WESTBROOK – The deaths of Amy Lake and her two children, Coty and Monica, at the hands of her husband, Steven, on June 13, 2011, in Dexter came as a shock to the state, prompting many to ask what could have been done to prevent such a tragedy.

Now, four former police officers, three from Westbrook, are trying to answer that question. They are providing information that they hope will fuel a reform effort in Maine to address a plague of domestic violence that they say, at least in some corners of the state, is not being taken seriously enough.

“You can’t say that nothing can be done, because nothing will be done,” said Michael Sefton, a former Westbrook police officer who now works in Massachusetts for the New Braintree Police Department.

Sefton – along with former Westbrook Police Chief Ronald Allanach, Westbrook native and former Westbrook and Scarborough Police Officer Brian Gagan, and former Assistant Portland Police Chief Joseph Loughlin – have compiled a report, “Psychological Autopsy Of June 13, 2011 Dexter, Maine Domestic Violence Homicides And Suicide.”

The group did this on their own time, Gagan said, and were not paid for their work. Gagan, who now works for a corporate leadership consulting firm, said the work that led to the report began shortly after the tragedy happened, when Gagan first learned of the murders on the Internet. Now living in Arizona, Gagan said he is always keeping one eye on his home state, and news of the tragedy spurred him to act.

“I said to myself, ‘We need to do something,’” he said.

That prompted him to call Allanach, Sefton and Loughlin, whom he has known for years, he said, and they all agreed to help.

Gagan said the group produced an 80-page report during a four-month period starting in July, interviewing 69 people, including police officers at the local, county and state levels, along with friends and family members of both Amy and Steven Lake. They presented their findings to the Maine Attorney General’s Office Domestic Violence Homicide Review Board.

The board, Gagan said, has been very supportive, with many board members offering personal messages of thanks.

“We’ve gotten nothing but accolades from these people,” he said. “The feedback that we have gotten was, ‘Thank God that you have done this.’”

Two of the report’s authors, Allanach and Sefton, have advanced degrees in psychology. The report offers a psychological profile of Steven Lake, who showed a lengthy pattern of abusive behavior prior to June 13, when he shot his family before turning the gun on himself.

The report also describes how the case is a textbook example of domestic violence at its worst, and offers suggestions as to how to help stop such tragedies from occurring in the future.

Allanach, who now works as a psychotherapist with the counseling department of School Board No. 40 in New Westminster, British Columbia, said the Lake case is not isolated, citing studies that show 60 percent of all homicides in Maine are the product of domestic violence. Back in 1973, when Allanach started his career in Westbrook, he said there was a casual attitude about domestic violence, with officers advising victims to just wait until the abuser calmed down and all would be well.

“These things were not taken seriously,” he said.

Through time, he said, that attitude changed, and laws requiring arrests in the case of domestic violence-related assaults helped, so that officers didn’t have to rely on a frightened victim to press charges.

“You can’t put it on the victim to charge, because it’s someone they loved,” Allanach said.

Today, he said, there has been a notable change in attitude, both among the public and law enforcement, in communities with larger populations, like Westbrook and other communities in the greater Portland area.

But in more rural settings, Allanach said, the old-fashioned ideas still hold true. Yes, he said, abusers are arrested, but they usually make bail the same day, rendering the required arrest useless in defusing a potentially explosive situation. Other loopholes are similarly exploited at the expense of domestic violence victims, he said.

“You have two very, very different kinds of policing,” he said. “You have the rural and you have the urban.”

Gagan agreed, saying further that prosecutors need to make sure, especially in smaller communities with a smaller police presence, that abusers know domestic violence will not be tolerated.

“It is the single most important ingredient,” he said.

Gagan said Christopher Almy, district attorney for Piscatiquis and Penobscot counties, did not do enough to help prevent the Lake family tragedy, and said his office was not helpful in his inquiries.

Almy only responded, Gagan said, after an article appeared in the Bangor Daily News on their study, and even then Almy himself did not meet with Gagan or any of his co-authors. Instead, Gagan said, the office sent an assistant district attorney to meet with him.

“We didn’t walk out of that meeting (thinking) that there was (going to be) an aggressive prosecution of domestic violence,” he said.

That allegation drew an angry response from Almy, who said this week that his office takes domestic violence very seriously. Almy said he served for nine years on the board of directors of WomanCare, a domestic violence victims’ advocacy group in the area. His office, he said, still has a strong working relationship with WomanCare and other similar groups.

As for Steven Lake, Almy said, he had already been indicted by a grand jury, and was set for trial in July on a number of charges related to ongoing abuse.

“We were going to have a trial,” he said. “We were ready to go.”

Despite his criticisms of Almy’s office, Gagan said the purpose of the report was not, as he put it, “turning district attorney’s offices inside out.” Rather, the authors hope the report will be a catalyst for change.

“Now that the report is done, we’re not just going to disappear,” Gagan said.

The group will continue to lobby legislators and meet with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, Gagan said, to address the issue of domestic violence. Allanach said bail reform bills will come before the Legislature in 2012, and he hopes to see new educational programs for the public, such as programs in the schools similar to ones he brought to Westbrook schools during his tenure as chief.

Sefton said that if people were more capable of reading signs of violence, tragedies like the Lake family murders might have been avoided.

“There were people who knew Mr. Lake was at (the) end of (his) life, and he was looking for a dramatic exit,” he said.

Gagan said posting signs, like the signs on the side of Interstate 95 in Kittery warning about Maine’s drunk driving laws, could also help, as could increased funding for prosecutions. Right now, he said, Maine is second to last, behind Mississippi, in the country for judicial funding.

Almy acknowledged that increased funding would help streamline the judicial process for domestic violence offenders, but disagreed that more money would help prevent violence.

“You could put 10 million more dollars in the budget, that guy would still pull the trigger,” he said of Lake.

Regarding bail reform law, Almy said, “Bail process has been reformed and reformed and reformed.” He said police and prosecutors did everything they could to prevent the Lake tragedy. In the end, he said, some people, like Steven Lake, are just too determined to stop.

“This guy, Steven Lake, wanted to get his way, and he got it. There was nothing we could do,” Almy said. “You’re not going to stop every murder. People are going to do it whether you like it or not.”

But Gagan and his colleagues will continue their work. Gagan said he and his colleagues will lobby Augusta, and even provide expert testimony if asked. Sefton said the work is part of society’s answer to heinous acts like the Lake family murders.

“To do nothing is more of an act of inhumanity than the act itself,” Sefton said.

Former Westbrook Police Chief Ronald Allanach, left, former
Westbrook and Scarborough Police Officer Brian Gagan and former
Westbrook Officer Michael Sefton worked together to investigate a
murder-suicide in Dexter. Their report describes how the case is a
textbook example of domestic violence at its worst, and offers
suggestions as to how to help stop such tragedies from occurring in
the future. (Courtesy photos)


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