(Editor’s note: Nearly 40 people across the state have lost their lives to domestic violence this year, more than double the number of similar incidents reported last year. None of the deceased victims have been from the Elk River, but the Elk River Police Department mediates more than 200 domestic disputes every year and makes another 30 to 50-plus arrests for it annually.
This series, which was born out of two tragic cases in Eden Prairie, will focus on levels of domestic violence, its psychological aspects and what can be done to help those abused behind closed doors.
The Star News will highlight a domestic violence lethality screening tool used to assess perpetrators’ likeliness to reoffend and reach out to organizations like Rivers of Hope that aim to help victims.)
• Elk River domestics
have not resulted in
deaths, but they keep
police busy all over
by Natalie Conrad
ECM Sun Newspapers
Family and friends provide a sense of comfort and love.
But for 37 people across the state, that comfort turned to violence before ending in death.
A total of 24 women, six men and seven friends or other family members have lost their lives this year as a result of domestic violence, according to the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women.
Eighteen domestic violence homicides occurred last year – all but four of them were women, according the coalition’s 2012 Femicide Report.
Homicides resulting from domestic violence occurred this year in St. Paul, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Maplewood, Oakdale, Minneapolis, Shoreview, St. Louis Park, Eden Prairie, Burnsville, Mounds View, Shorewood and Roseville.
The 2013 numbers would be the
most female deaths since 2005 and the most overall deaths since 2001.
Here in Elk River, there have been 33 arrests for domestic assault, including five for strangulation and another four that reached felony level due to weapon use or number of previous convictions, according to Elk River Police Capt. Bob Kluntz.
While law enforcement and advocacy groups try to reach victims to offer help, it is often a struggle.
What happens behind closed doors and within the confines of families and close relationships can be hard to assess and measure.
Eden Prairie accounts for two of this year’s domestic violence-related homicides Mandy Matula, a 24-year-old Eden Prairie woman, went missing in May after meeting up with her ex-boyfriend, David Roe. Matula’s remains were found nearly six months later on Oct. 26 at Mississippi River Park, north of Sartell.
Roe, who authorities say had shown no prior abusive behavior toward Matula, still remains the primary suspect.
The Eden Prairie Police Department had one prior domestic-related incident involving Roe, who was arrested for stalking in May 2007. However, they say Matula was not involved in that incident. Roe took his own life the day following Matula’s disappearance, prior to police questioning. After conducting an autopsy, the Ramsey County Medical Examiner indicated that the cause of Matula’s death was a single gunshot wound to the head. Authorities believe Matula was shot while in Eden Prairie, but have not confirmed a specific location.
In September, two Eden Prairie residents died in a murder-suicide as the result of a domestic dispute at an apartment complex. The married couple, Anitra Rochelle Williams, 26, and Derrick Antoine Williams, 29, were found dead by the Eden Prairie Emergency Response Unit. Police records indicate one prior contact with the couple on a report of a verbal domestic dispute in October 2009. Domestic Abuse Response Teams from police departments across the metro answer thousands of domestic calls every year.
“We handle everything from an argument between a brother and a sister or any type of domestic relationship to full-blown, people getting beaten,” said Sgt.
Dennis Paulson, who oversees DART activities at the Eden Prairie Police Department.
Although the situations vary from call to call, DART officers do their best to assist victims and refer them to local advocacy services like Cornerstone Advocacy Service. Officers work with individuals to make sure they have emergency plans, including a place to go when things get out of control. The team ensures consistency by making sure victims meet with the same officer, building a relationship of trust and support.
The ultimate goal is to stop the problem in its tracks and reduce repeat calls.
“We let the abusers know that we won’t tolerate this behavior and do our best to help the victim get past the situation,” Paulson said.
The incidents vary as much as the areas in which they occur and the socioeconomic groups they affect. In Edina, a suburb with an affluent reputation, domestic violence occurs as frequently as anywhere else but is less likely to be reported, according to Edina Police Chief Jeff Long. The community has less multifamily housing, meaning the domestic violence is occurring in single-family houses where it is not heard and reported like it would be in an apartment building, he said.
State law is clear that police have to arrest the suspect in domestic abuse if he or she is causing injury to another person, Long said. “The law is there to protect victims,” he said.
However, domestic violence situations are precarious for both for officers and the people involved.
“It’s an emotionally charged situation where people aren’t thinking rationally and can turn to knives, guns or their fists when police arrive,” Long continued.
Victims have a history of turning on officers when a family member is being arrested, Long said.
In some cases, the victim is dependent on a spouse for financial support and realizes the arrest means they’ll lose their means of support. In a case where a son was arrested for attacking his mother and brother, Long and a detective had to call in backup after the mother and brother began attacking the police once they realized the officers were going to make an arrest, he said.
While the majority of domestic violence homicides involve a man murdering a woman, and domestic incidents in general are commonly between a man and woman, domestic violence can occur in any type of relationship. In Brooklyn Center, Gilbert Ramos Avieda, 65, was shot and killed by his son Sept. 23 after a domestic dispute.
Avieda’s son then turned the gun on himself. Avieda’s ex-wife also suffered a gunshot wound on her arm.
The Brooklyn Center Police Department and DART are working to educate people of all cultures about resources related to domestic violence.
“In some cultures violence is expected, it’s almost acceptable,” said Brooklyn Center Police Department Cmdr. Tim Gannon. “The department is trying to let people know not to be afraid of police and have us come out and help.”
The Brooklyn Park Police Department uses the knock-and-talk program for high-risk cases. Officers and Domestic Violence Prevention Coordinator Jamie Olson will make unannounced visits to a house when they believe an assault may occur.
“We try to do it as close to an assault as we can, and the goal is to provide the victim with information, possibly make arrests for future order violations and most importantly create a relationship with the victim to trust police in future,” Olson said.
Every domestic-related case, whether assault or order-related violations, goes to Olson. Every case is scored with a recidivism test (likelihood of particular offender offending again), Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment and a lethality assessment.Overall, domestic incidents tend to fluctuate from year to year, but an increase isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Olson.
“When we see an increase in numbers, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been an increase in violence,” Olson said.
“It just means there has been an increase in reporting.”
What happens behind closed doors between
loved ones, family members and friends is hard to uncover and prevent.
While law enforcement does its best to combat the problem, there are many incidents that go unreported. Even the amount of domestic homicides reported is up for interpretation.
“It’s been a very tragic year, but this is just a small group of those who have suffered from domestic violence,” said
Safia Khan Lovett, a program manager for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. “There are thousands more that go unreported.”
According to Olson, domestic violence is an issue that affects each and every community, whether it is acknowledged or not.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s low income, high income, what race,” she said. “It’s something that’s part of every community.”
(Editor’s note: ECM editors Jim Boyle, Paul Groessel, Lisa Kaczke and Katy Zillmer also contributed to this story.)