Monday, November 30, 2009

For Reporters: How to Write About DV

Reporters covering DV arrests and homicides should take a leaf from Joe Johnson's book. His piece "Horrific End To Marriage Continues Deadly 2009 Trend" in the Athens Banner-Herald is an example of great DV reporting. Follow the link to read it, then come back and we'll tell you why.


First, Joe did a very good job of painting a picture of the batterer. Most readers want to assume that someone capable of domestic violence is easy to pick out in a crowd. They expect batterers to look scary or act strange. They never expect batterers to look like their siblings, friends, bosses, neighbors, or fellow church members. This story reminds people how important it is to believe women when they disclose abuse because, though it might not be obvious, all kinds of people are capable of violence.

Second, Joe did an amazing job of showing that domestic violence is increasing and talking to experts to explain that trend. Many women feel like they’re suffering alone, and communities want to believe that domestic violence homicides are rare. If they are rare, we are somewhat absolved of the responsibility of preventing domestic violence and supporting survivors. The article makes clear how important support services are and how equally important it is to support our family and loved ones if they admit to us that their relationship is abusive.

Last, Joe reminded readers who are experiencing domestic violence that the violence usually escalates over time, and provides them with a name, description, and phone number for a local agency that can help them.

It's that simple.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Patrick Stewart Speaks on the Legacy of DV

As a child, Patrick Stewart regularly saw his father hit his mother. In the Guardian, he describes how the horrors of his childhood remained with him in his adult life. We recommend that you follow the link, so you can read his comments in their entirety.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

British Schools Teach DV Prevention

Jezebel has a great article on a plan in British schools to teach all kids about dating violence prevention:

British schools are planning classes to teach kids ages five to fifteen about preventing domestic violence — but some parents' groups aren't happy.

The classes were inspired by research that shows one in four teenage girls are hurt by a partner, and a third of girls in relationships are victims of unwanted sexual activity. Despite these statistics, only half of girls receive any sort of education about domestic violence. To remedy this, beginning in 2011 schools will teach students about healthy relationships and the unacceptability of abuse.

An unnamed contributor to the plan says that the classes would be separate from sex education:

It's nothing to do with teaching them how to put a condom on. It's about teaching boys not to be violent and girls that being a sex object isn't the only way to be validated.
Schools minister Vernon Coaker says the classes will be "age appropriate." Rather than being taught about romantic relationships, younger children might learn not to bully or call names. Christine Barter, a researcher in the area of teen violence, says what's especially scary is that teenage girls keep this violence to themselves. Classes starting at a young age might encourage them to seek help when they need it — and might teach them that violence is unacceptable and should be reported. But not all parents are behind the measure.

Margaret Morrissey, of the group Parents Outloud, says, "This political correctness is turning our children into confused mini-adults from the age of five to nine." Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, concurs:

Youngsters should naturally know not to do these sort of things and must be called to account if they do. But teachers have enough to do in teaching English, maths and science to a reasonable level without addressing issues that parents should be dealing with.
Teaching young girls to report abuse and rape — and teaching boys not to commit these acts — is hardly mere "political correctness." But Seaton's criticism echoes an age-old debate about education that goes beyond "English, maths and science" — what should schools teach, and what is the province of parents? In this case, it's unfortunately untrue that "youngsters naturally know" not to abuse each other. And since violence is still so widespread, it doesn't appear that parents "naturally know" how to deal with it either. Parent-child relationships are complicated by a lot of emotions and expectations — parents may feel, for instance, that their son would never hurt a girl, or that their daughter would never stay in an abusive relationship. Teachers may be able to take a more dispassionate approach, especially since they will undergo special training before teaching the new classes. Ideally, all parents would teach their kids never to commit domestic violence, and to speak out immediately if they suffer it. But teenagers aren't getting this message, and school may be a good place to fix that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

DV Murder Suspect Arrested in Decatur

A man suspected of stabbing his wife to death Thursday morning in Athens was captured at his mother’s house in Decatur, reportedly after a standoff that involved the DeKalb County police SWAT team.

William Darwin Joseph Studstill, 30, stabbed 33-year-old Stephanie Ann Studstill several times with a butcher knife sometime in the early morning, then drove to his mother's house in Decatur, where he called 911 about 7 a.m. to report he had just "killed his whole family" in Athens, according to police.

Athens-Clarke police entered the couple's home in Clarke Gardens Apartment on Carriage Court off Barnett Shoals Road and found only one victim, Stephanie Studstill. The couple didn't have children and no relatives lived with them, police said, and the only other family member in the area was the victim's sister.

It's worth noting that, in this article about the stabbing, the Athens police spokesperson feels the need to point out that the victim "refused to press charges" for an earlier domestic violence arrest when it is, in fact, law enforcement's job to press charges in order to keep the victim safe. When using evidence-based prosecution, victims aren't even required to testify to get a conviction. How can we question why victims choose not to call the police when even the police place the burden of safety and accountability on the woman.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Church Involvement in Ending DV

The Rev. Steven Saul, pastor of Trinity Anglican Church in Douglas County, Georgia, is setting an example for his peers. From the Times-Georgian:

“I want to have the churches become proactive in helping victims who suffer from domestic violence,” he says.

This has led Saul on a mission to make the local religious community aware of the domestic violence problem and to help them recognize signs when it is happening. He also wants to see pastors take an active role in speaking out against violence from the pulpit.

Saul cited the 2008 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Report, an annual report by the
Georgia Commission on Family Violence, to emphasize the need for church involvement.

The report shows that 25 percent of domestic violence victims and 17 percent of the perpetrators are actively involved with a church, temple or synagogue.

“What this says to me is that there’s an absolute place for the church to serve in an advocate or support role for people suffering abuse,” he said. “I want to encourage them to speak about the issues from the pulpit and avoid hiding what is public.”
What Reverend Saul says is true. There is absolutely a need for church involvement in the movement to end violence against women. Church leaders should believe and support women who disclose abuse at home and, equally if not more importantly, churches should condemn the actions of batterers from the pulpit, in the pews, in the fellowship hall, and through the words and actions of their members.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Floyd County DV Homicide

Two shootings in Floyd County on Tuesday rocked the local community, left one man dead, one injured and a third man charged with murder. A statement issued by the Floyd County Police Department reads:

On November 17, 2009 at approximately 4:45 pm, Robert Timothy Spriggs, Jr. went to the residence of John Gregory Davis at 4565 Old Dalton Road. An altercation ensued in the front yard, and Spriggs, age 26, shot Davis, age 46, several times, fatally wounding him. Davis was pronounced dead at the scene.

Spriggs fled the scene in the victim’s vehicle and traveled to 127 East Clinton Drive, in attempt to locate his ex-girlfriend, the daughter of the victim. Spriggs forcefully entered the residence and shot the homeowner, Scott Sulsberger, age 32, seriously injuring him. The accused then fled on foot into a wooded area near the second scene.
According to the Rome News-Tribune, Floyd County Chief Deputy Tom Caldwell confirmed that Spriggs turned himself in to Floyd County police investigator Jeff Jones after Sheriff Tim Burkhalter talked to the fleeing man.

An obviously distraught Burkhalter was reeling Tuesday night from the long-distance negotiation where he talked to Spriggs via cell phone as the young man fled through the woods near the Hidden Valley subdivision off Burnett Ferry Road.

Spriggs was being pursued by local law enforcement in the wake of the two shootings.

Burkhalter is an old family friend of Spriggs and said he’s never in all of his 26 years of law enforcement had something hit so close to home.

“My primary concern was seeing this come to an end without him hurting himself or hurting a law enforcement officer,” said Burkhalter.

He said he has known Spriggs his whole life and described him as "a good kid who has never been in trouble.”

Spriggs is an Armuchee High graduate who served four years in the Air Force, which included deployment to Iraq. He later played football with the Shorter College Hawks.

Burkhalter said he knew Spriggs was “upset over an issue with his ex-girlfriend” after talking with him a couple of days ago.

The sheriff said Spriggs was troubled about a temporary protective order that had been issued against him.

On Tuesday, Burkhalter was in Savannah for a professional conference. When he got out of his sessions in late afternoon, he saw that he had several missed calls from Spriggs but no messages. Then he got a call from a family member who was concerned Spriggs might harm himself.

Just minutes later, the sheriff was notified of the shootings, Spriggs’ suspected involvement and the manhunt under way for him.
Rarely do we get such a clear look into the progression of a murder. Spriggs had a history of domestic violence if a protective order was issued against him. He felt out of control because his victim was taking steps to get free. At that point, many batterers will threaten harm to themselves to compel their victims to return out of guilt or fear, or as a final act to prove that they are in control of their lives. Threats of suicide by the batterer are also one of the greatest red flags for lethal danger to victim, because if he is gone he can't face consequences for his actions. As an ex-Army Ranger, he also had access to firearms and knew how to use them. Instead of, or possibly in addition to, taking his own life, it was clear that he meant to take hers.

What is also worth pointing out is that the sheriff thought Spriggs was a good kid who had never been in trouble, even though he was aware of the protective order in place. The girlfriends of good kids don't protective orders to keep them safe. As a sheriff, he should also have recognized that the girlfriend was in severe danger. After all, nationally, about 50% of protective orders are violated, and it was clear that Spriggs went to her father's house and her sister's house looking for his former partner. Later reports also indicate that police were called to the Davis household days before to photograph injuries inflicted by Spriggs to Mr. Davis and his daughter. Knowing that the sheriff feared that Spriggs was suicidal this quote - “My primary concern was seeing this come to an end without him hurting himself or hurting a law enforcement officer.” - not once mentioning worry for the victim is more than appalling.

Our thoughts are with the Davis family.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Man Murders Wife in Rockdale County

Via the Rockdale Citizen

A Rockdale County man was charged Thursday in the death of his estranged wife, whose body was found in her rental house in the Indian Ridge subdivision. Investigators believe the man attempted to cover up his wife’s death by making it appear that there had been a burglary.

Hakim Muhammad, 42, of 4713 Cedar Lake Drive, was charged with murder and concealing a death. He was arrested early Wednesday at his wife’s house at 825 Cochise Trail and originally charged with burglary, according to the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office.

However, investigators were suspicious of his story and search warrants were executed at both residences because Muhammad and his wife were together at the Cedar Lake Drive house just prior to the murder at Cochise Trail.

Shupe said there was enough evidence gathered from those search warrants for investigators to charge Muhammad with his wife’s murder.

Shupe added the official cause of death was undetermined until an autopsy report is completed, but she said investigators believe Shelia Renee Muhammad may have died from strangulation.

The couple, who had two sons, ages 10 and 14 years old, were estranged. Shelia Muhammad had recently rented the Cochise Trail home and was in the process of moving in, Shupe said.

“It is believed that the murder had been planned days prior,” Shupe said. “The suspect had removed the victim’s wedding band and had it in his pocket at the time of his arrest — a further attempt to make it look like a burglary.”
What we know is that domestic violence is about power and control. We hear often that the perpetrator just snapped, but police believe that this murder was planned out in advance. Often batterers just can't handle the fact that their victims have moved on, as this woman so clearly had. He had to find one last way of exerting control over her.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Murder-Suicide in Athens

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, a man murdered the mother of his children Thursday afternoon then shot and killed himself when the sheriff tried to stop the car he was in.
Michael Dwight Wise, 25, waited in the parking lot of the Shoppes of South Athens for Kendra Borders to return from lunch, and shot her after she parked her truck, according to police.

Immediately after he killed Borders, Wise drove home and told his brother that he just shot someone at the shopping center. He said he was going to kill himself and ran into the woods with a handgun, according to police.

The brother called 911 at 2:01 p.m., and officers found Borders in the driver's seat of her Ford Explorer, dead from a single gunshot wound, police said.

Oglethorpe County Sheriff Mike Smith was in his car on Elberton Road when a black Mustang drove by, and he noticed the passenger had ducked down in the seat, according to Smith.

Smith followed the car onto Veribest Road, activated his car's emergency lights and siren and saw "all of a sudden one of the Mustang's windows blew out," he said.

The car, driven by Wise's cousin, stopped on Veribest Road, and the sheriff found Wise was dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Smith said.

A dozen people have died in domestic murders this year, including three of the aggressors who then committed suicide:

► On Jan. 28, police said John David Latimer shot and killed his two sisters and his brother in their trailer at Hallmark Mobile Home Park in Eastern Clarke County. Latimer, 52, pleaded not guilty to 13 felonies in the deaths of Janice Carol Patterson, 57; Sara Kathleen Tatum, 61; and Thomas Garland Latimer, 50.

► On April 25, University of Georgia marketing professor George Zinkhan III shot and killed his wife, Marie Bruce, 47; Thomas Tanner, 40; and Ben Teague, 63, who tried to intervene, outside the Town & Gown Theatre on Grady Avenue. Zinkhan then committed suicide after digging a shallow grave for himself.

► On Aug. 18, Lisa Davenport was set on fire by boyfriend Phillip Scruggs in her apartment at Bethel Midtown Village, according to police. She died 11 days later and police charged Scruggs with murder.

► On Oct. 9, a young boy found the bodies of his parents in their home on Chardonay Street. Police said Harry Marable apparently shot his wife, Phyllis, then himself.
Our thoughts, as always, are with the victim's family.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Catoosa County DV Murder

Catoosa County in Northwest Georgia had their first murder of the year on Halloween night. It involved domestic violence.

A woman was killed and a man was wounded Saturday night on East State Line Road in Catoosa County.

According to sheriff Phil Summers:

Deputies went to the residence about 8:11 p.m. in response to a report of shots fired. They found a white male who had been shot in the arm and a white female lying on the living room floor who had been shot in the chest.

The suspect, Terry L. Hagan, was the estranged husband of the female victim, who has been identified in news reports as Lisa Hagan.

Terry Hagan is alleged to have gone to the incident location and confronted the male victim in the front yard with a .22-caliber revolver, shooting him in the arm. Hagan then allegedly entered the residence and shot Lisa Hagan in the chest.

He is being held in the Catoosa County Detention Facility charged with murder and aggravated assault.

This is the first homicide in Catoosa County this year.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Savannah Man Murders Wife

A 69-year-old Savannah man was charged with murder Saturday.
At 10 a.m., 66-year-old Mary Ellen Johnson was gravely injured by a gunshot at her home on 30 Ben Kell Road. The residence doubles as an established day care facility, with a sign in the front yard that reads "Legacy Childcare & Learning Center."

Johnson was rushed to Memorial University Medical Center in critical condition. Saturday afternoon, doctors declared her dead.

"We're so shocked. You never heard any kind of commotion or anything," Blake said. "They had a business with the children. Everybody looked up to them."

By the time police arrived Saturday morning, they said, Johnson's husband, 69-year-old Robert M. Johnson, had escaped. He was apprehended 2 miles away at a BP gas station near the intersection of White Bluff Road and Rendant Avenue.

A timeline pieced together by investigators suggested the couple of 40 years had been arguing off and on Saturday morning, when Robert Johnson allegedly grabbed a gun and fired at least one round at his wife, according to Savannah-Chatham police spokeswoman Veda Lamar Nichols.

He was charged with murder and booked into the Chatham County jail to await a court hearing this week.

Mary Ellen Johnson's death was the 25th homicide reported to metro police this year. The first homicide of the month also involved a married couple. On Oct. 12, 63-year-old Walter Marchel was found stabbed to death in Clearview Homes. Police arrested Marchel's wife, Judy Davis Marchel, as a suspect.

October was Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Another DV Homicide in Macon

A 45-year-old man has been charged with murder in the death of his girlfriend who was found dead at their Newberg Avenue home early Friday morning.

Alphonzo McNear was being held without bond at the Bibb County jail Friday, according to jail records.

An autopsy revealed 53-year-old Sandra Joann Stell was strangled, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

McNear called police at about 4 a.m. When officers arrived at 896 Newberg Ave., they found Stell dead with bruises on her face, neck and body, according to a Macon police report.

The officers talked with McNear, who said he and Stell drank an alcoholic beverage at about 8 p.m.
A little later, Stell played with her kitten.

At some point, McNear fell asleep.

When he awoke, he found Stell lying on their bedroom floor at the foot of the bed, according to the report.

He tried to wake her up. He called 911 when she didn’t respond, according to the report.

McNear was arrested Friday after the autopsy was complete, police Sgt. Zac Self said.

Stell’s death marks the 13th homicide in Macon in 2009.

Five homicides have been reported in Bibb County this year, Jones said.