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Probation offers batterers intervention program

“I am afraid for my life, but I am having to pretend everything is okay to everyone around.”

This was part of a message sent to the Alcoa anonymous tip line from a woman claiming she was being physically abused while being held against her will.

Reports like these were the basis for creating a batterer’s intervention program in Blount County.

Conversation about a BIP program started in 2012, said Joni Serratt, director of the Blount County Probation Department.

With the assistance of Judge Robert Headrick and Haven House, Blount County’s resource for domestic violence victims, the probation department began offering classes in 2013.

“We started small,” Seratt said. “But the program grew quickly, and we saw good results from it.”

The BIP program is certified by the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic Violence and can have up to 16 participants in a class. Participants are male domestic violence offenders who have been court-ordered to attend the full 24-week program.

Classes are typically in a group setting and use activities and discussion to teach an ideology called the Duluth Model, named for the Minnesota city which first began the then-experimental program in 1981.

Serrat said the Duluth Model was chosen because it transfers the blame away from the victim. The program’s philosophy is intended to help batterers work to change their attitudes and personal behavior so they would learn to be nonviolent in any relationship.

“It can help them relearn learned behavior,” Seratt said.

Participants are able to join the program at any point in the 24 weeks which Seratt says is beneficial because it allows them to see different stages of the process.

“They might not think they need to be here but as the program goes on, they see that things they may not have thought was an act of violence was,” Seratt said. “They start seeing it better and coping with it better.”

In addition to utilizing the Duluth Model, probation also works closely with Haven House to ensure the safety of the victims.

“If for some reason we thought a victim was in danger, then we could reach out to them,” Seratt said.

Overall, the group-setting classes have reaped huge benefits.

Seratt reported 176 men have completed the program, and less than 10% have reoffended with a domestic violence offense.

“We have seen just some really positive results and changes in these men,” she said.

Maryville signs contract in class action lawsuit against opioid producers, Alcoa may follow

Maryville legal representation has officially signed a contract making it part of a class-action lawsuit against giant opioid producers and manufacturers, this just before attorneys general for four southern states announced a push for $48 billion in payouts to thousands of governmental entities.

Though Blount County legal representation was the first local entity to sign on to the lawsuit, Maryville followed months later after deciding the same firm representing the county would be most beneficial for the city as well.

Alcoa’s attorney Stephanie Coleman told The Daily Times after an Oct. 8 board of commissioners meeting the city was also considering entering into the suit and was aware of the route Maryville and the county were already taking.

Melanie Davis, attorney for Maryville, said in a phone interview that City Manager Greg McClain had approved the legal action and Davis signed a contract on Oct. 17.

The contract makes Maryville one of many plaintiffs represented by Alabama firm Friedman, Dazzio, Zulanas, & Bowling P.C. Bundling those plaintiffs together saves the many governmental entities who have suffered as a result of the opioid epidemic from having to file individually and manage the subsequent costs.

“The contract provides that we’re not going to be out any money,” Davis said. “They’re going to advance all of the costs ... there’s no way we’re going to lose money.”

There are 20 major drug companies on the case which was set for trial in Cleveland, Ohio, in October. Counties in Ohio received payouts totaling $250 million on Monday after a settlement from McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and Teva Pharmaceutical.

Davis said that the city’s suit is against several companies including Purdue Pharma and is potentially more lucrative than other, more popular options.

“We just think ultimately the recovery is going this other route,” she said, noting that the bundle Maryville and Blount have joined is not part of a suit Tennessee’s attorney general wants to pursue.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and four other attorneys general from North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas responded to the multi-million dollar Ohio settlement in a Monday phone press conference, saying it was an important step forward. They then proposed their own $48 billion settlement against two opioid producers and five distributors.

Slatery said the state’s suit is not only seeking settlement money, but looking to change the companies’ practices through injunctions as well.

“Part of the problem is that we really haven’t known what’s going on,” Slatery said during the conference. “This set of injunctive terms basically outlines, this is what you must do, and it’s separate from what ... we want them to pay.”

But while the state’s representation may want big pharma to mend its ways, small governmental entities just want to recoup the resources and cost of having to manage the opioid epidemic.

Coleman and Davis have said discretion for how to spend the funds may be up to the city governments and local law enforcement leaders say the money can be used to make up for the hours and money spent dealing with things like overdoses.

Davis said she along with the other entities represented by the Alabama firm are now playing a waiting game.

But settlement may come sooner than expected.

“It does seem to be moving kind of fast,” Davis said, remarking on Monday settlement and the subsequent $48 billion proposal. But she’s being cautious as she represents Maryville’s stake in the game. She received a ‘giant’ box of documents regarding the settlement Slatery is working on, but said she will wait for legal advice from the Alabama firm on what to do with it.

“I don’t know what they’re going to tell me to do as far as that other lawsuit,” Davis said. “I don’t want to make it look like we’re trying to take out of too many pots. I just want to take out of the right number of pots.”

The question of what pots to take out of is a significant one for many public entities now jumping on the pharma suit wagon. Currently, with so many moving parts still in play, lawyers are still unsure on exactly which suit will result in the most money.

Eagleton Middle School students explore biodiversity on campus with bioblitz

Indian grass. Marsh bristlegrass. Pinkweed. Wingleaf primrose-willow. Spreading rush.

Those are just some of the species Ryan Pierce discovered Tuesday, Oct. 22, on the campus of Eagleton Middle School.

And the seventh-grader was just one of more than 100 students, teachers, family members and nature experts who spread out for a “bioblitz,” documenting species.

From lichen and snails to oaks and a turkey vulture, the participants snapped photos and uploaded their observations through the iNaturalist app, which helps identify plants and animals.

Eagleton Middle School’s iScience project on the iNaturalist website now includes more than 160 species on the 20-acre site.

“Not too bad for a suburban school,” seventh-grade teacher Amanda Hendricks said while sharing some of the early results before the group had dinner in the cafeteria.

While most of the participants were members of the after school Crown Academy at EMS, the school invited other students and family members to participate, and some brought youngsters in a stroller or carrier along for the adventure.

“My goal has always been to take students outside,” Headricks explained as she introduced everyone to the bioblitz project after school.

Joining EMS teachers were community experts including education Rangers Joy Absher and Bill Herman from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; Julie Elfin, biodiversity educator at the nonprofit Discover Life in America; Brittney Whipple, executive director, and Karsen Gentry, program coordinator, at Keep Blount Beautiful; and Julie Konkel, watershed coordinator at the Blount County Soil Conservation District.

During the bioblitz students were allowed to explore around — but not in — two ponds on the campus, where Hendricks has seen other wildlife before, including a snapping turtle. During the bioblitz she pointed to raccoon tracks in the mud.

The teacher has applied for a grant to buy a trail camera so they can capture images of a coyote and other wildlife. The pond had bluegill and minnows, and Hendricks said they are looking to add catfish. “Our hope is when we get more money to create a whole system,” so the catfish will be sustained without being fed.

Often students arrive at the school with little outdoor experience, she said. They may start out terrified of spiders and dragonflies but learn to become comfortable sitting quietly, observing and writing about them in a journal, for example.

“I hope that I can give them just a little grain of loving our environment,” Hendricks said.

She’s already seen the pride and ownership students have from 30 trees planted with Keep Blount Beautiful last spring. Each class planted two trees, and Hendricks said the students check on their trees.

During the bioblitz, while capturing photos around the ponds the kids also help pick up trash they found.

Citizen science projects such as the bioblitz build data that both students and scientists can use to explore and answer questions. Over time, for example, EMS students will be able to track the diversity of species on the campus.

Hendricks also hopes in the future they will use a litter app that tracks what is accumulating where, so communities can address the source of litter.