The New York State Sheriff’s Association recently boosted a yearslong movement to establish a law creating a violent offender registry.
The association, now with Cattaraugus County Sheriff Tim Whitcomb inaugurated as its president, unanimously passed a resolution in January in Albany to formally promote Brittany’s Law, the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, in letters to members of the State Legislature.
The news pleased Linda and Thom Randolph of Cuba, who have joined the legislative call in honor of their late daughter, Shannon Pepper, who nearly died in a vicious attack by then-boyfriend Anthony Nevone in 2013. She later passed in a 2015 apartment fire following a night of heavy drinking to cope with nightmarish memories.
“I had just called (Whitcomb) up to see if he’d be willing to support Brittany’s Law, and that’s when he gave us that wonderful news,” said Linda Randolph, who has referred to Pepper’s now-imprisoned attacker as a “powder keg.”
Whitcomb said he’s investigated numerous cases involving repeat offenses in a police career spanning more than 25 years. Brittany’s Law, if passed, would require violent felony offenders to register similarly to sex offenders. It could help law enforcement to track registrants, deter additional violence and investigate cases that do recur, he said.
“Police work is done in two different ways: reactive and proactive,” Whitcomb added. “Having … a vehicle in place, such as websites and a notification process for people who want to go on to the website and take a look at who’s where in society, it can help them make decisions to make themselves safer.”
That’s exactly the pitch the Randolphs — and family members of 12-year-old Brittany Passalacqua, the namesake of Brittany’s Law, who was killed alongside her mother Helen Buchel in Geneva in 2009 by John Edward Brown — have made to lawmakers in recent years. Had Pepper and Buchel known their boyfriends had previously served prison time for horrendous acts of domestic violence, the families have said, their loved ones would likely be alive today.
“There are people who have a predisposition for violence, and there are people who have a predisposition for habitual sexual offenses, as well,” Whitcomb said. “As we grow as a society, as we grow in law enforcement and evolve to find ways to protect and serve people better, innovative things come along. The sex offender registry — Megan’s Law — even Penny’s Law that went through not so very long ago, they’re all laws catching up to phenomena that we are experiencing in law enforcement that can help us in a variety of ways.”
At the Albany meeting, Wayne County Sheriff Barry Virts and Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero moved and seconded the sheriffs’ association resolution.
“The incident itself with Brittany, it had connections to both of those counties,” Whitcomb said, “so both of those sheriffs especially had a vested interest.”
Pepper would’ve turned 40 on June 1. Her family has carried on the effort to promote Brittany’s Law at the state level and perhaps a federal equivalent. Pepper first picked up the cause, bolstering an earlier push for the bill, after awakening from a nearly monthlong coma at Erie County Medical Center following the attack.
Notably, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, is aiming to push federal legislation under his “No More” campaign against domestic and sexual violence. In New York, Brittany’s Law has passed each cycle in the Republican-led Senate for more than a half-decade, but has stalled in the downstate Democrat-led Assembly, with staunch support from both state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda.
“I was really glad to see (the sheriffs’ association support). It was great news that this group is behind this,” Thom Randolph said, noting the family also would like additional support from the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and the state police. “Hopefully, if we get the law enforcement behind it, well then maybe that will put a little pressure on the Corrections Committee to say, ‘Law enforcement’s behind us. We might want to get this moving.’”