THIBODAUX — Up until the point Gary LeBlanc walked into the bar where his estranged wife worked early Sunday morning, he had no documented violations of the protective order she obtained against him nearly four months earlier.
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LeBlanc arrived unannounced inside the Lakeview Inn Bar on La. 401 in Napoleonville with a 9 mm pistol. Moments later, Jennifer LeBlanc, 44, lay dead behind the bar with three gunshot wounds. Her 50-year-old soon-to-be ex-husband, who was not supposed to come within 100 feet of the bar according to the order, lay dead less than 15 feet away from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The shooting happened within seconds, authorities said, long before Assumption sheriff’s deputies could respond to the bar, located at the end of the long and winding La. 401, which leads to Lake Verrett.
Protective orders restrict in-person contact and contact over the phone and Internet between two parties. Law-enforcement officers can arrest protective order violators on the spot, without asking why they were at a place or why they tried to contact the other party.
But while protective orders are a valuable tool to stop recurring domestic abuse, they should not be viewed as infallible, law-enforcement and victim-rights advocates agreed.
“It’s not a bulletproof vest or a shield,” said Tamara Joseph, a domestic-rights advocate for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children, which is housed in the Lafourche Sheriff’s Office’s police services division. “It has to work hand-in-hand with other things.”
Protective orders should be accompanied by safety plans, formulated to avoid and respond to potentially dangerous situations.
The LeBlancs each obtained protective orders against each other Jan. 27. It is unknown what steps, if any, they took to protect themselves from each other. Neither was arrested for violating protective orders, according to court records.
Gary LeBlanc violated his estranged wife’s protective order Sunday morning and would have been charged with a violation, Assumptiion Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said. There was no way for the murder-suicide to be prevented, the sheriff noted.
“It’s not a foolproof system,” Waguespack said. “The bottom line is if an individual wants to take another person’s life it’s an almost impossible task for the system to prevent them from doing so.”
Waguespack added, “I truly believe, in this situation, the system did not fail the victim. The system stood behind the victim.”
It is impossible to have a deputy watch over every person with a protective order, Waguespack noted. All law enforcement can do is respond to violations and make arrests based on those violations.
In general, protective-order violations, including telephone calls and text messages, are not always reported, said Pat Babin, the Terrebonne Sheriff’s Office’s domestic-violence coordinator.
Babin said a deputy in his division has served 108 protective orders since the new year. The department’s number could be higher, he noted, depending on the number of orders served on weekends and nights.
Only eight violations have been recorded.
“Sometimes it’s in the mind of an individual that as long as there is no physical contact that it’s all right,” Babin said.
After a person files paperwork for a protective order, both parties must appear before a judge to argue why the order should or should not be granted. The judge can issue the protective order for up to 18 months, or refuse to grant it.
In the LeBlancs case, the protective order was supposed to last until January 2011.
As of Wednesday, the Assumption Sheriff’s Office had served 31 protective orders, Waguespack said. The Lafourche Sheriff’s Office has served 77, Joseph said.
The numbers of protective orders issued in recent years have not changed much, according to Kimberly Clement, program manager for The Haven in Houma, an advocacy group for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Clement encouraged victims of domestic violence to call The Haven at 800-915-0045 or the statewide number, 888-411-1333.