Nightly News   |  October 12, 2011

In cash-strapped Topeka, Kan., domestic abuse not illegal

It's no longer illegal to abuse a spouse if you're in Topeka, Kan., at least under city law. The city council voted Tuesday night to repeal the city’s misdemeanor domestic battery law. NBC’s Stephanie Gosk has more.

Share This:

This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now a story some would call belt tightening run wild, and women, victims of domestic violence caught in the middle. Topeka , Kansas , like a lot of places in America , is strapped for cash, but what happened there this week in a fight over a law meant to protect women from domestic violence receives the national spotlight. NBC 's Stephanie Gosk has our report tonight from Topeka .

STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: In this Midwest town of 127,000, budget cuts are hitting hard. In an extraordinary city council meeting Tuesday night, members voted seven to three to repeal a law making domestic violence a misdemeanor crime. County and city officials were arguing over who should have to pay to prosecute the cases . The district attorney said he no longer had enough money in his budget and that the city had to take over.

Mr. CHAD TAYLOR (Shawnee County District Attorney): We had to prioritize what cases we'd be prosecuting in our office, would those be homicides, child molestation cases , rape cases or misdemeanor cases , including those of domestic battery.

GOSK: The city's response, to avoid the cost they just removed the law from the books. But facing local outrage and headlines in the national press, late today the district attorney did an about face. Less than 24 hours after the city council 's vote, he says that prosecutions in domestic violence cases will begin again tomorrow.

Mr. TAYLOR: We can pick those cases up and file them, and ultimately the wrong doers will be dealt with.

GOSK: Since early September in Topeka , 35 cases have not been prosecuted, and 18 people arrested have been set free without trial. For domestic violence victim Claudine Dombrowsky , the damage has already been done.

Ms. CLAUDINE DOMBROWSKY: The fear is the hardest thing to get passed, and then to have the city or the DA or anybody say 'guess what, we're not prosecuting,' oh, my, you are so alone.

Ms. RITA SMITH: (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence ): I'm fairly certain that there are already women who have stopped calling the police because they know nothing is going to be done.

GOSK: Most agree in times like these austerity is a necessity, but question the choices made to meet the bottom line. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, Topeka , Kansas.