On his way this morning to the sixth domestic violence “summit” he’s convened since becoming sheriff, Rick Staly heard a call for deputies in a domestic violence violence dispute. The alleged assailant was an older person with dementia. The coincidental call, the sheriff would later tell some 30 people gathered at the county courthouse for the meeting, is a reminder that domestic violence is not about to be eradicated, and that a subset of the older population may be especially susceptible to violence when Alzheimer’s and other mental health issues are a factor; that may become a necessary focus of future strategies.
Meanwhile, the initiative may be pointing to some gains. In the fall of 2017, Staly had predicted an increase of reported cases of domestic violence as more victims became aware that their cases would be more seriously pursued and their assailants prosecuted. That’s what took place. Since then, the trend has been back down, though it isn;t yet clear if there’ll be a net decrease from the pre-2017 figures.
“In 2019 I would say that we can take credit for some success. We certainly have not ended domestic violence in Flagler County,” the sheriff said as he referred to the morning’s call involving the dementia case. “But so far, January to September, we have a 7.10 percent decrease in domestic violence offenses in Flagler County. We have a 10.3 percent decrease in domestic violence arrests. So i think that’s a great trend. I’m hoping that that continues.”
The agency since the initiative launched has gotten $300,000 in grants, which is paying for the detective Fiona Ebrill–dedicated to domestic violence cases and a crime analyst as well, among other additions such as the GPS monitoring of assailants on pre-trial release. Judges have ordered the issuance of ankle monitors some 40 times, allowing deputies to know in real time if and when an offender is violating any no-go zones or trying to contact his or her victim.
That’s happening much less, though some offenders have yet to learn: the sheriff included the picture of Roy Carlisi, a 43-year-old Palm Coast resident arrested three times in nine days in June, first on domestic violence charges, then for either violating his no-contact order or tampering with his GPS monitor. The slide the sheriff showed had Carlisi arrested three times since his arrest, but the slide was already outdated: Carlisi got his fourth arrest last week, again for tampering with his ankle monitor. He’s been in jail since, on $10,000 bond.
Meanwhile the state attorney’s office has been able to pursue and prosecute more cases than it had before, thanks to the more airtight cases deputies are submitting.
“The amount of cases we’ve been able to prosecute have actually gone up,” Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis said. “We used to be somewhere at about 35 to 36 percent. We’ve increased that by 5 to 10 percent, cases we’ve been able to go forward on. I attribute that some to Fiona,” he said, referring to Fiona Ebrill. The detective, he said, monitors jail calls and catches defendants violating their no-contact orders.
The approach is helpful especially in cases where the victim is reluctant to stick by the original charge, or because of a lack of evidence. “A lot of times domestic violence cases are difficult to prove because of the elements of evidence,” Lewis said. “Unfortunately, the victim is not cooperative if there’s not an independent witness. Or if there’s no exception to be able to get in certain evidence, it’s difficult for us to go forward. What Detective Ebrill has done, which has been very crucial, is that in a lot of cases we’ve been able to get charges of violation of their pre-trial release. What that allows us to do is even if the victim doesn’t want to cooperate in the initial domestic battery, it’s very easy for us to be able to prove the violation of pretrial release, and we’re able to actually get the same sanctions we would have normally got to protect the victim . I can tell you the more we work on it the better it is, and we’re all working well together.”
The severity of the problem though is illustrated by the number of people who go through the Family Life Center, the county’s only shelter for battered women (and occasionally, battered men). Trish Giaccone, the center’s director, said 127 women, 91 children and three men stayed in the shelter in the last fiscal year–a shelter the size of a residential home: 2,800 square feet. The shelter also fielded 541 hotline calls and provided 8,300 hours of crisis counseling. “That just goes to show the need within our community,” Giaccone said.
“I certainly don’t want to declare victory because one domestic violence case is one too many,” Staly had told the members of the Public Safety Coordinating Council last week, where he also provided an update on the domestic violence initiative. “And you can tell that we still have 400 cases we’re investigating a year, but we’re trending correctly.”
Chief Paul Bovino, who oversees the detective division, said the domestic violence initiative is a sharp departure from previous practices. “We never before really monitored the domestic violence from the same perspective as we do burglaries and car breaks and all that stuff,” he said. “What’s come out of this initiative that’s been unbelievable is that now, with the detective and the analyst, they’re monitoring all this stuff and they’re stopping that person from possibly reoffending, hurting his victim more, traumatizing that victim more, or possibly even worse.” (In a side note, the sheriff noted that the county saw four domestic violence homicides last year and none so far this year.)
“I’ve been doing this at the sheriff’s office for 24 years, and we would just take domestic violence calls and move on to the next call and whatever happened, we’d arrest them again or whatever,” Bovino said. Now, the attention on domestic violence is such that “they’re putting cases back on them or putting them back in jail. I’ve never seen that before, and that’s because of this initiative, because of the domestic violence grant, and that’s a whole new enforcement tool that we’ve never used before.”
“And I didn’t pay you to say that, right?” the sheriff asked Bovino.
“Well, you do pay me,” the chief answered with his grin. “I guess it’s a weird set-up, because yes, he does pay me, I guess we’ll have to discuss the contract.”
At the end of the meeting, Flagler Beach Police Chief Matt Doughney, who attended along with Bunnell Police Chief Tom Foster, said it was notable that the sheriff hasn’t let the initiative “die on the vine” after launching it, with periodic updates serving as reminders that agencies continue to see the issue as a priority.