Oregon Court Of Appeals Rules Man Pulling His Wife's Hair Out Of Her Head Doesn't Qualify As Assault

Oregon legislators seem to be unclear on what constitutes as physical assault, and that is highly problematic. This week, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed the assault conviction of a Southeast Portland man for ripping out chunks of his wife’s hair. Assault, it said, must be proven either by “physical impairment” or “substantial pain” (what the hell?). But this man did not simply pull his wife's hair. He allegedly ripped it out of her skull. Please let that sink in before we proceed with questioning how any reasonable person might find themselves befuddled by whether that counts as abuse.

In December of 2011, 49-year-old Derrick James Lewis was charged with fourth-degree domestic-violence assault, which is a felony because it happened in front of a child. Lewis was also charged with felony coercion and misdemeanor harassment, convictions that still stand. Lewis’ 14-year-old son and the prosecution’s primary witness had been in the next room on the night that Lewis attacked his wife. On the night the altercation took place, he was preparing for bed when he heard his stepmother yell, "Ouch. Stop it!" Then, he testified, he heard a noise "like something hitting the wall." "When the boy asked his stepmother what happened," reports Oregon Live , "she said Lewis pulled out her hair and pointed to some clumps still on the floor, according to the appeals court’s summary of the case."

Seems pretty clear that what happened was a cut and dry form of domestic abuse (and truthfully, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything else by which to classify it), but not so for the Oregon Court of Appeals. Their reasoning? He didn’t harm her to the point of prolonged pain, and therefore it doesn’t count.

As an Oregon native this is, to say the least, disheartening news. Further, it’s 2014 and we shouldn’t be arguing semantics about what "really counts" as physical abuse in any relationship, domestic or otherwise. And as far as the pain spectrum litmus test, perhaps our Oregon legislators wouldn’t mind volunteering as hair-ripping guinea pigs. Just saying.

Image: David Gn/Fotolia