New team aims to quell domestic violence fatalities


Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 at 5:54 p.m.

The day Joe Johnson's daughter called to tell him his ex-wife Polly Rollins was in the hospital, he thought it was just an accident. Something minor, probably.

Facts

People who need help from intimate partner violence can call Peaceful Paths hotline at 352-377-8255 or the Florida hotline at 1-800-500-1119.

“My daughter said, 'I don't think she's going to make it,'” he said Tuesday as his voice broke. “I asked why, and she said, 'Garry killed her,'”

Johnson had no idea Polly was in an abusive relationship with Garry Rollins, a man she had recently married, he recalled. In August 1989, Garry killed Polly after she asked for a divorce and slit his own throat.

Johnson said his children's lives have not been the same since. He wiped his eyes as he talked about seeing Polly's blood on the walls and the loss of a good friend.

“From that day, I vowed I would do whatever I could do to protect another person from dying,” he said. “Domestic violence is not going away. We need to help people realize the situation they are in and get the heck out of it.”

Johnson spoke to about 30 people at the formal launch of the Intimate Partner Violence High Risk Team at the Peaceful Paths Administrative Office.

The team of law enforcement agencies, victim advocacy services and legal services will meet monthly to identify the most dangerous cases of domestic violence and use interventions to prevent fatalities, according to Peaceful Paths executive director Dr.Theresa Beachy.

“This program has been two years in the making and it's exciting to finally launch it,” she said. “We want better law enforcement response, not one that ignores the problem and lets the situation play out. We hope to get a homicide rate of zero.”

In 2012, there were 1,602 reported domestic violence offenses in Alachua County. This year, four people were killed in the county because of intimate partner homicide.

The High Risk Team model was developed in Massachusetts by Jeanne Geiger and is the first of its kind in Florida, officials said.

The model calls for the “early identification of high-risk offenders through risk assessment, case-specific, multidisciplinary responses to high-risk cases, and monitoring and containment of offenders,” according to the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center website.

Victims are most at risk of homicide from a batterer when they leave or engage in a legal separation, according to research led by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell. The most dangerous time for a victim is within the first year of leaving, especially the first three months.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said that when domestic violence is reported, law enforcement officials routinely ask the victims several questions to see if the victim is at risk and encourage him or her to contact a help hotline.

Officials help the victims find the best resources for them and monitor the offender, even when he or she is in jail, she said.

“Domestic violence situations are highly lethal not only for victims, but for law enforcement as well,” Darnell said. “It makes perfect sense to put as much resources as we can into it.”

Most domestic violence victims don't contact authorities, said Gainesville Police Capt. Lynne Benck.

“We need to stay engaged in education for the community and help victims trust us to get them to identify aggressors,” she said. “Once we get names here, we're going to help them.”

Intimate partner violence is also predictable and follows a course of action that is preventable, said Laura Knudson, bureau chief of trauma intervention and special services at ASO. Victims who access the help hotline tend to live, Knudson said.

“It is terrifying to face someone who you know wants to kill you,” she said. “When that person who touched you with fondness breaks bones in your face, it is chilling.”

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