Oklahoma's protective orders do little to protect abuse victims from guns
Emily Deffner described her father, Timothy "Michael" Deffner, as an angry, unpredictable man with a red face, big nose and a bowed-out chest, in a request for a protective order she filed against him.
Michael Deffner once sent his daughter photographs of a knife and threatened to slit her boyfriend's throat and kill him, she said in the petition.
In a separate request for a protective order, Michael Deffner's wife, Cayann Patterson Deffner, said her husband possessed multiple guns that belonged to her mother and that he had threatened to kill her and her children.
"He hides guns throughout our house — most recently in my daughter's room," Cayann Deffner, wrote in a 2015 application for a protective order against her estranged husband
Two five-year protective orders — filed separately in two counties — didn't stop Michael Deffner, 55, from using a .30-caliber hunting rifle to shoot and kill Cayann Deffner, 49, and her divorce attorney, Bryan Young, 47, in Norman in February. His final act was to turn the gun on himself, committing suicide in front of about 10 law enforcement officers in Pottawatomie County.
Although guns are the leading cause of domestic violence deaths in Oklahoma, protective orders filed in the state frequently do little to keep abusers from possessing and using them.
Two weeks after the Norman slayings, Kenneth Robertson took a rifle and shot and killed his wife, Teresa Robertson, in Fairfax. He died after a shootout in the street with police. Like Cayann Deffner, Teresa Robertson had recently filed for a protective order against her husband.
In 2010, Raymond Dye shot and killed his wife, Barbara "Diane" Dye, in Elgin after she took out an emergency protective order against him and filed for divorce. According to witnesses, Raymond Dye said, "I love you, I love you, I love you," as he stood over his wife in a bank parking lot and shot her multiple times with a .357-caliber revolver. He then shot himself in the chest with a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol and died.
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Out of 94 domestic homicides in Oklahoma in 2015, firearms were the leading cause of death — used in about 45 percent of cases — according to the most recent data available from the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.
Oklahoma ranked 4th
Oklahoma ranked the No. 4 state in the nation for the number of women killed by men in the Violence Policy Center's 2016 report "When Men Kill Women." The report used data from 2014 homicides and found 65 percent of female homicide victims in Oklahoma were shot and killed with guns. Of those, 82 percent were killed with handguns.
Federal law prohibits anyone subject to a domestic violence protective order from buying or possessing firearms or ammunition, but the law is unevenly enforced, said attorney Gail Stricklin, an advocate for victims of domestic violence.
In the one case that Stricklin was able to have an abuser successfully prosecuted for possessing a gun in violation of a protective order, she had to report the matter to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"ATF is the only way to enforce it," Stricklin said. "It's the No. 1 thing that kills people. Legislation is the only way to change things, but it's just impossible in this state."
Oklahoma lacks laws to protect victims of abuse from guns
In Oklahoma, a victim who applies for a protective order can request that a judge order an abuser to surrender any weapons in his or her possession, but it's up to a judge to decide if federal domestic violence prohibitions on gun possession apply.
Local sheriff's departments are responsible for serving emergency protective orders after they are filed in Oklahoma. Sheriff's deputies in Oklahoma County will ask a person if they have firearms to surrender when they serve an order if the order specifies it, said Mark Opgrande, spokesman for the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office.
If a defendant tells deputies he or she has no weapons, law enforcement in Oklahoma pretty much has to take the person's word for it, because a protective order does not carry the authority of a search warrant, Opgrande said.
Specific procedures cited
Unlike Oklahoma, laws in several other states lay out specific procedures to restrict an abuser's access to firearms when a protective order is filed.
California allows judges to issue a search warrant if an abuser does not voluntarily surrender firearms to police when a protective order is served.
Courts in New York are required to issue an order for abusers to surrender all firearms if a judge finds the abuser could use or threaten to use a firearm against the victim after a protective order is filed.
Under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, courts must issue a warrant to seize all firearms when a domestic violence protective order is issued. Local law enforcement is required to store the guns until the protective order expires.
Lawton resident Barbara Burk has worked to strengthen Oklahoma's domestic violence laws since the death of her daughter, Diane Dye, in 2010.
In the months leading up to her death, Diane Dye's husband Raymond Dye held a gun to her head multiple times and threatened to kill her.
"He'd say, 'I'm going to kill you, but not today,'" Burk said her daughter told her.
Police were no help, Burk said.
"In every vehicle that he drove, there was at least one or two guns," Burk said. "She told the deputies repeatedly that he had guns everywhere."
In her application for a protective order filed in July 2010, Diane Dye stated that her husband had weapons and that she was afraid of him. She also filed for divorce the same day.
"Since being told that I want a divorce due to his affair, Ray has repeatedly threatened me saying he would kill me," she wrote in her petition for a protective order. "I fear that he will have a violent reaction when he receives divorce papers."
Raymond Dye, 42, shot and killed Diane Dye, 40, in a bank parking lot in Elgin just 11 days after she filed for divorce and took out the emergency protective order against him.
'Just a piece of paper'
After the death of her daughter, Burk said she repeatedly heard that a protective order is "just a piece of paper" that does little to protect victims.
"If it's just a piece of paper, why don't you do something to change that and make it more effective so that it's more than a piece of paper?" Burk said. "It just doesn't sit well with me."
Burk has since testified at the Oklahoma Legislature on domestic violence issues and pushed to strengthen state laws to protect victims of abuse from gun violence.
In 2014, Burk supported a bill that would have required abusers to surrender all firearms and ammunition when a protective order is filed in cases where the defendant has a history of violence or threats. The bill, authored by now-retired Rep. Ann Coody, R-Lawton, never made it out of committee.
Coody also authored a bill in 2015 that would have allowed law enforcement responding to a domestic violence call to take and hold any guns present. The bill proposed that law enforcement keep the guns until a court hearing to evaluate the defendant's potential for violence. The bill passed out of committee, but was never heard on the House floor.
"They are more worried about the abuser's rights than they are the victim and it shouldn't be that way," Burk said.
Don Spencer, president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, said he supports protecting victims of domestic violence, but he also worries about stricter gun laws infringing upon Oklahomans' constitutional right to bear arms, as well as protections against illegal search and seizure.
"If a person is guilty of domestic violence, we don't want them to have guns either, but we can't take away people's right to defend themselves," Spencer said. "The due process has to be there."
Victims of domestic violence also can benefit from having access to guns in order to protect themselves, he said.
"Constitutional protections have to be adhered to," Spencer said. "Even if someone's guns are taken away, they could go and steal one."
Guns frequently not seized
On Feb. 23, Kenneth Robertson walked into the flower shop his estranged wife, Teresa Robertson, owned on Main Street in the Osage County town of Fairfax and shot her with a rifle. Teresa Robertson ran from the building and collapsed in the street, where she died.
The town's acting police chief shot and killed Kenneth Robertson in front of Fairfax City Hall after Robertson fired off two rounds at police.
Seventeen days before her death, Teresa Robertson had taken out an emergency protective order against her husband. Six days before her death, she filed for divorce.
In her petition for a protective order, Teresa Robertson said her husband recently locked her in a room of their home and threatened to hit her with two hammers. He also once said he would drown her and "make it look like an accident."
"Kenny is always threatening to kill me," Teresa Robertson wrote.
Teresa Robertson did not check off a box on the emergency protective order form to request that her husband surrender any weapons.
"Unless we have a judge's order, we basically can't do anything," said Loren Vaughan, chief deputy for the Osage County Sheriff's Office.
Teresa Robertson, 51, was killed four days before a scheduled court hearing to finalize the protective order against her 54-year-old husband.
Police are unsure where Kenneth Robertson obtained the rifle he used to kill his wife.
"I can't really ask him where he got it because he's not with us," Vaughan said.
Denied having weapons
In August 2015, Cayann Deffner obtained a protective order in Norman against Michael Deffner that specifically barred him from possessing a firearm for five years.
However, Cleveland County sheriff's deputies did not take any weapons from Michael Deffner when they served the protective order on him, said sheriff's spokesman Rhett Burnett.
Michael Deffner told deputies he didn't have any guns, Burnett said, explaining that without a search warrant, there was little deputies could do to investigate further.
"A protective order is not a search warrant — it does not give us the authority to search their residence," Burnett said. "The sad thing is — a guy like that — I don't know if it would stop him from doing what he was going to do."
On Feb. 8, Michael Deffner took an antique Remington Model 81 .300 Savage hunting rifle and went to the Norman home of his wife's divorce attorney, Bryan Young. He kicked in the front door and shot Young several times. Young later died.
He then drove across town and shot Cayann Deffner multiple times at her house on W Lindsey Street in Norman. He set fire to the home they once shared, before leaving.
Law enforcement later found Michael Deffner hiding in a thicket about 80 yards from his pickup, parked off a gravel road in Pottawatomie County. Surrounded by police, he put the rifle barrel under his chin and fatally shot himself.
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›