Friday May 3, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A veteran Windham County prosecutor has been recognized as an "ally" of crime victims for his efforts to better serve and protect children who have suffered sexual abuse.

Windham County Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein last week traveled to Montpelier to receive an Ally Award from the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services.

Gartenstein was selected by previous award winners based on a nomination submitted by Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver, who lauded Gartenstein's work to tailor a new special-investigation unit to meet the needs of abuse victims.

"As a prosecutor with a heavy caseload, it would be entirely reasonable for David to simply deal with what is in front of him and handle only what he has been given," Shriver wrote in her nomination.

David Gartenstein
David Gartenstein

"Instead, David works tirelessly to make the system better, to improve the cases that are delivered to him and to strengthen our county's special-investigation unit," she added. "All of his work helps crime victims feel supported through the process and has greatly increased offender accountability."

Gartenstein joined the state's attorney's office in 2004 and specializes in prosecuting child sex-abuse cases. He said the state has been attempting to better "focus" investigations through the establishment of special-investigation units (SIUs) in each county.

Shriver said most counties relied on Chittenden County's established model in setting up their own units. But she said Gartenstein, based on his experience, understood that such a model "would not work for our county."

"David knew that, for our SIU, one main focus should be on the person who interviewed the crime victim and another main focus should be on connectivity to services for the crime victim," Shriver wrote. "Due in large part to David's consistent message on this point -- a message informed by his work with many child victims of sexual assault -- our county has a pilot project with a child-interview specialist in our SIU and a greater coordination of services for child victims of sexual assault."

Gartenstein said the child-interview specialist is a key part of the Windham County special-investigation strategy.

"After handling a substantial number of child sex-abuse cases, I concluded that investigations could be more effective if we were able to coordinate with a person who is specially trained and whose primary job is to interview children," he said.

When a sex-abuse crime is reported, Gartenstein said he is focused on three priorities: Learn what happened, ensure the victim's safety and gather information effectively.

"It helps to make sure that a child isn't traumatized by having to undergo repeated interviews about what happened," Gartenstein said.

Shriver characterized Gartenstein as a "wonderful advocate in the adversarial criminal justice system for the victims of child sexual assault.

"David understands, through the successful prosecution of a great many of these cases, that the frequent defense is that the victim is ‘making it all up,'" Shriver wrote.

"While he does all he can to support the victim in the criminal justice system, David knows that supporting the victim's initial report -- with a careful and sensitive interview, with evidence gathering by law enforcement, with investigation into corroborating details -- is the best way to support the victim and rebut the claim of fabrication," she said.

Shriver added that "David is a strong leader in our SIU for those ideals, and his philosophy has spread through law enforcement, (the state) Department of Children and Families and our own SIU staff."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.