Monday, December 6, 2004

A Prince George’s County district administrative judge said he is investigating a district court commissioner’s denial to grant a protective order to a Greenbelt woman who was killed hours later.

“We will take any action that we deem appropriate,” said Judge Thurman H. Rhodes in a telephone interview on Friday. “We think this is a very unfortunate situation, and our hearts go out to the family members, as it would in any tragedy. … Any action we would take, if any, would be an internal personnel matter.”

The focus of the investigation is District Court Commissioner Dennis P. Settles, who denied Doreen M. McClendon a protective order that she had sought against Kevin M. Tinsley at about 2:25 a.m. Nov. 28, according to court records.

Miss McClendon, 37, was killed at about 11 the same morning outside her apartment in the 6200 block of Breezewood Drive. Authorities Friday charged Mr. Tinsley, 38, with murder after arresting him at a homeless shelter in the Houston area.

The two have a 10-year-old daughter and had been living together for about three months. In 2003, Miss McClendon filed for, and was granted, two protective orders against Mr. Tinsley, who is listed as a sexually violent offender on Maryland’s sex-offender registry.

Other local and state officials upset over the denial of the protective order also are reviewing the circumstances surrounding Miss McClendon’s death.

Maryland state Sen. Gloria Lawlah said denying the protective order “defies imagination.”

“The system failed her,” the Prince George’s County Democrat said. “You can’t legislate everything. You’ve got to have folks working in the system who are well-educated on the issues and who are sensitive to the fragile nature of the situation. It’s life or death.”

Mrs. Lawlah said the state Senate will hold hearings on the issue when it reconvenes next month.

“I will [personally] bring this up,” she said. “It will be high on the agenda.”

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said he also is reviewing the circumstances that led to Miss McClendon’s death.

“We’re still taking a look at what happened there,” he said. “I think it’s clear we have got to do more. What we’re trying to do is figure out if there is something else we can do to help women in these circumstances get out and be safe.”

Denise McCain, executive director of Family Crisis Center Inc., the only shelter for abused women in Prince George’s County, said she was “appalled” that the commissioner would not sign the protective order.

“The commissioner should have been fired,” Ms. McCain said. “An educated and informed person would have seen a red flag go up. This screamed ‘high risk.’ What did he have to lose by siding with her?”

Mrs. Lawlah, who stopped short of saying Mr. Settles should be removed, said his decision would be reviewed.

“He will have to answer for his actions,” she said. “There are always consequences for things like this.”

In her application for a protective order, Miss McClendon wrote that Mr. Tinsley, who worked at Kamco Building Supply in Northeast, threatened her with violence when she tried to evict him from their home.

“At that time, he said that I wouldn’t be living if he had to go,” she wrote.

Mr. Settles denied her request, checking a box on a prewritten form saying, “No reasonable grounds to believe that abuse (as defined in the statute) occurred.” The parenthetical clause was underlined.

When reached by telephone last week, Mr. Settles referred questions to state judiciary officials.

Pamela King, a spokeswoman for the Maryland courts, said Mr. Settles had been a district commissioner since 2001. She would not disclose his age or his qualifications.

According to Maryland law, district court commissioners are “appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the administrative judge of the district.” Miss King said that by law, commissioners are only required to be residents of the county and are not required to have any specific legal training or background in law.

She said about 20 percent of the commissioners have a legal background, but she would not say whether Mr. Settles does. She said the job pays between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.

According to his business Web site,, Mr. Settles is a “cash-flow specialist who works with private individuals to liquidate their cash flows.” His business provides cash against real-estate notes, business notes, structured settlements and life-insurance policies for the terminally ill.

District court commissioners in Maryland are on duty 24 hours a day, issuing warrants, setting bail, charging persons with crimes and conducting bail hearings.

In 2002, a state constitutional amendment allowed them to issue interim peace and protective orders. They issue the interim orders when courts are closed. The orders remain in effect until a judge hears the case, but not longer than two business days after courts reopen.

Ms. McCain said Prince George’s County has the highest service rate in the state of Maryland. More protective orders are issued in Prince George’s County than any other jurisdiction in the state, an average of 1,200 per month.

Cpl. Mario Ellis, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office, said the office had to establish a separate domestic-violence unit to service orders because the numbers are so high.

Last year, Ernestine Bunn-Dyson was killed by her estranged husband in her Oxon Hill home less than 24 hours after he promised a judge that he would not go near her.

Tyrone Dyson turned the gun on himself after fatally shooting Ms. Bunn-Dyson. He had a long record of violence against women, but he was set free after Ms. Bunn-Dyson dropped charges with the stipulation that he stay away from her.

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