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Restraining orders can’t prevent violence

F.T. Norton
Filing a protection order does not guarantee a person's safety. / Tribune News Service
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A protection order filed against her killer did little to protect Carson City resident Shelly Hachenberger.

Law enforcement could only act if Chris Rasmussen violated the order. When he did July 11 he was arrested. But Rasmussen put the $2,600 bail on his credit card and was out three hours later.

On July 19, he violated it again, calling Hachenberger’s work asking who she was dating. Deputies tried three times to arrest him that day but, although his cars were in his driveway and neighbors said he was home, Rasmussen didn’t answer the door.

The next morning, about 7 a.m., he blasted his way into Hachenberger’s Hawaii Circle home and took the 40-year-old mother’s life before taking his own.

“People actually see that piece of paper as some protection and it does not have that kind of value,” Hachenberger’s father Dave Churchey said. “She believed the order would give her the tools she needed to (make him stop), but her faith in people was misplaced.”

More than 600 protection orders have been filed this year in Carson City Justice Court. Most don’t end as tragically as the Hachenberger case.

“This is definitely extreme. We don’t see that as often,” said domestic violence advocate Frankee Haynes. “I think they are a very effective tool, but it doesn’t stop a bullet.”

Under Nevada law, two types of orders are available – an order of protection against domestic violence and an order of protection against stalking and harassment. If the defendant violates a domestic order that person is charged with a misdemeanor and could be fined up to $1,000, and sentenced to up to six months in jail. Violation of a stalking order is a gross misdemeanor with the penalty being up to a $2,000 fine and one year in jail.

In 2001, the Nevada Legislature gave arresting officers the discretionary power to determine if someone arrested on violation of a protection order against domestic violence should be held for 12 hours before being allowed to make bail.

Called a “cooling-off period,” Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, supported the passage of the bill after the killing of Rick Albrecht by Anthony Echols. Echols was the defendant in a restraining order filed by his estranged wife. Albrecht was a friend of the wife and was also a protected party on the order.

When Echols was arrested for violating the order, he was booked into jail, posted bail on his credit card and was back on the street within hours. Almost immediately, he went to Albrecht’s home and killed the Carson City contractor. Echols is serving a life sentence.

Parnell said she was surprised to learn the cooling-off period does not apply to violation of a stalking order.

It wouldn’t have mattered in the Hachenberger case. Rasmussen’s hate stewed for nine days before he delivered his final insult.

“We never even discussed a stalking order. It sounds to me like we might open this up again,” Parnell said Friday. “This is obviously a problem. I’d like to see if there isn’t a way to strengthen the law. We need to correct it.”

She said she will get with other Assembly members and law enforcement to look at the alternatives. If the hold is at the discretion of the arresting officer, she said, perhaps increased domestic violence training for deputies is warranted.

“Maybe part of a bill could reference the education our police officers are getting. We need to make sure these officers do the training and they know what to look for and understand the situation.”

Ten years ago, the worthlessness of a restraining order became evident to Lynn Peters. After repeated calls, letters and general harassment from her estranged husband, Peters realized her protection order did nothing to stop him from doing whatever he wanted. The final straw was a package she received containing a shirt of hers covered in blood and riddled with bullet holes. The sender was Chris Rasmussen.

“I thought with the order he wouldn’t come around me. I felt like I was going to be safe, but I wasn’t,” she said from her home in Washington.

Peters eventually fled the state in fear of her life.

The accusations in a domestic violence protection order filed against Rasmussen by Peters in 1995, are eerily similar to those Hachenberger detailed in the stalking protection order filed June 29.

“He told me he was going to kidnap me and kill me,” Peters wrote. “He told my girlfriend he was watching me and going to kill my boyfriend.”

In the stalking order Hachenberger filed against Rasmussen, she wrote: “He left a message that he was ‘losing it’ and it ‘won’t be pretty.’ He threatened if I filed a restraining order, the (expletive) was on.”

Peters believed, with Rasmussen’s intense rage, staying in Carson City was impossible.

For Hachenberger, leaving was not an option, her father said.

“She had made up her mind that she would not run off, she was not leaving here under any circumstances,” Churchey said. “She sincerely believed Chris would not hurt her, that he would eventually just wear himself out doing stupid things. She didn’t expect the end result.”

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