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When the Batterer
is a Cop

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Police Officer-Involved Domestic Violence:
The Extent of the Problem

Domestic violence is 2 to 4 times more common in police families than in the general population. In two separate studies, 40% of police officers self-report that they have used violence against their domestic partners within the last year. In the general population, it's estimated that domestic violence occurs in about 10% of families.

In a nationwide survey of 123 police departments, 45% had no specific policy for dealing with officer-involved domestic violence. In that same survey, the most common discipline imposed for a sustained allegation of domestic violence was counseling. Only 19% of departments indicated that officers would be terminated after a second sustained allegation of domestic violence.

In San Diego, a national model in domestic violence prosecution, the City Attorney typically prosecutes 92% of referred domestic violence cases, but only 42% of cases where the batterer is a cop. (The foregoing information was gathered from the National Center for Women and Policing, Abuse of Power, and Life Span .

Last April, police domestic violence moved from the back rooms to the front pages when Tacoma, Washington Police Chief David Brame shot and killed his wife, Crystal Brame, as their two young children waited nearby. Prior to the shooting, Crystal had filed court papers accusing her husband of two separate incidents over the prior six months when David Brame pointed his service revolver at her and tried to choke her, threatening to "snap [her] neck."

In the wake of Brame's death, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did an extensive investigation into officer-involved domestic violence in the Seattle area. They found 41 officers who had been accused of domestic violence within the previous five years, a number of them accused of multiple incidents. Few paid any professional price; less than half faced charges, and only one was convicted. Among the cases unearthed by the Post-Intelligencer are these:

Seattle Police Ofcr. Phil Rees flew into a rage and slammed his wife, Jenifer, into a wall and hurled a dresser drawer at her, leaving visible injuries. Jenifer Rees called King County sheriff's deputies, who handed her intoxicated husband back his gun and let him drive away, "so he wouldn't miss work in the morning." No charges were filed. Rees was not disciplined, despite two prior complaints of domestic violence against him.

In a fight with his wife, Ofcr. Kevin Hawley grabbed his handgun saying, "I'm going to blow my fucking head off and you're going to watch." He then put the gun barrel in his mouth and pressed his cheek against hers. No internal investigation was conducted. Hawley was promoted to detective.

Four days before Christmas, Washington State Trooper Ronald Somerville grabbed his girlfriend by the throat, shoved her over the couch and pounced on her. When she ran to the phone to call 911, Somerville snatched the receiver and hung it up. As she darted for the stairs, he grabbed her again, put his hand around her throat and pushed her down, shouting, "You don't want to go out this way." Somerville was charged with 4th degree assault and vandalism, charges that were later dismissed. His discipline? A written reprimand.

The Post-Intelligencer found that police departments in general were:

  • Creating a double standard by not immediately arresting officers accused of domestic violence.

  • Putting victims at greater risk by not taking away the officers' guns.

  • Failing to conduct thorough internal investigations of the incidents. (In many cases no review was conducted.)

  • Rarely determining there was wrongdoing in domestic violence complaints against officers.

  • Lacking specific policies on how to handle officers accused of abuse.

But Seattle's not the only city having problems with officer-involved domestic violence. In other areas, things look pretty much the same.

• Peabody, Massachusetts may Michael Bonfanti said he believed "human error" was responsible for the omission of Marblehead Police Ofcr. Cary Gaynor's name from the police log after his arrest on domestic assault charges.

Gaynor was arrested after, in a fit of rage, he struck his wife with such force that the blow knocked her to the ground and bloodied her nose. Marblehead Police Chief Robert Champagne claimed responding police weren't told Gaynor was a cop; however, on the 911 tape Gaynor's wife can be heard saying her husband is a police officer.

• Galesville, Wisconsin Police Ofcr. James Brudos was arrested twice in less than a month for bail-jumping and restraining order violations, after pounding on the doors and windows of an ex-girlfriend's home, according to court documents.

• Montezuma County, Colorado, Sheriff's Lt. Steven Wayne DeKruger was arrested last July after becoming enraged during an argument with his wife. DeKruger grabbed a Glock 9mm automatic handgun and pointed it at her, then brought the gun up under his chin, saying he was going to shoot himself.

DeKruger had been charged just a month earlier for sexual misconduct in a penal institution and unlawful sexual contact with a victim who was in custody., At a pre-trial hearing, DeKruger's attorney protested his $3,000 bail as "excessive."

• Lacey, Washington Police Ofcr. Bruce Dobbs was charged with felony harassment after he went to his ex's home and threatened to slit his stepson's throat during a heated dispute over family issues. Dobbs, who sits on the board of directors for the Crime Stoppers program, was released on his own recognizance.

• Four Lexington, Kentucky police officers were accused of domestic violence over a four-month period. Two were charged; in two of the cases charges were dropped because the victims were too afraid to testify. In response, Lexington Police Chief Anthany Beatty is developing a counseling program for officers.

• In March this year, a Tacoma police Ofcr. Marco Rahn was charged with assaulting his estranged wife and sending her to the hospital. Court documents allege Rahn grabbed his estranged wife by the throat and threw her to the ground off a retaining wall. After his arrest, Rahn told a detective his wife fell over the retaining wall by accident. Rahn had received a letter of reprimand in 1999 after a Washington State Patrol investigation found he harassed a Tacoma woman who turned down his numerous requests for a date.

Clearly the partners of police officers represent a class of domestic violence victims whose access to law enforcement protection is severely proscribed. These women usually don't report to police, primarily because he is the police and because often they are threatened with death if they do anything to compromise his job. As a result, when they do finally get out, prosecution is nearly impossible due to the lack of contemporaneous police reports, photographs of their injuries, 911 tapes, etc.

And when they do report, as we saw in the Lubiszewski case, the investigation is incomplete or nonexistent making prosecution even more difficult; the victims are intimidated and urged to drop their complaints; and nothing is done to put the batterer in check, only increasing the woman's danger.

Those of us whose job is the protection of women from domestic violence have a responsibility to these women to provide them equal protection as provided in the California and U.S. Constitutions. At this moment we are failing in that task. It's time for us to turn that around.

May 2004


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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Copyright © 2001 Purple Berets

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