30 abuse suspects, according to the Kansas City Star.

Felony domestic abuse cases continued to be prosecuted, but the Star reported that one abuse suspect has been arrested and released twice since the budget spat started last month.

“I absolutely do not understand it,” said Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in the Star’s report. “It’s really outrageous that they’re playing with family safety to see who blinks first. People could die while they’re waiting to straighten this out.”

Behind the move is a game of political "chicken" that developed recently when the local prosecutor for Shawnee County, Chad Taylor, said he could no longer prosecute misdemeanors because his office's budget had been cut by 10%. Half of Shawnee County’s misdemeanors are domestic battery cases, and domestic abuse prosecutions had increased over the last three years without extra funding from the county, according to the prosecutor's office.

That meant the city of Topeka — which had a misdemeanor domestic battery law but had let county prosecutors handle the cases in recent years — would have to pick up the slack. But it couldn't afford to handle the cases either.

So City Council members rescinded the domestic battery law to force a stare-down with the county prosecutor. The state has its own misdemeanor battery law, and the county prosecutor would still have to enforce state law.

The city's tactic worked. In a news release Wednesday,  Taylor announced — grudgingly — that he would prosecute the domestic abuse cases again.

"Effective immediately my office will commence the review and filing of misdemeanors decriminalized by the City of Topeka," Taylor said in the release. "My office now retains sole authority to prosecute domestic battery misdemeanors and will take on this responsibility so as to better protect and serve our community. We will do so with less staff, less resources, and severe constraints on our ability to effectively seek justice."

But Taylor said there would have to be a reckoning; justice costs money, and someone has to pay.
"Public safety is being ignored by the leaders of this community and we will shortly see the consequences of their actions," he said.

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--Matt Pearce in Kansas City, Mo.
Twitter.com/mattdpearce

Photo: Protesters gather outside the Shawnee County Court House in Topeka, Kan., on Tuesday before a City Council session. Credit: Anthony S. Bush / Topeka Capital-Journal

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