Dallas, DeSoto shooting rampage shows how domestic abuse cycles are hard to stop

by Emily Roberts | Aug 12, 2013

Dallas, DeSoto shooting rampage shows how domestic abuse cycles are hard to stop

August 10, 2013
by Ed Timms, Jennifer Emily and Tanya Eiserer
The Dallas Morning News

Zina Bowser wanted Erbie Bowser out of her life.

But what happened next followed a pattern that is frustrating, tragic and all too familiar.

Threats and even physical abuse come first. Love turns to fear. Divorce court becomes another battleground. The system tries to protect victims of domestic violence — and counsel the abusers. But sometimes it doesn’t work out.

A protective order may be the last-ditch effort to avoid a catastrophe. Too often, the court papers become a somber record of what victims endured in the weeks, months or years before they’re murdered by someone who once claimed to love them.

Erbie Bowser, 44, now faces capital murder charges. He’s accused of killing two mothers and their daughters in a deadly rampage late Wednesday.

Police allege that he fatally shot his ex-girlfriend Toya Smith, 43, in her far southwest Dallas home. He also is accused of killing her daughter, Tasmia Allen, 17. Smith’s 14-year-old son, Storm Malone, and a family friend, Dasmine Mitchell, 17, were wounded.

Investigators said that Erbie Bowser then stormed the DeSoto home of his estranged wife, Zina Bowser. He allegedly battered down the back door and lobbed a grenade inside that blew out the walls and knocked out windows. Police say he then fatally shot Zina Bowser and her daughter, Neima Williams, 28. Zina Bowser’s two sons were wounded: 10-year-old Myles and 13-year-old Chris.

A harassment charge from the late 1990s, which later was dismissed, hinted that a man described by family and friends as a “gentle giant” may have had a darker side for a very long time. More recently, he was accused of making death threats that left little to the imagination.

Was abusive behavior from Erbie Bowser’s past a premonition of the deadly violence he is alleged to have unleashed? Perhaps only in hindsight.

The courts tried to protect the victims. Counselors worked to calm the rage inside Erbie Bowser. And, at times, it appeared that he’d responded.

Sometimes domestic violence victims even have a change of heart. Whatever first brought a couple together doesn’t always go away easily. Victims sometimes feel compelled to give their partners another chance, postpone divorce proceedings or even try to rekindle relationships.

Zina Bowser, for example, had filed for divorce in 2011. But there apparently has been little movement on her case.

Could things have been done differently? Almost certainly.

Would it have made a difference?

That’s a question that may never be answered.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has gained national attention for his campaign against domestic violence, said he was devastated by the killings.

“The real question is, ‘What can we do better as a system?’” he said.

Paige Flink, executive director at the Family Place shelter, ultimately holds Bowser responsible.

“We’ve got to figure out some way to identify the high-risk offenders,” she said. “I’m not going to blame the system because this man murdered these people.”

Military stories

Erbie Bowser was accused of attacking his wife in their home in January 2011. She filed for divorce the same month. The couple had been married less than a year.

For years, he’d described himself as a combat veteran. He once told a fellow vet that he’d been an Army Ranger who had served in Operation Desert Shield, Somalia and Haiti. And that he was a paratrooper.

He told family members he’d been wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart. He said he had a metal plate in his head.

He ended up in a special court program designed to help veterans who’ve seen combat or experienced traumatic events.

Military records indicate he served in the Army from 1991 to 2000. But he was not deployed outside the U.S. . There is no record of a Purple Heart. No record that he’d been trained as a paratrooper.

“It bothers me if he was not truthful of his military past,” said Joe Lynch, a Vietnam veteran who volunteered as Bowser’s mentor in the Dallas County Veterans Court. “The judge expects nothing but honesty from everyone involved in the process.”

Participants in the Veterans Court are required to participate in treatment programs. Those may include anger management, an intervention program for domestic violence, drug and alcohol treatment and psychiatric care.

Anyone with a domestic violence charge is required to go through a “batterer’s intervention” program. Almost 1 in 3 of the vets who go through the court are there because of domestic violence.

To remain in the program, veterans must comply with whatever treatment is mandated.

Lynch said he didn’t know if Bowser would have received treatment without the court’s intervention.

Since state District Judge Mike Snipes started the Veterans Court program in 2010, Bowser is the first offender to be accused of another crime. So far, 23 vets have graduated.

Graduates of the court can have the charge that brought them into the program expunged. And they are introduced to VA services that they may not have used in the past.

Such specialized intervention programs in the courts have many advocates, who say they often keep offenders from committing more serious crimes.

After questions were raised about Erbie Bowser’s military background, Snipes said he will now require proof that a veteran served in combat or a traumatic situation.

“I’m putting an extra layer in there,” he said.

Expunged records

Erbie Bowser had married once before, in 2002. That marriage ended in divorce in 2008. The divorce records do not indicate whether threats or violence were an issue but do state that “there is no protective order between the parties.”

Some of Bowser’s history of domestic violence didn’t appear in his criminal record because it was expunged after he’d completed the Veterans Court program in 2012.

Flink is among those who have concerns about any domestic abuse records being expunged, particularly when weapons are involved.

“We all believe in redemption and we hope for redemption, but we have accepted being more tolerant when people enter this gray area that is a very slippery slope to murder,” Rawlings said.

Zina Bowser’s application for a protective order after she alleged a violent encounter with her estranged husband was found in their divorce records.

“He came around the bed really fast and … pushed me with his stomach,” she wrote. “Then he put his finger in my face and said, ‘I will bury you.’”

Later, she wrote, Erbie Bowser pulled out a knife and flipped it open. He warned that if she called the police, “I will execute your kids.”

State District Judge Rick Magnis is beginning in January a specialty court for felony domestic violence offenders. He is still deciding whether offenders who have a “high lethality” will be admitted to the program. A high lethality means they have a higher chance of killing their victim.

Defendants with family violence cases in his courtroom are assessed for stalking behavior, controlling behavior and threats to kill.

Terms of probation for those with a higher risk could include GPS monitoring, an alcohol monitor and drug testing. All domestic violence defendants on probation are required to receive batterer’s intervention treatment, he said.

“We’re just trying to reduce the chances as much as we can,” Magnis said.

Many victims, Magnis said, still want to maintain some contact with the defendants.

But no contact typically is one of the terms of probation he imposes for the safety of the victims.

He said he tells victims to attend safety counseling for those who are abused and he will reconsider it.

Criminologist Denise Paquette Boots, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said there are many reasons women in domestic violence situations choose to stay.

“Sometimes they’re fearful. … Imagine him threatening your children, threatening your family, threatening your friends. Saying he’s going to come to your work. He’s going to send pictures to your boss. He’s going to call your friend,” Boots said. “It reinforces his power and control.”

Boots said abusers can be manipulative and secretive, almost living dual lives.

“You’ll have situations … where the neighbors and the co-workers will say, ‘I just can’t believe it. He’s just the nicest guy. I had no idea.’”

If an abuser wants to kill, Boots said, it’s very difficult to stop.

“They don’t care about … trespassing signs. They don’t care about protective orders. The only thing that we can do is to try to give resources to women to try to get them away from their abuser. But we have women on the run all over the United States from guys that are tracking them.”

Lurlean Smith, the mother of Toya Smith and grandmother of Tasmia Allen, pleaded Friday with other mothers to talk to their daughters to find out whether their relationships are showing signs of abuse.

“Notice the habits. Notice if … [boyfriends or husbands] become aggressive,” Smith said. “I stress it to these mothers and these daughters … wake up.

“You know what [the] signs are. You know what red flags are.”

Read more at Dallasnews.com