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Another tool to fight domestic violence

New strangulation law nets two arrests in first eight days

Stephen Olney

Two people in Monroe County are facing charges under a new domestic violence law that singles out strangulation as a specific crime. 

Less than a week after the law went into effect, Greece Police collared the first arrest in Monroe County when they charged Stephen Olney, 38, with second-degree strangulation, a Class D felony. 

Olney is also charged with endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree criminal mischief. He is being held in Monroe County Jail on $5,000 bail pending further court action. 

A City of Rochester man, Tyjuan Gamble, was charged with a misdemeanor count Nov. 19. 

The state’s Strangulation and Related Offenses law, which took effect Nov. 11, makes it illegal to intentionally obstruct someone’s breathing or blood circulation. 

“One of the things that prompted it was the pervasive use of strangulation by batterers,” said Catherine Mazzotta, executive director of Alternatives for Battered Women. “It’s not uncommon for us to hear survivors talk about choking.” 

Mazzotta said strangulation is a more appropriate term for someone putting their hands around a person’s neck or using something to prevent them from breathing. 

“Choking is something you do to a piece of meat,” she said. “Strangulation is something that is done to you. This is attempting to hurt or kill someone when you talk about restricting air flow. That’s not something that should be taken lightly by any strength.” 

Mazzotta said it raises the behavior to a significant crime. She said in the past, law enforcement officers may have felt all that could be charged was harassment. Now, perpetrators may face felony charges and prison time. 

“It’s pretty significant when someone tries to take away the air you’re trying to breathe or to convey to the victim ‘I can kill you. This is why you’re never to contradict me or go against my wishes,’” Mazzotta said, noting the legislation also increases accountability. 

“We felt that people were getting away with almost murder,” she said. “I think it’s a good step in the right direction in terms of accountability, which is a significant part of a coordinated community response to domestic violence and it is a campaign to enhancing victim safety. You have to have both in the community.” 

Alternatives for Battered Women, as a member organization of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was involved in educating legislators on the need for new laws to address a serious action that didn’t necessarily fit into other crime categories. 

“It adds three new crimes,” said Monroe County District Attorney Michael C. Green: a misdemeanor count of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation, and felony counts of first- and second-degree strangulation. 

“I’m not surprised that we’ve seen cases,” Green said. “Unfortunately, it is conduct that we see, particularly in domestic violence situations. It’s conduct that’s been associated with situations where you have someone trying to dominate or control someone.” 

Green said the new crimes address strangling someone to the point where they almost pass out or lose consciousness, actions that were previously difficult to fit into an existing assault category. 

He said in previous strangulation cases where there were no long-term marks left on the victim, the best prosecutors could do was maybe get a misdemeanor conviction. Green said according to the legislative intent, 62 percent of cases showed no visible injuries. 

“Hopefully, what it will do is bring the penalties for that type of conduct up to where they ought to be,” he said. “The law will be a tool to help us deal with one aspect of these cases that was a problem before.” 

According to the misdemeanor law, a person is guilty of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation when he or she applies pressure on the throat or neck or blocks the nose or mouth of someone else. 

The second-degree felony count involves impeding breathing or blood circulation to the extent of causing a stupor, loss of consciousness for any period of time or any other physical injury or impairment. The first-degree count, a Class C felony, involves causing serious physical injury. 

Punishment ranges from up to a year in jail for the misdemeanor, up to seven years in prison on the Class D felony and up to 15 years in prison on the Class C felony. 

Who to call for help
Alternatives for Battered Women in Rochester
(585) 232-7353
TTY line: (585) 232-1741
Out of area, call the New York state hotline: 1 (800) 942-6906

Facts about strangulation

  • Many victims will report that they have been “choked” when they are actually the victims of strangulation.
  • Some victims will say they were not choked or strangled, but with further questioning will acknowledge that the suspect put an object or the suspect’s hands around the victim’s neck.
  • Lack of oxygen during strangulation can lead to underlying brain damage that may not present itself in victims and unborn children for up to several weeks, at which point death may still occur from the strangulation.
  • In the case of allegations of strangulation, the absence of external injuries is not uncommon and the likelihood of serious internal injuries that could result in death is possible.

 — New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence