Domestic violence: Marin's most prevalent violent crime
Posted: 07/18/2009 10:33:46 PM PDT
This 49-year-old Mill Valley mother of two, a domestic violence victim, said she can relate to Danielle Keller, whose slaying hits close to home. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)
The stigma of domestic violence is so great, the 49-year-old mother of two from Mill Valley didn't want her name used. But she said she can relate to what happened to Danielle Keller, the young mother who authorities said was killed last Sunday by her abuser."It's scary, of course it hits close to home," said the woman, who in May 2008 left an already troubled marriage after her drunken husband kicked down the door to their son's bedroom and then pushed her down on the bed and repeatedly struck her. Her teenage son, she believes, saved her from further harm by calling the police.
"I'm very sad for the family," she said of Keller's family. "I have to wonder about the child. What's going to happen to the child? As a mother that's your first instinct. For me, I was lucky and not everybody is that lucky."
The death of Danielle Keller has turned the spotlight once again on domestic violence, the most prevalent of violent crimes in Marin County, accounting for 50 percent to 55 percent of nonvehicular homicides in the past five years, according to the district attorney.
So far this year, two of Marin's three homicides have been domestic violence-related.
"Yes, obviously it disturbs me," said Marin District Attorney Ed Berberian. "We've got to address family violence and domestic violence."
James Raphael Mitchell, 27, of Pittsburg, son of the late San Francisco porn king Jim Mitchell, was charged with first-degree murder, domestic violence, kidnapping, child abduction and child endangerment in the July 12 baseball-bat beating death of his former girlfriend, 29-year-old Keller, and the kidnapping of their 1-year-old daughter.
The incident occurred despite a restraining order against Mitchell and a string of violent incidents, according to court records. Such incidents are not uncommon.
Addressing domestic violence
In the past five years, 88 percent of the 4,569 cases referred to the Marin district attorney's office by law enforcement agencies have
Facilitator Bill Eichhorn leads a discussion during a batters intervention educational class held at the The Mankind Program in San Rafael. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)
involved domestic violence, according to statistics provided by the nonprofit advocacy group Marin Abused Women's Services.In addition to the Mitchell case, prosecutors are preparing for a preliminary hearing Aug. 31 in the matter of Chet Turner, a 48-year-old man accused in the April stabbing death of Avril Clary, 46, of Sausalito, with whom he shared a home on Bridgeway. The suspect told at least three acquaintances he killed her, authorities have said.
The death of 9-year-old Melody Osheroff is being prosecuted as a homicide but is not a domestic violence case. Edward John Schaefer, 43, is accused of riding intoxicated into a crosswalk on May 27, hitting Melody and her father, Aaron, who is recovering from his injuries.
Berberian said his office spends about $1.3 million of its $16 million budget on domestic violence cases. A specially created family violence court established about a year ago deals only with individuals who have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges. A family violence prosecution team also has been established with specific attorneys assigned to cases. A more aggressive stance on misdemeanors has been developed, although such cases can be difficult to prosecute, Berberian said.
"When it gets in front of a jury it gets more difficult to impress upon a jury the danger of the situation because they don't see the injury results," he said. "In domestic violence, in particular, you many times have a victim that does not cooperate for all sorts of reasons.
"We have to try to," he added. "We're not going to just drop these cases because we have an uncooperative victim. We're going to try to press on if we can."
Provincial attitudes about the problem have improved somewhat but still exist, prosecutors said.
"Unfortunately there are still people that have that attitude, 'Well, this is just a domestic.' Well, these domestics turn into what we saw last week and you just can't ignore them.
"It's happening in Ross, it's happening in Novato, it's happening in Belvedere, it's happening everywhere," Berberian said.
"It's just very tragic - the cost to the family and to our community."
Help from MAWS
At Marin Abused Women's Services, a 30-year organization that assists about 3,000 victims of domestic violence annually, requests for emergency shelter have been increasing and there is a growing waiting list for transitional housing facilities, officials said.In 2008, the MAWS hotline received 1,918 calls. The group provided 5,548 nights of emergency shelter; 17,338 nights of transitional housing; advocacy and assistance to 568 women who needed restraining, protective and custody orders; and training for domestic violence prevention practitioners throughout California and the nation through 81 workshops reaching more than 1,332 participants.
Media coverage depicting the Mitchell family history as tragic and the incident as a "crime of passion" have been frustrating and distract from the societal problem - the "continuum of abusive behavior," said Donna Garske, MAWS founder and chief executive.
"Domestic violence is a deliberate action," she said. "It's a clear intention and a behavior of choice.
"There are a lot of people that have rough lives and don't commit acts of violence," Garske said.
Progress, particularly since the 1994 passage of the Violence Against Women Act, has been made, but "you can have the best darn coordinated system in the country and still have domestic violence," Garske said.
"Early intervention and prevention is really key to getting this problem to stop," she said.
Family law court
Some critics continue to point to the family law court at the Hall of Justice, where several judges and a former district attorney were targeted years ago in an unsuccessful recall campaign. The critics claimed Marin's family law court was a cesspool of cronyism and corruption that favored well-connected lawyers in child-custody disputes.Indeed, the system for years has been plagued by favoritism, and domestic violence cases can fall victim to it, said Barbara Kauffman, a San Rafael family law attorney and vocal critic of family law court in Marin.
"If the alleged abuser is: A, wealthy; B, white; and C, has representation by a favored attorney or a popular attorney, I don't see the restraining orders being issued," she said, adding that she has heard that more have been issued as of late as public scrutiny has intensified.
"I think because the heat is being turned up there may likely be and I hear people saying there are more restraining orders issued now," she said. "I do think they are making more of an effort. I think especially in cases where money and politics aren't involved they really are issuing a lot more.
"I think all cases should be decided fairly based on the facts and the law - not based on money or race or any of those outside factors," said Kauffman, who said she believes a changing of the guard on the bench could bring about positive change.
A new venue would help too, she added.
"What is a criminal issue is being decided in the family courts and it's inappropriate," Kauffman said.
Could be, said Charlotte Hideko Huggins, a family law attorney who represented Keller.
"Perhaps if these cases were not handled in family court, and they were handled in criminal court, maybe they would be taken more seriously," she said.
"For every 10 cases that are just maneuvering between couples and their relationship there is this one deadly person out there.
"I have to say in my experience domestic violence victims are very difficult clients to convince to stay away," she said. "The abuser first beats down your self-esteem so you think you are not worthy of anyone but him, (gets you in his) financial clutches, and then cuts you off from everybody.
"I think there has to be full enforcement of these orders," Huggins said of restraining orders and orders of protection. "This is where the counseling comes in.
"The victims need to understand that this is a serious issue," she said, adding that she had great difficulty convincing Keller to stay away.
"She was a sweet young woman. Even with all the abuse there was a level of naivet that I couldn't break through," Huggins said. "You have to be consistent and you have to say no."
For domestic violence help and information, call the women's 24-hour hotline at 924-6616. Spanish speakers can call 924-3456. The men's 24-hour hotline is 924-1070.
BY THE NUMBERS
Percent of nonvehicular homicides attributed to domestic violence in the past five years in Marin
Percent of cases referred to the district attorney's office in the past five years that involved domestic violence
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Number of Marin homicides this year that have been attributed to domestic violence
Contact Jennifer Upshaw via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org