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COUNTY PROSECUTOR HANDLES DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASES

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One on One:  County prosecutor handles domestic violence cases

One on One: County prosecutor handles domestic violence cases

By Casey Santee - Journal Writer

Though he's not a police officer, Ben Harmer's job has a lot to do with keeping the peace in local neighborhoods.

Harmer is a Bannock County deputy prosecuting attorney who handles all cases involving domestic violence or harassment crimes.

"It's one of the best jobs I've ever had," Harmer said.

But Harmer didn't always want to be a prosecutor. As an 18-year-old high school student in Honolulu, he spent much of his time scuba diving and dreaming of becoming a dolphin trainer.

One of Harmer's favorite diving stories happened near Pearl Harbor when Ben and his friend found an unexploded shell, probably from the Japanese attack of Dec. 7, 1941 - the day planes bombed Pearl Harbor, launching the United States into World War II.

After finding the shell, Ben and his buddy surfaced to talk about what they found, when they realized they were in a current taking them into Pearl Harbor's channel.

"It's kind of like catching the wrong bus," Harmer said. "You know it's not going the right way."

As the sun set, Harmer and his friend began to worry because they were in one of the world's biggest hammerhead shark breading grounds; and because the giant propellers from U.S. Naval ships had been known to chew up divers who got too far in the wrong current.

After awhile, a boatfull of Japanese people spotted the two young men. After trying to communicate with the sailors, Harmer and his friend realized they didn't speak English.

"Finally, we just hopped in before they left without us," he said.

Hawaii was one of many places Harmer lived as a child because his father was in the Army. He also lived in Germany, and on four different occasions, in Texas.

And although Harmer doesn't live by the Pacific Ocean anymore, he still spends his free time in the water, fly fishing.

Harmer attended college at Brigham Young University, majoring in communications, followed by law school at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

After graduating from SMU last May, Harmer accepted a position prosecuting misdemeanors and infractions for the Bannock County Sheriff's Department and the Idaho State Police.

When Bannock County received a grant to prosecute domestic crimes, Harmer wanted the job because he wants to help people who have a problem, both abusers and victims.

"It used to be that police would just separate the couple and give them time to cool off because it was a domestic situation," Harmer said. "Now people are more concerned."

He said there's a difference between an isolated case of one member of a couple hitting the other after a heated argument and habitual abusers.

In such cases, the proper approach isn't punishment as much as it is rehabilitation, he said.

Harmer said prosecutors aren't trying to break up families, but rather attempting to improve their situation.

"Some defendants can't see the problem, so the court can help them see it," he said.

Because he enjoys his job, Harmer isn't setting many goals for future employment.

"For now, I'm really happy here," he said. "I love prosecuting. Mark Hiedeman (Bannock County chief prosecuting attorney) is an open-door resource who gives me help when needed, but still gives me a lot of discretion. He treats me like a professional."