On June 29, Jason Dej-Oudom forcibly kidnapped his wife, drove to a nearby drug store parking lot and shot her to death. He then went to his apartment where he later took his own life. Somewhere during this melee, he also killed his three children.
Phoukeo Dej-Oudom filed for divorce on May 25 and also filed for a temporary protection order (TPO) from Family Court on June 9. It was denied because it did not meet “statutory requirements.”
Would the wife and children still be living if the TPO had been granted? We may never know an answer with certainty because a piece of paper can’t stop a bullet or a deranged person with other deadly weapons.
Domestic violence disputes like this constitute a significant percentage the annual homicides in Clark County.
But the failure to grant the TPO was a deadly mistake that will surely haunt Family Court judges and domestic violence hearing masters.
Had the TPO been issued, it would have at least given the wife and children a chance to protect themselves from a vindictive spouse and father. It was wrong to deny a protection order at a time of great peril in their lives.
As a former Family Court judge and part-time domestic violence hearing master, I know the laws and the system well.
I also know why the system sometimes fails to protect abused victims and children. We can do much better and needed changes should come from the 2017 Legislature.
State statutes define “domestic violence” and they simply list a series of crimes that might be committed against a family member. Another section includes “a knowing, purposeful or reckless course of conduct intended to harass the other person.” That section could have been used to justify the TPO.
In reality, however, if you want to get a TPO, you first have to get hurt, threatened with harm or stalked. If you are not already a crime victim, it is harder to get the TPO.
The current state of the law is antiquated and does not match the reality of domestic violence and the current state of behavioral science research. It needs to be modernized to include serious threats of harm and extreme emotional abuse in addition to actual physical harm.
Domestic violence is not a “one size fits all” concept. Social science experts have identified different patterns of domestic violence. In some categories, men are the predominant perpetrators. In other situations, men and women are about equal in engaging in domestic violence.
By far the worst situation for abused women is retaliatory violence perpetrated by a coercive, controlling, violent partner they are finally trying to leave. Based on the news stories published so far, that appears to be the situation for Phoukeo Dej-Oudom and her children.
The TPO application and the news details revealed so far indicate the husband engaged in coercive controlling violence during their marriage.
Since they had three children, it is not unusual for the wife to remain in the marriage to protect the children.
But there comes a time when an abused spouse works up the courage to leave and take the children with her.
Her decision to finally extricate herself from her miserable marriage was the final straw for the abusing husband.
The act of leaving is a very dangerous time for an abused spouse. Even with restraining orders, some victims have been killed or badly hurt.
My policy was to protect first and sort it out later in court. An antiquated and inadequate statute should not be an excuse to protect someone who needs an order but has not yet been physically hurt. By then, it might be too late.
Here is what should be done in the future:
■ The 2017 Legislature should substantially revise and modernize the law in Nevada to conform to modern social science research on domestic violence.
■ At the present time, extended protection orders can be issued for only one year. The Legislature should consider allowing judges to extend protection orders in excess of one year in extreme cases.
■ The District Court should order a mandatory one-day intensive training/refresher course for all Family Court judges and hearing masters on state-of-the-art social science research of domestic violence patterns.
Yes, there are those who abuse the system. Some applicants file false petitions to get a quick advantage in child custody disputes.
Some applicants file TPO applications for revenge. In recent years, some people have filed TPO applications as a “poor person’s” way to evict a roommate instead of going through the formal process.
That doesn’t excuse the failure to issue a TPO for Phoukeo Dej-Oudom and her three children. She was not abusing or misusing the system.
The system was designed and intended to protect potential victims of domestic violence and it failed them at a time of great peril in their lives.
Robert W. Lueck, a Las Vegas attorney, served as a Clark County Family Court judge from 1999-2004.