Community Collaborates to Head Off Violence
Attorney Neil Shapiro wrote an interesting Guest Commentary for the Monterey County Herald, describing a new program and the events that inspired its creation.
Excerpt: On Jan. 29, 2007, John Kenney shot Mel and Elizabeth Grimes to death, thus ending a long-running dispute over the use of a small strip of land on the boundary of their respective Hitchcock Canyon properties in Carmel Valley.
As shocking as that event was to our community, perhaps more shocking is the frequency with which similar disputes end in a similar fashion across our country. Arguments over boundaries, trash, trees, barking dogs, noise and comparable differences too often are resolved with violence, and our systems of governance are ill-equipped to make those differences turn out otherwise.
As in the Grimes and Kenney situation, law enforcement personnel often are called to the scene of the disputes repeatedly, but unless a crime has been committed, there is little they can do. They may recommend that the parties seek restraining orders against one another, but that is the effective limit of their powers.
In the Grimes and Kenney situation, the parties sought and received such restraining orders. But the judicial system can do nothing more prospectively than order the parties to stay away from each other, as it did there, and nothing more retrospectively than prosecute the criminal offender after violence erupts. The system is adept at telling people what they should do and passing legal judgments on what they have already done, but is powerless to change the attitudes and behaviors that left Mel and Elizabeth Grimes dead in their driveway and John Kenney behind bars for the rest of his life.
A local public/private Monterey County partnership—under the leadership of the Superior Court and including the county, the Resource Management Agency, district attorney, sheriff's office, Monterey Police Department, city of Salinas, Monterey College of Law, the Mandell-Gisnet Center for Conflict Management, the bar association, the Community Restorative Justice Commission and Global Majority—recently has taken on the task of creating precisely such a mechanism.
The court's existing mediation program, in place for five years and enormously successful, by itself is not enough. It uses trained mediators to resolve civil disputes already brought into the legal system, but can offer nothing for the disputes that simmer but erupt before anyone involves that system. While it can try to adapt itself to mediate disputes that get to court by way of requests for restraining orders, the number of such cases is substantial, identifying those with violence potential is difficult, and the emotional component of such disputes requires additional skills to address.