• Union and The Family Place Team Up to help make Sundays Safe

    by Emily Roberts | Sep 16, 2014

    Union Coffee and the Family Place Team Up on Safe on Sunday

    September 3, 2014
    by Sheron C. Patterson
    North Texas Conference News

    When a coffeehouse and a domestic violence shelter unite to fight abuse, the results are something new and innovative for victims and abusers. Together, Union Coffee House and the Family Place are launching S.O.S. — Safe on Sunday — a domestic violence prevention campaign this month.

    S.O.S. offers domestic violence awareness and prevention training for pastors and professionals at Union Coffee House, in order that sermons on domestic violence can be preached every Sunday in October. S.O.S also seeks to recruit as many churches and organizations as possible to spread the word of hope and healing for victims and abusers. Lay people are asked to spread the word among their personal and professional contacts.

    What is the word?

    Sunday is the No. 1 day of the week for domestic violence reports.

    Churchgoers are just as likely as the general public to be domestic violence victims and abusers.

    Most victims and abusers have never heard the church address family violence in sermons, prayers, Sunday school or other church programming.

    Union Coffee House is a contemporary United Methodist worship place that uses “the energy of great coffee” to unite people and impact issues such as hunger and juvenile delinquency. The Rev. Michael Baughman, who leads Union Coffee, actually has domestic violence awareness in his blood.

    “I didn’t know much about domestic violence until my mother took a position as the executive director of Jersey Battered Women’s Services,” he said. “Shortly after that, I learned that domestic violence was just as prevalent in the church as it was in the rest of society. I started to talk about domestic violence in church and was amazed at how many stories emerged from people I loved who were victims.

    “After Mayor Mike Rawlings’ march against domestic violence a year and a half ago, I preached the following Sunday [Palm Sunday] about domestic violence at University Park UMC,” he said.

    Paige Flink, executive director of the Family Place, was in the congregation.

    The Family Place is a Dallas-based domestic violence awareness and prevention center that provides free, comprehensive services to prevent abuse and support victims on the path from fear to safety.

    In 2013, it served 11,758 clients.

    Flink told Baughman that one of the most difficult groups to get involved in the domestic violence movement was churches.

    “I shared that story with members of the Union community, and we decided to team up and try to address the challenge,” he said.

    “Focusing on the faith communities to reach domestic violence victims makes perfect sense,” Flink said. “Research shows that the first person a victim reaches out to is a pastor. If that pastor supports a patriarchal system or does not know how to help her, she will not return.”

    Flink started volunteering at the Family Place about 28 years ago and has led the center for 17 years.

    Flink offered a checklist for pastors and church professionals.

    The Family Place has a large batterer intervention and prevention program.

    Last year, 1,000 men went through the program, ordered by the court system to attend 24 weeks, and paying a fee to do so.

    “Our program makes a huge difference. We track them and 92 percent do not re-offend. Stopping male violence is a community effort,” Flink said. “We play into it when we laugh at jokes or hear him put her down. It is hard for men to confront another man. Do not turn the other way.”

    Abusers, she said, “are little boys who are broken inside.”

    Read more at North Texas Conference News.

  • Watch CEO Paige Flink talk about domestic abuse on Fox Dallas

    by Emily Roberts | Sep 16, 2014

    CEO Paige Flink talks about domestic abuse, #WhyIStayed and how domestic violence victims get help at The Family Place on FOX DALLAS!

    September 9, 2014

    Click here to watch the video.

  • The Family Place Partners Learn About Upcoming Fundraising Activities And A Former Client’s Story

    by Emily Roberts | Sep 16, 2014

    The Family Place Partners Learn About Upcoming Fundraising Activities And A Former Client’s Story

    September 4, 2014
    by Jeanne Prejean

    To The Family Place staff and volunteers, fall is the most active season of the year. That’s when their fundraising activities kick into high gear.  From the Back TO School drive, Partners Card to the Texas Trailblazers, their feet never seem to touch the ground for more than two seconds. And that’s exactly what was reported at The Family Place Partners general membership meeting. Plus the gals were also reminded what all this fundraising is for. Check this report from the field:

    “The Family Place Partners General Membership meeting was full of news about upcoming fall events. Melissa Sherrill, Vice-President of Development, reported that over 600 backpacks were provided to children in need through the Back TO School drive. She reminded everyone to watch The City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force: Private Violence – an HBO Documentary, on Monday, October 6.

    Jennifer Tobin, president of The Family Place Partners, introduced Stephanie Hollman, one of the Texas Trailblazer Awards luncheon co-chairs. She invited everyone to join in the September 17th event at the Hilton Anatole which celebrates the Legacy of Harold C. Simmons. President and Mrs. George W. Bush are distinguished chairs. Other co-chairs are Stephanie’s husband, Travis Hollman, Carol Seay and Stephanie Seay. Joe Torre is the keynote speaker, who will be interviewed by Dale Hansen, WFAA8 sportscaster.

    “Partners Card chairs Lisa Bhattacharya and Andrea Cheek recognized co-chair Diana Hamilton and announced Partners Cards are on sale Monday, September 1, online. Partners Card runs from Friday, October 24, through Sunday, November 2.

    Cameo Raymond, a Family Place client, was the guest speaker. She has been a resident of Dallas since 1998, working as a realtor for 12 years, specializing in luxury homes. Cameo came to The Family Place in 2007.

    “She met her husband in 2003. He was a mortgage lender working with her and her clients. He used controlling and manipulation and lies to turn her situation around and even frame her as an abuser to the point of losing custody of her child. She came to The Family Place who provided help and assistance needed during the tough times. Cameo stayed strong and ‘kept [her] faith in place, as truth always comes out.’ During the time of loss custody, she stayed active in the school visiting her daughter every day at lunch and forming relationships through the PTA for others to see beyond the lies for who she really is.

    “Now looking back, Cameo realized patterns and how her ex-husband positioned her to be the perpetrator, as it was all about his power and control. Cameo is successfully working on her real estate business and has custody of her daughter. She is thankful for The Family Place and assistance provided and looks forward to giving back to the cause.

    “The Family Place Partners are a group of dynamic women who support The Family Place in its mission to eliminate family violence by serving as a volunteer arm and financial partner. Founded in 1990, The Family Place Partners have made a significant impact on the organization’s ability to serve victims of family violence.

    “The Partners have a direct impact on The Family Place clients and the community through fundraising, volunteerism, advocacy and public education. Partners support The Family Place’s clients throughout the year with service projects such as Thanksgiving meals, Easter baskets, and holiday donation drives. They also organize Texas Trailblazer Luncheon and Partners Card, the agency’s largest annual fundraiser.

    “Membership is open to the community. Visit the website at http://familyplace.org/ and click on “Get Involved,” for details and for more information on the fundraisers and special events.”

    Read the full article and photos at MySweetCharity.com.

  • Dallas Police Have Improved Domestic Violence Unit, Victims And Advocates Say

    by Emily Roberts | Sep 16, 2014

    Dallas Police Have Improved Domestic Violence Unit, Victims And Advocates Say

    September 3, 2014
    by Doualy Zaykaothao
    KERA News

    In the last two years, several domestic violence cases in North Texas have made national headlines. In one, a Dallas woman was strangled while seeking help from a 911 operator. In another, a woman was killed by her estranged husband before his scheduled arrest. The Dallas Police Department has since made changes within its domestic violence unit.

    Dallas police Lt. Miguel Sarmiento doesn’t sound like a police officer; he sounds more like a therapist.

    “Love isn’t breaking somebody’s arm,” Sarmiento said. “Love isn’t choking them. Love isn’t putting a gun to their heads. Or threatening to kill their kids.”

    Growing up in South Texas, Sarmiento says his own family wasn’t immune to domestic violence. And that experience has shaped how he runs the unit, which now has 34 detectives, up from 21 just two years ago.   

    “The challenge for everybody is how do we keep that person safe between the day they filed that report to the day that their abuser gets his sentence," Sarmiento said.

    It takes a community effort, he says, and that’s why he’s already done nearly 90 talks in the Dallas area this year. There’s also new technology, and fresh blood in the department. More than half of the previous unit’s staff either retired or transferred out.

    Abuse victims are likely to notice a new way that detectives are talking, using LAP, a lethal assessment program.

    “There’s a series of questions,” Sarmiento said. “We encourage them ... we try to get them resources immediately there. So from the perspectives of the complainant, I think they are seeing more support from us. And it really doesn’t matter whether the officer believes what he’s doing. What matters is that the complainant knows that we’re helping them, doing more for them.”

    Gene-hari Allen isn’t from Texas. But the 34-year-old has family in Dallas, so she traveled here with her two young boys, from the East coast to find a job. She found that -- and a boyfriend.

    “I’ve had angry boyfriends in the past, but never ever anything like this,” Allen said. “This was the first experience where I was trying to be with someone who was in fact dangerous.”

    Allen says she didn’t realize her then-boyfriend was in a gang, and that he had a violent past.

    “I knew the guy when I first moved down here, for about six months, and then we stayed with him for about two months,” she said. “And he tried to choke me three times. It really wasn’t in front of my boys because I believe they were sleeping. But I think they heard most of it.”

    The physical abuse got so bad she finally called the Dallas police.

    "The people on the phone tried to keep me calm,” Allen said. “When the police officers arrived, they told me about the different resources, numbers I could call, to like get away from him, to get the protective order. They had him served quickly. I feel like the process went pretty fast.”

    Allen said she feels the police were helpful. She now lives in a safe house. The man she once loved, the one who strangled her three times, is in jail.

    Another woman, Denise, who declined to use her real name, says her experience with the police was different.

    “My experience with the police, before this, I would say, it was very unpleasant, very awful," Denise said.

    She’s called the police in years past, to report abuse by her husband, but often felt worse after the call. 

    “At times, they’d make me feel like I was the one, like I was the one in the wrong,” Denise said. “My husband was very abusive, physically, mentally, financially.”  

    Both these women were helped by the Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation. Hind Jarrah, the group's executive director, says the challenge is complex.

    “There are so many layers when you are dealing with all these different cultures,” Jarrah said. “And with all these different faith communities, it will take help from within the community to lead to the long-term solutions.”

    Read more at KERA News.

  • Jim Harbaugh: No tolerance for domestic violence via NFL

    by Emily Roberts | Sep 16, 2014

    Jim Harbaugh: 'No tolerance' for domestic violence

    September 2, 2014
    by Marc Sessler

    Two days after defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony domestic violence charges, San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told KNBR-AM on Tuesday that the organization would offer "no tolerance" for abuse.

    "I'll be very clear," Harbaugh said, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. "You ask me how I feel about domestic violence. I can be very clear about that. If someone physically abuses a woman and/or physically or mentally abuses or hurts a child, then there's no understanding. There's no tolerance for that."

    Asked if the 49ers would allow a player guilty of domestic violence to stay on the roster, Harbaugh answered: "We would not. We can be very clear."

    "There are going to be two principles at play here," Harbaugh said. "And one is, I'll speak for myself, I'll speak for the 49ers: We'll not tolerate domestic violence. The second principle, we're firm believers in due process. And I ask for your understanding on those two principles."

    The Sacramento Bee reported that police arrived at McDonald's home on Sunday at approximately 2 a.m., where a party was being held in honor of the player's birthday. McDonald appeared to have an altercation with his fiancee, who showed police bruising on her body. McDonald was then taken into custody. Other Niners players were in attendance at the party, according to the report.

    With 10 arrests on the team since 2012, Harbaugh said the organization would do "everything in our power to make sure there isn't a pattern forming."

    After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently announced a significant change to the league's Personal Conduct Policy in regard to domestic violence, McDonald could be in for a substantial punishment.

    Read more at NFL.com.

  • Hats Off to our Graduates

    by Emily Roberts | Jul 11, 2014

    Congratulations to the 16 women who are graduating from our Supportive Living Program today!

    At this very moment, 16 women are reentering society with the skills they need to survive and raise their children. We are so proud of their accomplishments.

    How did these women achieve these amazing changes?

    The Family Place Supportive Living Program

    • Our 18-month transitional housing program produces an average of 24 graduates each year. 
    • From May 2013 to April 2014, our program served 81 women & 160 children.

    What makes our program different?

    • We meet clients where they are.
    • We transform their lives.
    • We create individualized programs based on our clients' needs.
    • We screen clients into our program not out of it.
    • Our goal = fully functioning empowerment.

    Success for these women requires an investment of time and money to break the cycle of family violence. Currently, the transformational program has a funding gap that could affect our capacity to serve the families that need it most.

    Please don't turn your backs on these families.

    Give generously today to The Family Place

  • Dallas County moves to seize guns from domestic violence offenders

    by Emily Roberts | Jul 02, 2014

    Dallas County moves to seize guns from domestic violence offenders

    July 1, 2014
    by Tanya Eiserer

    DALLAS — A groundbreaking effort to take guns out of the hands of domestic violent offenders is underway in Dallas County.

    County officials are preparing to launch a new program to force those on probation for domestic violence offenses who are subject to protective orders to surrender their firearms.

    A private gun range near Love Field has signed on to store the estimated 700 to 1,000 weapons that officials expect to confiscate every year.

    “Gun surrenders has been something that — out of all the good things that Dallas County does — we do this very poorly,” said Criminal Court Judge Roberto Cañas, who is spearheading the groundbreaking effort. “We’ve been operating on the honor system, and we don’t want to do that anymore.”

    Federal and state law forbids those convicted of domestic violence or with emergency protective orders from possessing firearms, but Dallas County didn’t have any specific mechanism for taking guns from them.

    “It’s the law, and we need to have a workable procedure to enforce the law,” said Cañas, who oversees one of the county’s two misdemeanor domestic violence courts. “Taking guns out of these situations will definitely lower the risk and save lives.”

    Under the current plan, those offenders will be asked by a judge if they have firearms. If they do, they'll be ordered to surrender them and to show proof they did so.

    Judges will be talking to victims and checking for concealed handgun licenses or other records that show the offender may have a weapon.

    “The offender will have to come back with the receipt showing that they turned it in, and I think it would also be prudent to have the storage facility to also send us some paperwork, saying that 'Mr. Smith did show up with his gun,'” Cañas said.

    The biggest obstacle officials had to overcome was where to store the guns. The county didn't have room. The police department didn’t, either. So DFW Gun Range near Love Field stepped in, agreeing to take on the job.

    The gun range isn’t planning to charge the county for storage, but if a protective order expires on a person and they become eligible to possess a weapon again, then they would be charged a small fee to get the weapon back, Cañas said. That fee would largely cover the gun range’s cost of running a federally-mandated criminal background check on the person.

    Domestic violence advocates lauded the county’s new approach.

    They believe the plan will prevent deadly outcomes, like the fatal January 2013 shooting of Karen Cox Smith, who was gunned down by her husband inside a UT Southwestern Medical Center parking lot last year.

    “It is going to help save someone’s life,” said Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place. “Studies show that it's five times more likely that a woman will die when there's a gun in the home and there's a domestic violence offense.”

    Cañas and the other judges were meeting Tuesday to try to finalize the details of how the program will work. He expects to have the new procedures in place as soon as September.

    Read more at WFAA.com.

  • Mary Clare Finney Hosted 2014 ReuNight Letter Signing For The Family Place’s October Fundraising Supper

    by Emily Roberts | Jul 02, 2014
    Mary Clare Finney Hosted 2014 ReuNight Letter Signing For The Family Place’s October Fundraising Supper

    July 1, 2014
    by Jeanne Prejean

    Letter-signing gatherings can verge on being ho-hum occasions. Guests are handed pens and a stack of hundreds and hundreds of letters to personalize about a worthy cause or event. But the one that took place on Thursday, June 17th, was well worth getting a major hand cramp for a couple of reasons.

    First of all, it took place at Mary Clare Finney’s to-die-for estate. While it was a wee bit too warm to be outdoors, the Finney dining room was divine. Why, shoot, it’s perfect for a state dinner!

    Second, the letters to be signed were announcing plans for the October 22nd ReuNight benefiting The Family Place. And speaking of places, it will return to the Place at Perry’s. Also returning will be Merrill Lynch Private Bank Investment Group as the presenting sponsor!

    Snapshot recall of last year: Guests at last year’s fundraiser experienced fabulous cuisine, loads of wine, singing by Mary Clare and Matthew Simon and a collection to party-hearty types like Nancy Rogers, Mayor Mike Rawlings,Jody DeanSuzanne McGeeTroy SchiermeyerKeenan DelaneyEric Reeves,Janet and Phil Cobb, Kim Daulton Wynne and Shannon Wynne, Linda Gray, Kris Johnson, Piper and Mike Wyatt, Robert Weatherly, Sue and Jim Gragg, Heather and Bill Esping, Muffin Lemak, Kathy Crow and Jennifer and Cody Clark

    In fact some of them like DeeDee and Jim LeeClaire and Dwight EmanuelsonShelby WagnerNiven Morgan and Gillian Breidenbach joined 2014 ReuNight Co-Chairs Mary Clare and Kayla and Brian Roughton at the letter signing.

    But be prepared. This fun-raising fundraiser is not going to have thousands in attendance. No, siree. It’s going to be limited to just 150.

    If the letter hasn’t arrived in your mailbox, give it a day or two. But don’t wait. Go ahead and get your reservations in.

    Read more and see photo at MySweetCharity.com.

  • Gun range agrees to hold firearms of abusers in Dallas County

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 30, 2014

    Gun range agrees to hold firearms of abusers in Dallas County

    June 26, 2014
    by Sarah Mervosh and Jennifer Emily
    The Dallas Morning News

    Dallas County has cleared the biggest hurdle to taking guns away from domestic abusers deemed too dangerous to have them.

    A private gun range near Love Field has agreed to store the hundreds of guns authorities expect to confiscate each year if they begin enforcing laws that forbid certain domestic abusers from having firearms.

    Dallas County would be the first known jurisdiction in the country to rely solely on private gun storage. The outside-the-box solution is the most significant development yet in the county’s efforts to create a gun confiscation program, possibly paving the way for a launch within a few months.

    “Imagine how much better victims would sleep at night knowing all the guns had been removed,” said Jan Langbein, CEO of Genesis Women’s Shelter. “I think it will save lives. I really do.”

    The option to use a private storage facility — rather than crowded police evidence rooms — comes less than a month after The Dallas Morning News reported that the county regularly fails to enforce laws that forbid convicted abusers and subjects of protective orders from having guns. Most domestic homicides are committed with guns.

    County criminal court Judge Roberto Cañas, who stepped up this month to be the county’s point person on the issue, is working on ironing out the details with the gun range’s owner, who has hosted law enforcement training sessions and regularly conducts background checks on potential gun owners.

    “I was very elated and optimistic,” Cañas said.

    Gun and domestic violence experts say Danvers, Mass., a town of about 25,000, runs the only program similar to what Dallas County proposes. There, police send guns to a private facility, but only after they run out of space in their property room. In Austin and San Antonio, law enforcement agencies store guns that are taken from domestic batterers.

    Dallas police and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department have said they don’t have the capacity to store extra guns but will continue to be responsible for guns seized as evidence in crimes.

    “I couldn’t find another jurisdiction across the country that said, ‘We looked at the issue and we thought it was better not to go with the private entity,’ or ‘We felt as a safety issue you couldn’t go with a private entity,’” Cañas said.

    He said he will seek approval from the county commissioners to apply for a federal grant distributed by the governor’s office to help fund the effort. He said the $36,000 grant could pay for a gun safe or the salary of a county firearm liaison, for example.

    Judges also still have to agree on a procedure for obtaining the guns that will work for criminal, civil and family courts.

    Penalty for lying

    Once a policy and funding are in place, Cañas said, judges will begin asking the accused whether they own guns and requiring them to sign an affidavit. Lying could result in a new charge, probation violation or bond revocation.

    For those who say yes, the judge would order them to turn over their guns to the gun range, probably at an appointed time, and return to court with a receipt within 48 hours.

    “You would be responsible for coming back in front of me to prove that you’ve delivered the gun,” Cañas said.

    The receipt model has worked elsewhere, including in Austin and San Antonio.

    While the gun range doesn’t plan to charge the county for the partnership, Cañas said there would be a one-time fee to gun owners — probably no more than $50 — to get their guns back after the protective order expired. Some jurisdictions charge the gun owner a monthly fee for storage.

    Business opportunity

    If guns are never returned to their owners, Cañas said, the gun range would like to keep them to resell or to sell for scrap.

    “That’s where they see a business opportunity,” Cañas said.

    The owner of the gun range declined to comment until he works out the final details of the agreement with Cañas.

    Using a private facility appears to circumvent several police concerns, including their lack of space for weapons and questions about whether they have the authority to confiscate them. But Cañas said he wants to work with police to create a plan for dealing with an abuser who fails to turn a gun over as ordered.

    “To me, that would be like a red flag, alarm bells going off,” he said.

    State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas is considering whether legislative changes are needed to facilitate gun confiscation.

    Aaron Setliff, policy director for the Texas Council of Family Violence, said the next step should be to determine whether there are any security risks to using a private facility and whether a police officer should be present during the handoff.

    But Setliff, a former prosecutor, said officials here are thinking creatively — which is key to overcoming roadblocks.

    “It’s an innovative approach that might work for Dallas,” he said.

    Read more at Dallasnews.com.

  • Plan would give Dallas police more time to file cases

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Plan would give Dallas police more time to file cases

    June 24, 2014
    by Tanya Eiserer

    DALLAS — Four men and one woman — all accused of felony family violence offenses — recently walked free from the Dallas County jail.

    None of them had posted bond.

    They were let go under a county policy that gives police agencies three business days to file misdemeanors and most felonies with prosecutors. In each of their cases, the Dallas Police Department did not file their cases in time — so they were released.

    Now, under a proposed change, detectives would have up to 10 business days to file family violence-related felonies. Judges will consider the proposal at their next meeting on July 10.

    “It’s not a good thing if they get out because of a technicality,” said District Judge Rick Magnis, the presiding judge. “That’s never good. If they do get out because of the writ, they could be potentially more lethal than your average defendant.”

    Magnis said the district attorney’s office contacted him last week about changing the rules, one day after News 8’s story raised concerns about the release of felony family violence offenders under the three-day rule. He said prosecutors brought him a formal proposal on the rule changes Monday.

    As it currently stands, only the most serious felonies — including aggravated assault and murder — fall under the 10-day rule.

    The three-day rule became an issue after dozens of offenders were released because of problems associated with DPD's records management system, which went live on June 1. At one point, there was a backlog of thousands of unprocessed reports, which resulted in detectives not being assigned to cases in time to file cases with prosecutors.

    Dallas police Chief David Brown told members of the Dallas City Council’s Public Safety Committee on Monday that the department had long had difficulty meeting the three-day deadline.

    "We’re on the clock when we make an arrest,” Brown said. “We have had struggles meeting that ... unrelated to this new records management system, and the challenge is, we have to be perfect or near perfect with how we prepare our case filings.”

    In cases where detectives didn’t meet the deadline, the department would file on the person at large, or wait until a grand jury indictment to pick the person up again, the chief said.

    Paige Flink, head of The Family Place shelter for women and children, welcomes the proposed change to county policy.

    “So often a batterer says, 'No one one’s going to do anything to me if I hurt you; you don’t matter.' And so if they get out and there’s not even a slap on the wrist, it proves his point,” Flink said.

    She also said that the change will give detectives plenty of time to “prepare the case, contact the victim and it will also give the victim more time to figure out and get herself safe and get her children safe.”

    Read more at WFAA.com.

  • Dallas Police to Round Up 250 Wanted on Domestic Violence Charges

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Dallas Police to Round Up 250 Wanted on Domestic Violence Charges

    June 24, 2014

    There will be a big push over the next four days to arrest people in Dallas wanted on domestic violence charges.

    Police and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department will go after more than 250 people wanted for active felony warrants for offenses against family members.

    Officers from patrol, METRO Unit and the Domestic Violence Unit will participate in the warrant roundup.

    "By aggressively pursuing these wanted domestic violence offenders, we hope to protect victims from further violence," the department said in a news release last week.

    The four day operation starts June 24 and runs through June 27.

    Read more and watch video at NBCDFW.com.

  • Great Resource from Upworthy and loveisrespect.org

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014
    There are so many ways to show someone you care about them. This is not one of them. Not even close.

    If You're Dating Someone And You Get This Phone Call, Run — Don't Walk — Away!

  • Dallas County judges, lawmakers, others meet on how to keep guns from domestic abusers

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Dallas County judges, lawmakers, others meet on how to keep guns from domestic abusers

    June 20, 2014
    by Jennifer Emily and Sarah Mervosh
    The Dallas Morning News

    State and county officials are trying to make good on their promise to help keep guns away from domestic abusers.

    Many officials with the power to keep guns out of batterers’ hands met for the first time Friday for a brainstorming session on just how to do that. The meeting included seven judges, three prosecutors, local and federal authorities and a showing from three state representatives as well as Dallas City Hall.

    Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia called the meeting after The Dallas Morning News reported this month that Dallas County regularly fails to enforce laws that forbid convicted abusers and subjects of protective orders from possessing guns, even as other Texas counties have found ways to impose the law.

    “I have never been in a room with all of the players ... talking about an issue that is so important in the life of a victim of domestic violence,” said Paige Flink, who is executive director of The Family Place shelter and has long advocated for better gun-ban enforcement. “There’s not anyone that didn’t come.”

    Core concerns

    Friday’s biggest question was where would Dallas County store the 600 to 700 guns that officials expect to confiscate annually if they begin enforcing the law?

    With police and sheriff evidence rooms already taxed for space, criminal court judge Roberto Cañas suggested using a private facility that has already agreed to store the guns if the county buys a safe.

    Because of the questions about storage, judges say they’re hesitant to ask offenders whether they have guns.

    “We’re stuck with, what do we do if they say yes?” said Judge Os Chrisman, who is retired and sits part time on the protective order court bench.

    Once that question is answered, officials will need to decide how to confiscate the guns.

    Cañas said programs elsewhere tend to rely on the “honor system,” the honesty of the abuser or the victim about gun possession. He said Dallas County should strive for something more reliable to determine whether an abuser owns a gun, but it’s unclear how much more the law allows.

    Officials also will have to decide what they would do if an abuser refuses to surrender a gun voluntarily.

    While Friday’s meeting focused more on questions than answers, Cañas said that was a necessary step.

    “People will realize their problems are solvable,” said Cañas, who mainly handles family violence misdemeanors and stepped up to lead the gun confiscation effort after The News’ story. “The hurdles … we can jump over them or go around them.”

    Legislative options

    Anchia said he is ready to pursue legislative changes that could help put judges and police at ease about whether they have the authority to take guns away from abusers — but only if that’s needed.

    He said he will first examine whether a gun confiscation program could work by overhauling efforts locally.

    Aaron Setliff, policy director for the Texas Council on Family Violence, cautioned that an attempt to change the law comes with the risk of opposition that could ultimately “dial back” the existing firearms restrictions.

    What’s next

    Cañas will work to get federal grant money, funneled through the governor’s office, to help fund storage space. Dallas County has the first crack at about $36,000 but needs to respond to the governor’s office in the next few weeks, Cañas said.

    Friday’s group hopes to use the grant for a pilot program to confiscate guns in certain courts, such as the protective order and misdemeanor courts. Abusers could then turn their guns into the private storage facility, possibly in the presence of a police officer.

    And they plan to meet again in September.

    Read more at Dallasnews.com.

  • Dwell with Dignity Blogs about the Transformation at The Family Place Emergency Shelter

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Did you have a chance to see the beautiful "after" pictures from Dwell with Dignity's community project at The Family Place? Check out their blog from June 17 - INSTALL: The Family Place. DwD's blog highlights more about our facility, the families served along with our industry partners who made this happen. 

    Read more at http://www.dwellwithdignity.org/install-the-family-place/!

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline Releases Results On Use of Firearms in DV Situations

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Hotline Focus Survey Provides Firsthand Look at Intersection of Firearms & Domestic Violence; Highlights Need for Stronger Laws and Equal Protection

    June 18, 2014, Washington, DC – Today in Washington, DC, Rob Valente, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert presented highlights from a recent focus survey conducted by The Hotline on the use of firearms in domestic violence situations.  The survey revealed how the presence of a firearm in an abusive relationship intensifies the fear of abuse victims and escalates the violence directed towards them, regardless of whether or not the survivor is married, dating or being stalked by the abuser. Current laws offer protections for married victims of intimate partner abuse, but the same protection is not afforded to those who are in a dating relationship or those who are being stalked. Valente provided the preliminary results of the survey at a panel featuring Former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, co-founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, as well as U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar and Saundra Rhodes, Chief of Police of Horry County, South Carolina and domestic violence survivor, Sarah Engle.  Neera Tanden, President of the Center for American Progress, Counselor to the Center for American Progress Action Fund moderated the panel which discussed the intersection between gun violence and violence against women.

    Survey Findings

    The findings from the eight week survey conducted this spring by The Hotline shows how guns are being used to coerce, intimidate and inflict injury.

    Of those whose partners have access to firearms:

    • 22% said their partner had threatened to use their firearm to hurt themselves, their intimate partner, their children, family members, friends and even pets with a firearm.
    • 67% believe their partner is capable of killing them
    • 52% said they would feel safer if law enforcement took their partner/spouse/ex’s firearms
    • Only 34% said they were aware that the court may be able to order their partner to surrender their firearms and ammunition

    Of those who said their partner had threatened them with a firearm:

    • 76% said their partner made verbal threats to use the gun
    • 24% of them said their partner waved the gun around
    • 25% said their partner pointed the gun at them or others
    • 30% said their partner left the gun out to create a feeling of fear
    • 54% said their partner had threatened suicide with the gun

    Changes to Legislation Needed

    Urging policy makers to take immediate action, National Domestic Violence Hotline policy expert, Rob Valente says, “We need stronger protections for victims now. The people who call the Hotline are brave and they are survivors. They’ve managed to stay alive. Every day at The Hotline, advocates listen to their stories and we hear them and we help them. Today, we must act as their voice, because if they were able to do so, they would tell lawmakers they’re scared, they want the fear and pain to stop and they need help.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline believes that in order for survivors to find safety and live lives free of abuse, changes are needed. Some of the specific ways in which the current legislation should be strengthened:

    • Protecting victims of dating violence and stalking from firearms violence—in addition to the existing protection for victims of domestic violence
    • Protecting victims at the time when they are in greatest danger—when they first go to court to seek help
    • Giving law enforcement the authority to seize firearms when there is probable cause to believe the firearms were used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking
    • Giving courts the authority to order that firearms used to commit domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking be removed from the abuser
    • Improving the entry of state data concerning domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking into the National Crime Information Center databases, so that the FBI has the information it needs to prevent adjudicated abusers from getting access to firearms

    “Doing nothing is not an option. Right now, women are being terrorized in their own homes,” Valente said.

    Click here to see full findings.

  • Family violence suspects go free due to Dallas County case-filing policy

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 26, 2014

    Family violence suspects go free due to Dallas County case-filing policy

    June 16, 2014
    by Tanya Eiserer

    A woman recently told News 8 about the day she thought she was going to die.

    “All of the sudden, he just grabbed me,” she said earlier this month. “He started choking me.”

    The woman, who asked not to be identified, was driving along Grand Avenue on June 1. Her 1-year-old grandchild was in the back seat when she said her former boyfriend, Ray Herron, attacked her from the passenger seat. It didn't stop until police shocked him with a Taser.

    Dallas police arrested Herron on charges of felony family violence and endangering a child. His bail totaled $115,000.

    Four days later, he walked free without posting bond. Police hadn't filed his case in time with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

    He went free because county policy gives police three business days to file misdemeanors and many felonies with prosecutors. If that doesn’t happen, a prisoner is simply released.

    A News 8 review found that eight other felony family violence offenders and two robbery suspects went free under the three-day policy since June 1.

    Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins placed the blame squarely on Dallas County’s judges, who set the policy. Watkins said it needs to be revamped to give police more time, particularly in felony family violence cases. He said his office prepares a list every day of prisoners that are about to be released if police don’t file the case.

    “We’re actually on the side of the police department on this issue,” Watkins said. “A lot of folks are getting out of jail that shouldn’t. [...] Every death penalty case in Dallas County over the last few years dealt with family violence, and you would think that the judges would look at those cases and make a different determination as to how long a police department has to file a case.”

    Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place, had no idea the three-day policy existed in felony family violence cases. Police officials and Flink said often it may be difficult for a detective to find the victim, get their statement, and to gather up all the evidence that is needed to file a felony family violence case.

    “These victims just want the violence to stop,” she said. “I understand that we have stretched resources and that there’s capacity issues in the jail, but violent felony family violence assaults need to be taken seriously. Perpetrators need to be held accountable.”

    The alleged victim in Herron’s case told police that he began choking her and telling her that she was going to “die like that b**** Deanna Cook.”

    The victim was a friend of Deanna Cook, whose was murdered in August 2012 while on the phone with a Dallas 911 operator. Cook’s murder led to dramatic changes in the Dallas 911 call center and brought renewed focus to the dangers of domestic violence.

    “I saw her the day before,” the woman told News 8. “I told her, 'I’ll see you tomorrow,' and I never saw her again."

    The woman told police that she lost consciousness while the vehicle was still moving and that when she came to, the vehicle had stopped and she had swerved into oncoming traffic.

    Several motorists called 911 and reported that she was being choked and that Herron would not let her go. He was violently squeezing her arm once after police arrived on scene, accounting to police documents.

    Police repeatedly told Herron to let her go and to get out of the car. An officer then used a Taser on him when he wouldn’t do so, the records state.

    Cases in which the alleged offender has tried to strangle the victim are also of a particular concern, because those victims are at the highest likelihood of being killed or seriously injured, Flink said.

    News 8 reached out to the alleged victim Monday, particularly now that Herron’s free. She could not be located.

    Presiding State District Judge Rick Magnis told News 8 that there is a delicate balance between ensuring that the innocent don’t remain in jail, giving police enough time to do their job and protecting victims.

    Magnis said the judges are more than willing to revisit the policy, which also gives police agencies 10 business days to file serious felonies, such as murders and aggravated robberies, with prosecutors.

    "The District Attorney's Office has not approached the judges and indicated that there was a problem,” said Magnis, who oversees a specialized, high-risk family violence offender court. “I'm sure we will consider changing it, if they ask us."

    Magnis also noted that the policy allows the police or prosecutors to seek an extension –- three days for cases under the three-day rule and 10 days for cases under the 10-day rule.

    Read full and watch video at WFAA-TV.com.

  • Reform is the only thing O.J. Simpson deserves credit for

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 13, 2014
    Reform is the only thing O.J. Simpson deserves credit for

    June 12, 2014
    Paige Flink, CEO of The Family Place
    The Dallas Morning News

    Twenty years after the brutal murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, here’s what we remember: the crime scene, the car chase, the threat of suicide, the glove, the smirk, the acquittal after an eight-month trial. Here’s what we all forget: the young children who witnessed ongoing abuse and then had to live without a mother, the family who lost a sister and a daughter, the parents who lost a son, the thousands of women who feared their own partner would get away with it.

    But how did those two deaths change our response to domestic violence? In the aftermath of the acquittal, we saw an outpouring of public outrage, a recognition that intimate partner violence can happen to anyone, the realization that leaving an abusive relationship can be more dangerous than staying and that laws were needed to make sure domestic violence is taken seriously the first time it happens.

    As advocates, we heard from women who quoted their partners as saying things such as, “I am going to O.J. you,” “You are going to wind up just like Nicole,” and “I can murder you and get away with it.” The possibilities were frightening and the fear was justified. But thankfully, because of increased protection and improved prosecution provided by new laws, victims have legal remedies today that did not exist before the tragic events of June 12, 1994.

    About two months after the murders — and four years of debate, including testimony by Denise Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister — Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act. Almost every state in the nation also passed laws to help prevent this kind of outrageous behavior.

    From New Jersey to Mississippi, and of course in California, where the Simpson and Goldman killings occurred, dozens of laws went into effect, ranging from mandatory arrest policies to more stringent penalties for repeat offenders to enhanced training of law enforcement to additional funding for shelters and hotlines. These laws have proved to be successful and encouraged victims to make reports.

    The laws and increased availability of counseling and shelter programs are subsequently saving lives. According to the Department of Justice Bureau of Statistics, the rate of intimate partner homicides of females decreased 35 percent from 1993 to 2007, from 1.66 to 1.07 per 100,000 female U.S. residents.

    This means more mothers are there to watch their children grow up and fewer children have to feel the rage that comes in witnessing violence against their mother.

    The publicity surrounding the Simpson trial also raised awareness about organizations such as The Family Place, a domestic violence service provider based in Dallas. Day after day, a spokesperson from our organization was featured on a television news program or quoted in the newspaper. It would be the first time many isolated victims of domestic violence would learn about our services or their rights as victims.

    Calls for help increased dramatically during that time, and they have not diminished 20 years later. From 1994 to 2013, The Family Place had a 20 percent increase in shelter clients and a 100 percent increase in the total number of clients served in the community.

    We have seen professional athletes taking a leadership role in helping stop violence against women. For example, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has started the SCORE Foundation, which helps provide funding to place mentors with young boys in domestic violence shelters in Texas. Because of the violence that future Hall of Fame baseball player Joe Torre witnessed his father commit against his mother, he established the Safe at Home Foundation to provide secure after-school sanctuaries for children when it isn’t safe to go home.

    The families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman will never be able to have their loved ones back. But thanks to the actions of caring members of society, other families will not have this same loss. The legacy of the Simpson story is one that has changed the outcomes of domestic violence forever.

    Paige Flink is CEO of The Family Place and may be contacted at phflink@familyplace.org.

    Read online at Dallasnews.com.

  • Texas - Dallas County officials vow to help take away guns from abusers

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 09, 2014

    Texas, Dallas County officials vow to help take away abusers' guns

    June 7, 2014

    The Dallas Morning News

    Efforts to keep guns away from domestic abusers intensified last week as state and county officials vowed to help enforce laws that forbid certain batterers from having firearms.

    Their commitments mark the most vocal collaboration yet to tackle the challenges of enforcing the gun ban, as Dallas County continues to make preventing domestic homicides a priority.

    These are the first steps in creating a countywide program to keep guns out of the hands of abusers.

    Need-to-know background: State and federal laws prohibit convicted abusers and subjects of protective orders from having guns.

    But The Dallas Morning News reported last week that Dallas County regularly fails to enforce those laws, leaving guns in the hands of abusers such as the man who police say shot a police officer and killed his pregnant girlfriend last year while he had a protective order against him.

    Judges and police blamed their inaction on a law that doesn’t say who has the authority to confiscate the weapons. The News reported that other Texas counties, including Travis and Bexar, had found ways to enforce the ban anyway.

    Action at the courthouse: Criminal court Judge Roberto Cañas, who mainly handles family violence misdemeanors, stepped up last week to oversee Dallas County’s efforts to keep guns away from domestic abusers. He will be the point person for police, prosecutors and other judges and will fill a vacant leadership role experts say is key in creating a successful program.

    “I’m going to be that person,” said Cañas, who said The News’ article prompted him to act. “I’m putting it on myself to be that.”

    State District Judge Rick Magnis, who runs a program for domestic violence offenders on probation, pledged to be Cañas’ “right hand.”

    Also last week, judges in protective-order court met to talk about how they could make sure accused batterers in their courts don’t illegally keep their guns. It was the first time those judges got together to talk about gun ban enforcement, said Judge Linda Thomas, one of four senior judges who rotate on the court’s bench.

    Legislative options: Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, is considering whether state law should be changed to help officials confiscate firearms. He plans to bring the issue up in the Legislature next year, said his chief of staff, Liz Zornes.

    “This is something we think everyone should get behind, regardless of party or political viewpoints,” Zornes said. “No one is in favor of domestic violence.”

    Anchia’s staff also reached out to the Dallas County district attorney’s office and The Family Place shelter last week.

    What’s next: Anchia wants to meet with judges, advocates and other key players later this month. Magnis said he will soon begin requiring offenders in his court to testify or sign an affidavit about whether they have a firearm. If they lie, they may face additional charges or have their probations revoked. Cañas said other courts could follow suit.

    Read the full article at Dallasnews.com.

  • Shelle Sills To Be Honorary Chair of 2014 Partners Card benefiting The Family Place

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 09, 2014

    Shelle Sills To Be Honorary Chair Of The Family Place’s 2014 Partners Card

    June 6, 2014
    by Jeanne Prejean

    Since leaving Neiman Marcus Downtown as VP/GM, Shelle Sills has maintained a relatively low profile. Instead of learning how to play golf, she’s been helping Tim Headington in business development and special projects. And, of course, she’s continued to be the go-to-galpal for fundraising friends on the QT.

    But The Family Place Partners Card 2014 Tri-Chairs Lisa Bhattacharya, Andrea Cheek and Diana Hamilton have gotten Shelle on board for the October 2 – November 2 shop-extravaganza.

    Oldtimers will recall Shelle as a young retailing pup when she dazzled fashionistas at The Gazebo.

    According to The Family Place Executive Director Paige Flink, “Shelle is truly the retail queen of Dallas, and we are thrilled to recognize her as our honorary chair. When we first had the idea of starting a shopping fundraiser in Dallas, Shelle was one of the first retailers we contacted to float the concept. Her valuable insight and recommendations more than 20 years ago helped us launch what is now one of the most highly anticipated shopping events each year. She has truly been a loyal supporter of the program, literally since day one.”

    With Shelle, Bank of Texas as presenting sponsor and more than 750 retailers, The Partners Card trio has their eyes on by-passing the $1M mark once again.

    Wish lists should be created now for shopping at a discount.

    Read full article at MySweetCharity.com.

  • Dallas County steps up to keep guns from domestic abusers

    by Emily Roberts | Jun 06, 2014

    Dallas County steps up to keep guns from domestic abusers

    June 5, 2013
    by Jennifer Emily and Sarah Mervosh
    The Dallas Morning News

    Alarmed that Dallas County fails to enforce laws that forbid certain domestic abusers to have guns, state and county officials vowed Thursday to take stronger steps to keep guns away from batterers.

    The commitments come after The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday that county officials weren’t enforcing state and federal laws that prohibit convicted domestic abusers and subjects of protective orders from having guns.

    Criminal court judge Roberto Cañas said Thursday that he would oversee Dallas County’s efforts to impose the law, filling a vacant leadership role that experts say was holding the county back from creating an enforcement plan.

    Also, Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia is considering whether the law needs changing to help officials confiscate firearms, and plans to address the issue in the Legislature next year, his chief of staff said.

    “This is something we think everyone should get behind regardless of party or political viewpoints,” Liz Zornes said. “No one is in favor of domestic violence.”

    Because Dallas County officials didn’t follow the law, guns stayed in the hands of abusers like the man who police say killed his pregnant girlfriend and shot a police officer last year while he had a protective order against him.

    Officials blamed their inaction on the law, which doesn’t clearly indicate who is authorized to confiscate weapons. But The News found that other Texas counties had discovered ways to impose the gun ban anyway.

    Cañas, who mainly handles family violence misdemeanors, said he was inspired to take action because of the story and will take the lead on making sure Dallas follows suit. “I’m going to be that person,” he said as he spent part of Thursday looking over plans for how other communities remove guns. “I’m putting it on myself to be that.”

    Officials said the newspaper’s story spurred conversations and meetings this week — from the courthouse to Dallas City Hall to Anchia’s office — about what could be done to make sure guns stay out of the hands of abusers.

    It is the first time since preventing domestic homicides became a countywide priority last year that enforcing the gun ban has moved to the forefront of discussions.

    Most women killed by intimate partners in Texas are shot, and research shows that access to a gun increases a woman’s chance of being killed by her partner by five times.

    Judges involved

    On Monday, Dallas County protective order court judges met to discuss whether they could help impose the law, said Judge Linda Thomas, one of four senior judges who rotate on the bench.

    “This week is the first time that I sat down with the other judges and actually talked about the weapon issue,” Thomas said.

    They also discussed enforcing the firearm ban Tuesday during a roundtable discussion about protective order court.

    She said the judges are now looking at how other counties effectively enforce the law. Travis and Bexar counties, for example, have programs that require abusers to hand over their guns in exchange for a receipt.

    Thomas said the judges are also ironing out differences about whether the law gives them authority to confiscate weapons. Police, too, have expressed reservations that the law doesn’t say who can take guns.

    Anchia’s chief of staff said his office hopes to tackle those concerns.

    “We would like to do legislation that would put some teeth into the law,” Zornes said Thursday. “We need some sort of enforcement mechanism that is statewide so people aren’t being told to turn in their guns and then that’s the last anybody hears about it.”

    Anchia, a Democrat, was out of the country on a business trip Thursday, but Zornes said the office contacted The Family Place shelter and the Dallas County district attorney’s office this week. She said they also plan to host a meeting with judges and advocates later this month.

    “We just want to sit down and pick everyone’s brain — all these folks who see this stuff every day — and ask them what can we do to make the law better and make it more enforceable,” she said. “Because right now, it clearly isn’t.”

    As the new point person, Cañas said he plans to look at how other communities answered critical questions, such as where to store confiscated weapons and how to pay for it. But he said some changes could be made quickly.

    “There are things that are in our power now. We need to get the things that we as judges control to start working,” he said. “Like asking the offender, ‘do you have guns?’”

    The News reported that a Florida county asks abusers to sign an affidavit about whether they have guns. Cañas said that could be easily implemented here, and state District Judge Rick Magnis, who runs a program for domestic violence offenders on probation, said he has already written a draft of an affidavit to use in his court.

    Magnis also said he considering having abusers testify whether they have weapons. Both methods would be considered sworn testimony and lying could mean adding criminal charges or revoking probation.

    Cañas had previously tried but failed to to confiscate guns in his court. He said now there is more community support.

    “He can count on me as his right hand,” Magnis said. “I will do anything I can to assist.”

    City Hall discussion

    At Dallas City Hall this week, representatives from the city, police, shelters and the district attorney’s office sat around a large table for a regular meeting of the domestic violence task force.

    City Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates, the panel’s chair, brought up this week’s movement to better enforce the ban. “We are looking at how we can possibly deal with it,” she said.

    The task force is also set to begin tracking certain measures that would give a data-driven glimpse into how Dallas County could better handle domestic violence. The group is focused on preventing domestic homicides, particularly by shortening the time between when an incident occurs and when the case is resolved in the courts system.

    Dallas police will soon report to the task force a tally of domestic violence fatalities and the number of protective order violations, for example. Shelters will count how many people they turn away because their beds are full. And the district attorney’s office will report how many cases it rejects or no-bills and how many repeat offenders they prosecute, among other metrics.

    Paige Flink, executive director of The Family Place shelter, was encouraged by the discussions this week. She said she hopes Dallas County can create a system that will withstand changes in leadership and protect victims for years to come.

    “Our community is committed to reaching a solution that will work,” she said. “I’m not going to stop fighting until we figure out a way to follow these laws that were set up to protect victims of domestic violence.”

    But judges cautioned that large-scale change will take time. There are 17 felony courts and 13 misdemeanor courts that operate independently. Prosecutors, advocates and the county’s police departments will also have to work together.

    Mary Murphy, administrative judge over judges in 34 counties, including Dallas, said she wants to be a resource.

    “We’re on it,” she said. “I’m trying to get everyone talking.”

    Read the full article at Dallasnews.com.