ANNAPOLIS – Lisa Spicknall sat quietly in the hearing chamber with family, each member wearing a photo button of her two slain children.
“The system failed Destiny and Richie, as did their father,” Spicknall told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. “Not a day goes by when my children are not on my mind…My babies are gone.”
Spicknall, 25, came to tell the legislators, who were trying to determine what police and courts may be doing wrong, her story.
Spicknall won a restraining order against her estranged husband, Richard Wayne Spicknall II of Laurel, in December 1998. By federal law anyone with a protective order against them cannot buy a gun.
Eight months later a clerical error allowed her husband to buy a gun in a College Park pawnshop. Police say he used it to shoot and kill their two children, Destiny, 3, and Wayne, nicknamed Richie, 2.
Police say the father shot the toddlers in early September as they sat in their car seats on a stop during a trip to visit family in Ocean City. He fled and leapt 70 feet off a bridge into the Choptank River, later claiming that a hijacker killed the kids and tossed him into the water.
Lisa Spicknall, 25, told the House panel that a lack of training on the part of the clerk in the Howard County Sheriff’s Office led to the deaths of her children. A Howard County Sheriff’s clerk, conducting a database audit in January, saw the word “consent” in the restraining order, meaning that both husband and wife had agreed to it. The clerk mistakenly thought that consent meant that the husband was no longer prohibited from buying a gun, so he removed the father’s name from the list, according to published reports. “I am 110 percent committed to fixing the system,” said Spicknall. “If I have to train every last clerk hired, every police officer, every sheriff, every judge, I will.” “That tragedy happened not because of a system error, but because of human error,” said Anne Arundel Sheriff George Johnson, president of the Maryland Sheriff’s Association. Each sheriff’s office statewide is responsible for entering information into the Maryland Interagency Law Enforcement System, or MILES, a criminal database. That database is one source checked to determine if a purchaser is eligible to buy a weapon in Maryland.
Sheriff’s offices recently have faced a severe backlog of protective orders to be entered into a computer database. That backlog now has been cleared, authorities said.
Civil information like a restraining order is entered into MILES by hand, testified District Court Chief Judge Martha Rasin. At least 13 of the 31 fields in the MILES database must be completed by a clerk, said another witness. Mistakes or omissions can mean the information is not recorded in the database, and therefore not retrievable by police, Rasin said. “The majority of these mistakes were not fatal,” said State Police Superintendent David B. Mitchell, noting that such discrepancies are a flag for a firearms dealer to halt the sale.
The system is flawed, said Rasin, but all parties are working to see that another loophole won’t lead to another tragedy.
“I think we’ve done pretty well,” Rasin said, “(but) as long as we have Lisa Spicknalls in the world, we haven’t done well enough.”
– 30 –