High-Profile Cases Put Spotlight On Domestic Abuse

Domestic violence training is an integral part of instruction at the Connecticut Police Academy in Meriden. (JOHN WOIKE)

Advocates say the economic recession has added stress on households, and that the series of high-profile domestic violence cases has focused attention on the problem.

"I think [these publicized cases] bring home reality," said Cecile Enrico, executive director of Hartford's Interval House. "Somebody who is in the situation recognizes, 'Oh my goodness, it can happen to me.'"

Hartford Response Unit

Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts recently reviewed the violent-crime statistics for his city, and what he saw troubled him.

The numbers showed a 10 percent increase in domestic aggravated assaults from Jan. 1 to Aug. 1 this year when compared with the same period a year ago. Those domestic assaults accounted for about a third of the city's total aggravated assaults during that period.

He checked further and saw that this category of family violence had increased dramatically in five years, from 48 aggravated assaults in the first seven months of 2005 to 169 during the same months this year.

Roberts said he knew he had to come up with a plan to target the problem.

"The home is supposed to be a sanctuary," he said. "No one in a family should have to live in fear of being a prisoner in their own home. We knew we needed to come up with something that would give people a sense of hope."

That hope lies in the planning of a special domestic violence response unit made up of detectives who will investigate family violence cases and identify and track repeat offenders.

Roberts said the unit, working with prosecutors and victim advocates, would help families get the services they need and follow up to ensure that abusers are adhering to court orders.

"We want to make sure we advocate for the victims and track these cases so it does not become a pattern," Roberts said.

The chief sees the unit going beyond its law-enforcement duties and reaching out to those who might not be willing to talk about what's going on behind closed doors.

"Sometimes, people just need to see that people care," Roberts said. "And we need to care — especially about the children who are seeing it in the house. We need to prevent a child from becoming an abuser."

The increase in domestic aggravated assaults also signals a concern for officers on the beat, Roberts said. Emotionally charged domestic incidents can be some of the most dangerous calls for police.

Roberts hopes to have the unit operating in the next six months to a year. The department is seeking funding from both state and federal sources in order to train one sergeant and four officers, and other money needed for development.

The Hartford effort is supported by top state officials.

"You can see there's a certain readiness for them right now," said Assistant State's Attorney Kevin Dunn. He oversees family violence dockets for the chief state's attorney's office.

Dunn met recently with Hartford State's Attorney Gail P. Hardy to discuss the new squad.

Several police departments in the state, including Stamford, Bridgeport and Norwich, already have teams that specialize in domestic violence cases. In Trumbull, Sgt. Doug Smith is a one-person unit, reviewing all of the department's family violence reports for thoroughness.

Tracey Thurman

On June 10, 1983, Charles "Buck" Thurman stabbed Tracey Thurman 13 times, stomped on her head, broke her neck and left her in a friend's driveway in Torrington. She had been abused and battered many times before. Today, the 48-year-old woman, who married again and is now Tracey Motuzick, walks with difficulty.

In 1984, she became the first woman in the country to sue a town and its police department for violating her civil rights, saying she wasn't protected from the abuse. She won an award of $2.3 million in what would become a landmark case, but the cost, in pain and frustration, was incalculable.