DA's Office: Keep families safe, intact

October 22, 2001|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The District Attorney's Office has two key goals when it deals with domestic violence — change batterers' attitudes and keep the family intact.

That is the best-case scenario.

The victim then is safe from any further harm and a family has a chance to remain whole.

Sometimes batterers attitudes cannot be changed — the cycle of violence does not end despite all efforts of those working in the Valley to curb such crime.

It is those batterers, the ones who will not change — the repeat offenders — who could find themselves facing a lengthy prison sentence and the DA's Office will pursue that end to protect the victim if necessary.

Since 1998 the DA has had in place a domestic-violence unit with the goal of handling the great number of domestic violence cases.


Two deputy district attorneys, Chris Collins and Chryseis Starros, are assigned to the unit, along with an investigator. Collins handles the felony cases, Starros is assigned to the misdemeanor cases.

District Attorney Gilbert Otero said it is critical the DA's Office have such a unit.

"We needed to specialize in the area of domestic violence," he said. "Domestic violence cases were falling through the cracks and they weren't getting the attention they needed."

He said for a long time "batterers thought they could get away with it."

Otero said having the unit and a focus on domestic violence sends a message to batterers that they are not going to get away with it — at least not when it is in the power of the DA to do something about it.

Collins, who on the day he was interviewed had a stack of four domestic violence matters from arrests made the night before, said domestic violence is not like other crimes. It is more personal.

The batterer — man or woman — has a relationship with the victim.

That relationship causes victims to react differently than they would if they were hurt by a crime perpetrated by a stranger or by someone with whom they are not as close.

Collins, as he does when dealing with victims, drew a pyramid for a reporter. He said the pyramid shows what occurs to victims at each phase of domestic violence if they do not seek help and if the batterer does not change.

At the bottom of the triangle are those victims who have been pushed, slapped, beaten a bit.

As you move up toward the apex of the triangle, the violence gets worse. Perhaps the victim is beaten severely, perhaps hospitalized.

At the top point are those victims who have died from domestic violence.

Collins said it is possible to prevent such an outcome and that is what the domestic violence unit is working toward, one case at a time.

The problem is handling domestic violence cases is filled with difficulties.

Otero said police responding to a 911 domestic violence call know they are walking into a dangerous situation. He said officers have been killed when responding to domestic violence matters.

For prosecutors, some of the difficulties in handling such crime is at times victims choose not to cooperate.

Collins said if police arrest 100 batterers, 50 of the victims from those cases — those who called 911 for help — will say they do not want the batterer arrested.

Of the 50 victims remaining, another 25 will say they want to drop charges when it comes time for the DA to file a complaint against the batterer.

Of the 25 now remaining, about half will chose not to testify because they do not want to be attacked with words while on the witness stand.

Those in the DA's Office said they understand such reactions.

Often they are afraid to leave their children without a father — or in some cases a mother. They are concerned that the batterer is the sole source of income in the household. In some cases, the victim is afraid that once the batterer is released from custody he or she will become more violent.

Aiding the DA's Office in handling such cases is that it does not need the victim to pursue a case against a batterer.

"The policy of this office is to prosecute even without the victim," Collins said.

The DA can bring the batterers to court and attempt to have the perpetrator sent to a 52-week anger management course run by the Center for Family Solutions in El Centro or have the person sent to jail if necessary.

Starros said when it comes to dealing with domestic violence, everyone can make a difference. She said the DA's Office is just one part of the effort.

"It must be a community effort," she said, adding she is pleased to be a part of that effort.

Collins said, "It is a community problem. The DA is not the answer, not the solution. We are just a piece of the puzzle."

Both Starros and Collins said it is possible to break the cycle of violence, stating the key is education.

They added if the attitude of the batterer can be changed, then perhaps the children who witness such battering can be stopped from carrying on the tendency toward domestic violence themselves.

If the attitude is not changed, and children continue to see such violence there is a chance they will carry on the practice.

Otero said youths harbor feelings and those can come out in violent ways on the playground and when they later go on dates and get married.

"We have to stop the cycle of violence," Otero said. "If we can do that without breaking up the family we are all better for it."

Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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