Commissioners Hear Domestic Violence Fatality Report - TribPapers

Commissioners Hear Domestic Violence Fatality Report

The building is purple because that's the ribbon color for domestic violence. Source: DVFRT report.

Asheville – At their June 18 regular meeting, the Buncombe County Commissioners heard the triannual report from the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team. The North Carolina General Assembly authorized the creation of the DVFRT following a rash of eight domestic violence homicides in 2013.

Looking exclusively at the numbers, the average of 2.5 domestic violence homicides in the years following would suggest this cause of death is receiving disproportionate attention. One reason it’s warranted is that death by domestic violence is often slow and avoidable. People, even the victims, see the signs, but they’re afraid to meddle, rock the boat, or even admit it. From 2013 to 2023, 21 of the 33 domestic violence homicides in the county were committed in situations where intimate partner violence had previously been reported.

The purpose of Buncombe County’s DVFRT is to analyze information pertinent to the homicides and determine where the system is breaking down. This includes identifying gaps in services and needs for additional staff, as well as determining whether “laws, rules, and policies inappropriately impede the exchange of information necessary to protect victims.”

In their analysis of domestic violence homicides from 2023, the DVFRT spent six months collecting records from various agencies. Then, they performed an “intensive two-day review” of one case. Details have been scrubbed from the public presentation.

The story is told of a wealthy, influential character, in the community, as an executive, and among attorneys. He had a history of throwing his power around to silence his partners. For example, he controlled their money and their phones and resorted to violence.

“The perpetrator had multiple contacts with both civil and criminal legal systems in multiple jurisdictions over a span of eight years.” He was charged with crimes, and temporary civil orders were granted, but he avoided permanent civil orders and criminal convictions. He was involved with Child Protective Services.

He had legal access to firearms in all his intimate relationships. More concerning was that “multiple bullet holes were reported and present in the home prior to the murder.”

Friends and coworkers viewed him as jealous and controlling of the victim. Right before the murder-suicide, business associates observed “increasing paranoia, depression, being in a dark place, and expression of homicidal thoughts.” He had a “reported history” of substance abuse, but his autopsy only tested for alcohol consumption.

The DVFRT reported that, while all cases they investigated over the last three years were very diverse, some themes recurred. These included the perpetrator exercising undue dominion over his partner and her money. Friends, family, and coworkers of the victim who had a good sense that something was wrong in the relationship neither reported their concerns to an appropriate agency nor supported the victim in reaching out for help.

Further, “the accessibility of services and the lack of information sharing and issuing permanent protective orders contributed to the victims and perpetrators being unable to access the supports they needed.” This was compounded by restrictions on inter-agency data sharing, particularly across state lines. The DVFRT also observed that, in certain cases, interventions were directed toward the victim, while no actions were taken to help the perpetrator mend his ways.

Recommendations for this year included improving interoperability among agencies and jurisdictions. It was suggested that a Domestic Violence Multidisciplinary Team be created with representation from Pisgah Legal Services, the district attorney’s office, Helpmate, law enforcement, pretrial services and probation services, the SPARC Foundation, and Buncombe County Veterans’ Services.

Other recommendations included education and outreach, shaped through an equity and inclusion lens, and building capacity in responding agencies. Much was said about “acknowledging the connection” between firearms and fatalities. The DVFRT, therefore, would like the state to adopt legislation that would limit domestic violence offenders’ access to firearms.

Historically, such bills have not waltzed their way to the governor’s desk. While it is acknowledged that firearms are highly lethal in the rare event of accidental discharge, it is well known that people intent on murder are not going to care about legal formalities. Criminals have told authorities interested in gun statistics that they know where to find a gun without buying one, and those banned from owning guns have been apprehended packing heat.

The county’s Coordinated Community Response effort also receives the DVFRT reports. Since its founding in 2014, it has set up six programs to help survivors. A new program, the PorchLight Project, will allow merchants to display a decal in their windows to let victims know their building is a safe and supportive space and that they’ll let the victims use their phone to call for help.