Domestic Violence Victim’s Father Helps Others By Buying, Installing Cameras

The Hartford Courant
December 10, 2010

GARDNER, Mass. — When Michelle Colangelo testified against her ex-boyfriend in November, saying he came to her home five times and slashed 10 car tires, she had evidence to back up her claim: He was captured on tape.

Colangelo is one of seven domestic violence victims in Massachusetts to benefit from a new program started by the father of a Connecticut homicide victim, Tiana Notice. Last year, Alvin Notice started installing cameras outside the homes of women in his home state of Massachusetts.

The cameras have led to the arrests of two men on domestic violence-related charges, Notice said; one was convicted after a trial Nov. 16 and 17. Notice hopes to start installing cameras in Connecticut, too.

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Among other things, the cameras provide proof of violations of no-contact orders. This is key in domestic cases, when officers often have to weigh one person’s word against another’s.

“The ability to document what’s going on is terribly important to the victims,” said Michelle Cruz, Connecticut’s state victim advocate.

The cameras can serve an even more important function: deterring abusers from injuring their victims.

But they’re not foolproof. Cameras don’t always capture a clear enough view to satisfy juries. Like any other piece of evidence, their recorded images can be mishandled and rendered useless.

Notice, a deputy superintendent of operations/security for the Massachusetts Department of Correction, installed a camera at his daughter Tiana’s Plainville apartment on Feb. 7, 2009, after all four of her car tires were slashed. Tiana suspected that her ex-boyfriend, James Carter, had done the damage, but police told her there was no way to prove it.

Hoping to catch him in the act, Notice pointed the camera toward the back of the parking lot where Tiana parked her car. But the camera didn’t record anyone slashing tires.

Rather, on the night of Feb. 14, its microphone captured the sounds of Tiana’s screams as she was being fatally stabbed.

Carter has been charged with murder, numerous counts of violating a restraining order and other charges.

The camera didn’t save Notice’s daughter, but he appreciated its potential. He began talking to groups that help domestic violence victims in Massachusetts, got referrals and started installing cameras at victims’ homes.

“This makes me feel so good,” Notice said of the camera program. “It’s worth every bit of my time to see justice for these women. Tiana never had any justice and I hope she will get it some day.”

Typically, he and an assistant install four cameras — one on each corner of the home — and a recorder. The set costs $1,000 each. The setup is free, courtesy of the Tiana Angelique Notice Foundation, although Alvin Notice said he needs donations to expand the program.

One woman who lives outside of Boston said her cameras make her feel safer. Notice installed hers in the summer.

The woman said she has been abused physically and mentally. Her ex-boyfriend has been charged with crimes against her, she said, but he’s not in custody. She didn’t want her name published for fear it would affect the upcoming trial or ignite his temper.

For domestic violence victims, she said, life is “like being in a scary movie and not being able to shut it off.”

“When somebody’s instilled that kind of fear, you can’t be too cautious,” she said.

Her fear eased when the cameras were installed July 5. Having them is like having “an extra set of eyes,” she said.

Now, before venturing out, she checks the live views of what’s going on outside on her computer or television screen.

“You can’t have enough eyes in a situation like this,” she said. “It gives you a little piece of your life back.”

Michelle Colangelo, 41, of Gardner, Mass., was the first woman to get Notice’s cameras. She got two last December. Notice returned and installed two more and adjusted them for a better view. Like Tiana Notice, Colangelo suspected her ex-boyfriend had been coming to her home and slashing her car tires.

On Jan. 2, Notice remotely checked out how the cameras were working from his house across town. He logged in to his home computer, plugged in the code for Colangelo’s cameras, and looked at live footage of what was going on outside her home while he talked to her on the phone.

The two had just hung up when Colangelo saw something on her 42-inch television screen that shocked her, she said. Her ex-boyfriend came into view. Notice saw him, too.

By accident, Colangelo called Notice instead of dialing 911.

“Oh my God, he’s here!” she told him. He told her to call the police.

She did, and the police eventually arrested Michael Williams, 47. Williams, who Colangelo said slashed 10 tires in 17 days, faced multiple counts of criminal harassment and malicious destruction of property.

Colangelo testified against him earlier this month during a 1 1/2-day trial in Fitchburg District Court. He was found guilty of one count of malicious destruction of property, a court spokeswoman said.

Colangelo was disappointed that Williams wasn’t found guilty of all five tire-slashings — two others of which were captured on film. She said it appeared the jury was concerned that those videos weren’t as clear.

In the Jan. 2 incident, however, Williams turned his face toward the camera, she said, and two eyewitnesses — her friend and her husband — pulled up while he was slashing.

Colangelo was grateful for the conviction and was especially happy about something else: The judge ordered Williams to pay for all of the slashed tires, $1,500.

While video evidence enhances the chance of obtaining a conviction, nothing is automatic, some domestic violence victims have learned.

Take, for example, the case of Yamilett Solis. She had three installed outside her townhouse in Dedham, Mass., on Labor Day weekend, she said.

Less than two weeks later, her fiancé heard footsteps outside in the middle of the night, she said. The next morning, when she was able to review what the camera had recorded, she saw that it was her ex-boyfriend, she said.

Gilberto Martinez, 39, who had just finished serving a nine-month sentence for violation of probation, was arrested and charged with violating a no-contact order, Solis said.

After a one-day trial in Dedham District Court, a judge found him not guilty. The police had not marked the DVD as evidence or filled out the proper paperwork, causing the judge to be concerned about its authenticity.

“It was a horror show,” Solis said. “I couldn’t believe that I finally had this man on video,” but the court wouldn’t accept it as evidence.

Even before the not-guilty verdict, Solis warned that domestic violence victims shouldn’t let the cameras lull them into a false sense of security. They may deter people from visiting a place they are not supposed to be, but cameras can’t physically stop intruders.

“They’re not going to keep you safe,” she said. “But at least now, [the abuser] knows there’s a camera there.”

“The only way you feel safer is if they’re behind bars where they belong.”