Sunday, July 26, 2009
BY LISA A. DAVIS
The tale of Veronica Scott, or Vonnie as she was known, is the perfect example of why a year-old program to prevent homicidal domestic violence is expanding, said Penny Morrill, CEO of Sunrise of Pasco County, a domestic violence center.
Scott was shot and killed by her husband, Terry, on May 2 before he turned the gun on himself. Their bodies were found in the garage of their Dade City home on Mount Zion Road.
The pair were in the midst of a divorce, and though family and friends say they saw his controlling behavior, they never thought it would come to this.
Steve Roberts remembers his sister's call a few weeks before her killing when she discovered her estranged husband asleep in her home.
"And she said, 'Are you going to hurt me, because I've got Steve here if you're going to hurt me,'" she told her husband.
"No, I never would hurt you," Roberts recalled Terry Scott saying. "I've never laid a finger on you, and I never will."
At a news conference Thursday morning in Tampa, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, along with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, announced that a program to combat the rising number of fatal domestic violence cases in Florida has expanded to include Pasco and Pinellas counties.
The Intimate Violence Enhanced Services Team, also known as InVest, provides prevention and protection services in Alachua, Duval, Orange, St. Lucie and Seminole counties, according to the Florida Attorney General's Office. Those counties had the highest rates of domestic violence fatalities in the state in 2006.
Now, InVest will add Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Broward, Collier and Suwanee counties. These counties were chosen because they had among the highest instances of domestic-related homicides in recent years, said Tiffany Carr, president and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In the counties it's already in, the program has been successful. "We've been seeing a decrease in domestic violence homicides," Carr said.
The goal is to wipe out domestic violence homicides, she said, but at the very least the plan is to continue to shrink the numbers.
In 2007, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement received reports of 214 cases of domestic violence-related murder or manslaughter, according to the Florida Attorney General's Office. In 2008, Pasco County had six cases of domestic-violence-related homicides and Pinellas County had 18, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics.
Pasco County Sheriff Bob White said he's excited about the possibilities and looks forward to having another tool to help identify those in need and help them. Too often, he said, their first call to a house is when it's too late.
"Domestic violence ends in a quick shot or another form of homicide, and it's just the conclusion," he said. "There's a lot we can do, and now we have the people to do it."
The InVest teams, which include domestic violence advocates, law enforcement and other community partners, help identify cases with a likelihood of fatality.
The program has helped more than 265 survivors of domestic violence, with more than 1,300 hours of counseling.
Perpetrators in crosshairs
Morrill, of Sunrise, said that under state law, law enforcement agencies have to notify the closest domestic violence shelter of domestic violence arrests. With the new program in Pasco, a victim's advocate and a newly assigned sheriff's detective will cull through the reports and identify victims who might need assistance.
They first will contact them by phone and eventually meet them in person, referring them and any children to safe shelters or other services and telling them about the program. Members of the team also will make personal contact with the abusers, she said.
"It's going to hold the perpetrator accountable," she said. "They're not going to be able to hide from the situation. Law enforcement is going to be in their face."
This is the part that really seems to be changing abusers' tune, Carr said. She thinks the abusers' knowledge that law enforcement is watching them closely and monitoring whether they have gone to batterer prevention classes and have received drug and alcohol abuse help, if needed, is making all the difference.
Morrill said she hopes they see that kind of success here.
"Ultimately, it's going to give that family a chance to repair and have a happy, nonviolent relationship," she said.
She knows the program comes too late for one family she knew personally, the Scotts.
"A lot of people knew about Veronica's situation," she said.
Perhaps if there had been a program like this, she said, or someone had sought help on her behalf anonymously, something could have been different.
Morrill said she wants people to know they can call for help without fear.
"All we need to know is the problem, and we can walk them through the rest," she said.
Domestic abuse victims can call the Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-500-1119.
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