Jul 22, 2009 - Concerned by an escalating level of violence in domestic disturbance cases in St. Bernard Parish over the last 17 months, including eight people shot – three who were murdered, two killed themselves and three who were injured - the Sheriff’s Office and officials at the Battered Women’s Shelter in Chalmette intend a joint effort to help victims remove themselves from abusive situations.
Chief Deputy Sheriff James Pohlmann, second in command to Sheriff Jack Stephens, and Gail Gowland, executive director of the Battered Women’s Shelter, said they want to help victims understand there are options before abuse turns to murder or serious injury.
Sheriff’s deputies responding to calls of domestic violence disturbance will make people aware of the services offered by the Battered Women’s Shelter, which provides both in-residence help including a place to stay and non-residence aid such as counseling or help in obtaining a restraining order against someone in cases where people are trying to extract themselves from abusive relationships.
Pohlmann said, “We will work on educating the general public’’ about options available to domestic violence victims. “They have assistance available and we will give information to victims,’’ Pohlmann said. The Sheriff’s Office will also submit domestic violence information to he Battered Women’s Shelter, he said.
People seeking help can call the Battered Women’s Shelter at (504) 277-3177 or the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office at 271-2501 and they will be referred to the shelter.
Officials from the shelter recently met with sheriff’s officials about the incidents of violence and what can be done, Pohlmann and Gowland said.
Also, the Sheriff’s Office has applied for a federal grant seeking money to devote a sheriff’s investigator fulltime to domestic violence cases and crimes against women in general, Pohlmann said.
Gowland, who has headed he Battered Women’s Shelter since the mid-1990s, said she hopes increasing cooperation with the Sheriff’s Office - which is on the forefront of responding to domestic problems - can help the situation.
“We want more women to take advantage of the services available,’’ at the shelter, Gowland said. “Not only residential services but the non-residential also.’’ Women from St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and other parishes live at St. Bernard’s Battered Women’s Shelter, which doesn’t reveal its address in Chalmette. An average stay is 45 days, officials said. More than half of the residents are children.
Gowland said she sees increasing levels of violence in domestic disturbance cases. “There are more incidents of women requiring medical care because of domestic violence’’ in recent times, Gowland said. “It’s not just here in St. Bernard. It’s all over.”
She and program coordinator Santa Aaaron said stress caused by the post-Hurricane Katrina day-to-day problems including entire families living in small FEMA trailers with virtually no privacy have added to the problems of increasing violence in this area.
“A lot of people think it’s an anger management issue’’ among some men that leads to increased violence against women, Gowland said. “It’s not. Men don’t beat their boss’’ at work, she said. “But they take it out on the women and children.’’
Pohlmann agrees the level of violence in domestic cases is rising and is made worse by money problems, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems of the post-storm era. “When life gets harder for some people they wrongly take it out on those they are closest to,’’ he said.
In St. Bernard, there have been five incidents of shootings, totaling eight people shot, in domestic cases in 17 months. In February 2008, a Chalmette man allegedly shot and killed his girlfriend, then himself, in an apparent murder-suicide. In November 2008, a woman in Meraux admitted she shot and killed a man she lived with as he slept, saying she had been beaten by him and feared he was going to hurt her children. She awaits trial. In January 2009, a Violet man was arrested and now awaits trial after allegedly shooting his wife, who survived, and shooting and killing the woman’s adopted daughter. In February 2009, a juvenile boy in Violet allegedly shot his juvenile step-sister, who survived, then shot and killed himself. In June 2009, a Chalmette man shot and seriously wounded his girlfriend with a shotgun at close range and he awaits trial.
There have also been several cuttings and beatings in domestic cases during that period, although no figures were available.
One of the services St. Bernard deputies will inform victims of domestic violence about is the state Crime Victims Reparations program in which money is available from a fund to assist victims of violent crimes with unrecoverable costs.
Pohlmann was appointed by the governor in April to the state Crime Victims Reparations board and said he encourages St. Bernard Parish victims who meet the criteria to apply for consideration of reparations.
The victim reparations coordinator for St. Bernard is Sheriff’s Det. Lt. Jennifer Turnage, who can be reached at (504) 278-7656. She can provide assistance to victims of violent crime who ask for help in filling out application forms. Some domestic violence victims have been given money from the fund to move away to other areas to escape a situation, Turnage said.
There are several requirements to qualify for help from the victims’ fund: The crime must happen in Louisiana or involve a Louisiana resident in another state that doesn’t have such a victim compensation program; it must be reported to a law enforcement agency within 72 hours unless there is a valid reason it couldn’t; and the victim must cooperate in an investigation.
But a major problem in domestic violence cases, according to Gowland, is many victims don’t report it to police and don’t want an investigation leading to their partner being arrested and possibly going to prison. “Fear of retaliation is a main reason,’’ Gowland said, but she added many women victims still love the men and “they just want the abuse to stop.’’
Others don’t have jobs and worry what would happen to their children and them if the man is arrested and his paycheck stops, she said. The shelter offers help in getting jobs and working toward independent housing, Gowland said.