CONCEALMENT 17 Filing a Personal Protection Order Sara Westman Join the Conversation A Woman’s Experience Getting a Personal Protection Order I never thought I would end up standing in front of a judge asking for a personal protection order against anyone, let alone somebody who proclaimed their love to me and whom I trusted enough at one point to share a home with. No one thinks this will happen to them, until it does. Call it being naïve or a horribly bad roll of the dating dice. In hindsight, there were plenty of red flags, but I subconsciously justified bad behavior over and over again. Eventually, I was stuck; not only was he emotionally abusive, he suffocated me financially. It took an elaborate escape plan to leave. But even secretly moving five states away and putting 1,800 miles between us wasn’t enough. The concept of a personal protection order, or PPO, is that you file a legal petition with a local court system to “stop threats or violence against you.” I want to start off by telling you that my situation and experience will not be exactly the same as yours, and that you should seek additional counsel when deciding to pursue a personal protection order. Something unique to my situation is that the ex-boyfriend in question was heavily involved in the firearms community. His full-time job was an FFL/SOT. He taught and took tactical training classes. He owned and regularly used night vision and was very proficient with firearms. Any additional identifying information, such as astrological tramp stamp tattoos in this instance, should be detailed so law enforcement knows what to look out for. Power of the Paper Trail I had been urged to file a PPO since the day I left him. The following month, he proceeded to extort me, threatened to erroneously report my firearms as stolen to the BATFE, and threatened to kill my family and my dogs, and “leave me to live with the consequences of my decision.” I began recording every conversation I had with him for months, while I planned a way to extricate myself safely. Check your local laws, but that evidence can be useful. After my transfer of residence from Idaho to Michigan, my Idaho CCW became immediately invalid. And there was a legitimate threat against my life. Here I was, unable to legally carry a firearm — even at my brother’s place of business where I spent most of my time. Many states offer what’s called an Emergency Concealed Pistol License (or CPL); this allows you to receive a license to conceal carry your firearm immediately upon filing and being approved. In Michigan, we’re required to take an eight-hour training course within 10 days of filing for the Emergency CPL. A majority of the states that offer emergency licenses require that you have an active PPO against somebody. But I hadn’t filed for a PPO. Why? Guns were his world. When you file for a PPO, the abuser is unable to legally obtain firearms. A flag is put on them so NICS denies them. Additionally, they’re not allowed to have firearms in their possession. Had I filed a PPO a month after leaving, I feel I’d have fueled his desire to harm me. Not only would it be infinitely easy for him to obtain a firearm through other means, filing a PPO may have meant the loss of his entire lifestyle and livelihood. An Emergency CPL in Michigan comes with a letter from the sheriff. Instead, I consulted with an officer in Idaho. He interacted with my ex and understood the gravity of the situation. He helped with my escape. I ended up filing a field report with my local police department and provided every bit of identifying information from my ex’s height to his tattoos, even noting the tactical gear he’d potentially have with him if he came for me. This wasn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it’d effectively enlighten local law enforcement of the dangers of dealing with him if they came across him. And it also served as a paper trail if I had to defend myself. Thankfully, Michigan had a second option for proof of threat aside from a PPO in order to obtain an Emergency CPL. I was able to take the recording of his threat, along with a screen capture of a particularly insidious Instagram story video of him dry-firing his Glock with the lyrics “murder on my mind” emblazoned upon it to my Sheriff, and request an Emergency CPL. He signed it, allowing me to immediately start carrying a firearm legally. Power is in the paper trail. I continued about the business of rebuilding my life, thankfully now with the ability to legally carry my Glock 19X. Fast-forward seven months. One night I got a wall of text from a random account on Instagram — a woman claiming to be my ex’s current girlfriend and in fear for her life. She went on to describe some of the abuse she had endured, and my stomach sank. It was all too relatable to what I had been through. I had her verify her identity, and ultimately, we ended up video chatting so that I could be sure it was her and not my ex playing some nasty trick on me. I’ll leave her escape story for another day, because the case is still open. But, needless to say, the night ended with my placing a call to the local authorities on her end and aiding in my ex being arrested on aggravated assault charges and later domestic violence charges. In the moment, all I could think about was getting her out. My personal safety flew out the window, and I participated in the investigation as much as I could to help the detective. I had come to terms long ago that I was being hunted, so my new priority was making sure that she was safe herself. The morning after the arrest, the case detective called me to talk about what happened. He urged me to file for a PPO while my ex was in jail; after all, what might he do if he posted bail? Since he was already arrested on multiple felony charges, all of the reasons which made me hesitate before were invalid. Every piece of paper documentation helps if someone violates a protection order. Also, it makes for a quick investigation if a victim is forced to ventilate someone for their own protection. Courts, Of Course One thing that surprised me was exactly how difficult it was to navigate the court system. It no longer surprises me that so many people who find themselves in similar situations tend to lose steam and eventually just give up. There was so much misinformation, everywhere. I felt especially hopeless one morning after leaving my local Clerk of Courts office. I went in to request paperwork and instruction for filing a domestic personal protection order and was told that my 20-some odd hours of recorded audio and the threat that earned me an emergency CPL were no good to a judge. The woman looked at me as if I was dumb for even asking to use the evidence that I had compiled. She said, “Well, I’m not sure how any judge would handle audio or video files, so we would only accept evidence in print. Don’t you have texts or e-mails you could use?” I didn’t; he was too savvy to threaten me via text or e-mail — he had no idea I had been recording our phone conversations. I left the courthouse, paperwork in hand, dumbfounded. I was angry and confused. How could I properly illustrate the level of abuse I endured and the threat I faced without that audio? Down but not out, I immediately reached out to the victim advocate working the arrest case back in Idaho and was provided a letter from the prosecuting attorney’s office urging my local court system to provide a personal protection order as I was a vital witness in their case. While waiting on the letter, I discussed the situation with a former detective. I told him about my experience at the Clerk of Courts, and he was appalled. He called the Clerk herself and asked her why I was unable to provide the audio files as evidence. Of course, her staff member was wildly incorrect for not accepting it and had to be re-educated on the topic. She then asked me to speak to her directly, and we worked on compiling all of my files using a commercial file sharing service the judge could access. The judge was extremely empathetic and immediately granted the PPO after speaking to me on the record. He urged me to always remember that a PPO is simply a piece of paper and that my safety is ultimately in my own hands and to stay vigilant. He’s right. My safety is absolutely my responsibility. I continue to train with my Glock as often as weather permits, I utilize security cameras at my house and my office, and despite my ex still being in jail at press time, I still work hard to maintain awareness of my environment and those around me. If you need to file a personal protection order, the number-one lesson is to not give up. There are victim advocacy programs in most counties that can walk you through the process. Consult with somebody about your situation so that you can make the safest decision for yourself. Stay vigilant and remember, the power is in the paper trail, but a PPO is just a piece of paper. A victim advocate can help you navigate the court system and let you know what to expect when testifying. Warning! The information provided in this article is not intended as legal advice. Readers of this article are advised to contact an attorney in their home state for counsel pertaining to any actions they may take regarding the subject of this article. Resources + If you or someone you know is in need of help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or reach them online at thehotline.org. + If you have pets and need assistance boarding pets while owners stay in shelters or finding shelters that accept pets, contact redrover.org. + Womenslaw.org was helpful to the author for navigating the court system. + If you need to connect with a victim advocate, head to victimconnect.org. No police report needs to be filed to use this free service. 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