GREENFIELD — In Georgeanna Teipen’s mind, the worst crimes are those that violate relationships, that break trust and leave victims feeling emotionally scarred and damaged.
When those who commit these crimes are charged, the cases that follow take special time and attention, and prosecution is most successful when the attorney leading the case knows this area of the law better than any other, said Teipen, a former Hendricks County deputy prosecutor who specialized in crimes against women and children.
This month, Teipen joined the Hancock County prosecutor’s office to bring that expertise here; she will serve as the county’s first deputy prosecutor dedicated to prosecuting crimes against women and children. Teipen will handle an estimated 200 criminal cases annually and work with law enforcement to put protocols in place that standardize investigations involving domestic abuse — an effort her bosses believe will lead to stronger cases in the courtroom.
Having an attorney who specializes in crimes against women and children provides better service to victims who have suffered some of the worst kind of abuse, Teipen said.
“When you violate a personal relationship, whether it’s with your partner or, especially, your child, it doesn’t get any more horrible than that because there are lifelong effects on people,” Teipen said. “People are afraid of burglaries and thefts and violence, but in the grand scheme of things, when you talk about someone who is repetitively violent with the people they are supposed to be close to or entrusted with, that is the worst of the worst.”
For Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton, bringing Teipen on staff accomplishes two goals; it spreads the county’s increasing caseload among six deputy prosecutors instead of five, while allowing one attorney to specialize in an area Eaton believes needs more attention.
Hancock County hasn’t seen a rape conviction in nearly a decade, Eaton cited as an example of a trend he’d like to change. The last one came in the spring of 2006; it’s not that Hancock County officials haven’t pressed charges of that degree in that years since, but defendants often have negotiated deals to plead guilty to something lesser, records show.
With Teipen at the helm, working to strengthen those cases, Eaton hopes the office will be better positioned to convict offenders of their originally filed charges.
Teipen, whose position is funded by a state grant, will be responsible for handling all cases where abuse, neglect or exploitation have come into play. Those include battery, rape, sexual battery and stalking, Eaton said. The office has decided Teipen will also oversee cases of child molesting, exploitation or misconduct when the victim is a child older than 11.
Cases involving victims who have often suffered a trauma require special time and attention, chief deputy prosecutor Marie Castetter said. Having one attorney dedicated to this work, which involves keeping the victims up to date on proceedings and addressing their needs along the way, will help, she said.
Teipen’s position is funded by a matching grant from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, titled the STOP Violence Against Women grant. Her appointment to the office this month falls within Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is held each October to bring attention to domestic violence and celebrating survivors.
The institute gave $100,000 to the prosecutor’s office with the county putting up a $25,000 match. The funds cover the position’s $65,000 salary and job benefits through June 30, 2016, at which point the county can apply to renew the funding.
Teipen has been a deputy prosecutor since 2004 and has served in three area prosecutor’s offices.
Her success made her well-known among Indiana prosecutors, and Eaton said he approached her about the position because he knew her background would make her perfect for the job.
“I have a great deal of confidence in her professionalism, and the real passion she brings to the cases is going to help our office,” Eaton said. “I think this is an area where, if we all come together, we can do a lot of good.”
Teipen has an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and attended law school at Valparaiso University. She been working as a lawyer since 1990, and she starting working as a prosecutor in 2004 when she took a position in Marion County. Hancock County will be the fourth prosecutor’s office she’s served.
Teipen said she prefers cases that are considered victim- centered — versus property crimes or drug-related charges, for example — and she stepped into the post knowing she could help improve how Hancock County handles domestic crimes.
“I didn’t want to be doing just general prosecution; that’s not what I’m meant to be doing,” she said. “I want to try to help. I want to try to make a change.”