Joseph Westervelt of Bunnell is a convicted felon several times over. He’s only 28. But he’s served three state prison terms to date, totaling five and a half years, all for drugs or weapons charges.
He’s been arrested three times for assaulting pregnant women. He’s faced felony charges each time. He’s not been convicted once on any of them.
At least in the official disposition of every case, the justice system–every one of the four felony-court judges he’s faced in Flagler County has been a male–keeps taking his drug and weapons offenses more seriously than his repeated and violent assaults on women.
Westervelt hadn’t been out of jail two months after a conviction for beating up his pregnant girlfriend last May than he was back at the Flagler County jail Wednesday for carbon-copy accusations. The first time he assaulted his girlfriend, she was two months pregnant. She is now 30 weeks pregnant. She was seriously bruised both times. The effects on the unborn child are not known.
She is only his latest victim. Westervelt had been arrested in 2015 on identical charges. His girlfriend at the time, a different woman, was four months pregnant. He’d allegedly smacked her face and slashed her throat: a witness saw the smack and heard the woman yell out as they fought that Westervelt had just cut her throat. The woman later claimed she did it to herself. Charges were dropped in a plea deal, another pattern that would be repeated again and again. (Westervelt is currently facing legal action for unpaid child support.)
In 2016 he was arrested on five charges of weapons and ammunition possession by a convicted felon, all second degree felonies, the same level felony as aggravated assault on a pregnant woman. He was convicted on the weapons charges, but the 2015 aggravated assault charges were dropped, and his sentence limited to five years. In the official record, it is as if violence against women is a negotiable bargaining chip.
The same thing happened after the May assault. He faced a second-degree felony charges for the assault on his girlfriend, and a first-degree felony charge for tampering with a witness in a second-degree felony proceeding. He also faced one third-degree felony charge in an unrelated drug charge. He faced up to 50 years in prison for the three charges.
Westervelt’s attorney and the prosecution negotiated the felony charges associated with the assault on the woman down to a misdemeanor: from 45 years in prison down to a possible maximum of 365 days in jail, though he didn’t even get that much. He was also convicted on the unrelated felony drug charge, which carried a maximum of five years.
The actual combined sentence: four months in jail, with credit for two months already served. He went in on May 21. He was out by August 17.
Westervelt, of Royal Palm Drive in Bunnell, now again faces the same two felony assault charges as a result of the assault reported Wednesday, by the same woman who’d reported the May assault. Convictions for intimate-partner violence depend in large part on the victim’s willingness to cooperate. Absent that cooperation the offender has an easier time evading punishment–and repeating the offense.
Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Carl Parker arrested Westervelt in May and again on Wednesday. Intentionally or not, or perhaps to reflect his weariness at the uselessness of investing more time in something the justice system may marginalize, Parker largely recycled almost the same wording in his latest arrest report that he’d used in May. He just substituted words like “closed fist” or “cell phone” for “machete” and adjusted for certain details of the particular attack, substituting “busted lip” for the left cheek bruising the woman had suffered the first time when Westervelt bit her there. Parker didn’t have to change much about the closed-fist bruising of the woman’s face.
Parker’s recycled report, unlikely to be noticed as such in court, underscores the pattern at work–a pattern intimate-partner violence experts often speak of when discussing an offender’s violent, repeat, and unrepentant behavior. (Rise Up Against Domestic Violence, the Family Life Center’s Second annual conference on the subject, is scheduled for Friday morning at the Palm Coast campus of Daytona State College.)
Here was the first incident: When Parker arrived at the woman’s home on May 22, she was in the front yard, had “clear visible bruises on her left forearm, left cheek, area, and above her right breast area of her chest,” according to Parker’s report. She was hesitant to give a written statement. She gave a verbal one, and said Westervelt, her boyfriend of seven months at the time, was responsible. She told the deputy she was two months pregnant with the child they are to have in common.
The woman “explained that [Westervelt] has hit her with the blunt side of a machete during past physical altercation,” a detail that underscores another aspect of domestic violence: according to a Department of Justice Report, police are notified in only 56 percent of non-fatal instances of violent assaults perpetrated by intimate partners, family members or relatives. (Reasons victims did not report a victimization to police included personal privacy (32 percent), protecting the offender (21 percent), the crime was considered minor (20 percent), and fear of reprisal (19 percent)).
Before the May assault, Westervelt’s girlfriend had gone to Flagler County Health Services for a pregnancy test. When she revealed the results to Westervelt, he was excited at first, “but then became very angry and began to hit her with a closed fist.” She called her sister to pick her up and delayed calling 911 because Westervelt told her that “he would kill her and any of her family if she called the cops.” Westervelt had struck her with a closed fist on the chest, in the face and on her right forearm and bitten her left cheek. The woman declined medical attention or transportation to the Family Life Center.
Westervelt, who told a deputy he knew his girlfriend was pregnant at the time of the incident, said he never struck her and was sleeping at the time the woman’s sister picked her up. He was charged with aggravated battery on a pregnant woman and the felony count of tampering with a victim. In a plea deal that folded in the 2021 felony charge for drug possession (he had meth in a vaping canister), he was convicted on the felony drug charge but only on a simple battery charge for the assault against the woman, with all other felony charges against him dropped.
Parker was back at the Bunnell home Wednesday morning. The woman again was reluctant to write a statement but provided a verbal statement. She had told Westervelt that she was having a bad day. That’s when, she alleges, he attacked her “with a closed fist in the chest area causing the current bruise,” and “in the face with a closed fist causing the bruising and the busted lip,” and on the right forearm. She declined medical attention or transport to the Family Life Center. Photographs taken. Video uploaded. And so on and so forth.
Meanwhile, she was receiving texts from Westervelt: “why did you call the cops, the cops are here” and “tell the cops to go away and that I’m not here.” The “cops” tried to get Westervelt to come to the door. He didn’t for a while, later claiming he’d been asleep. Parker, who clearly has a wry sense about him, asked Westervelt how he would have written his texts while asleep. Westervelt “just shook his head.”
Westervelt agreed to speak with deputies. As he had in previous installments, he conceded that there’d been an argument and that he knows his girlfriend is pregnant, but not that there’d been anything physical. Parker added in his report: “Joseph did not appear concerned for [the woman’s] safety.”
Westervelt is being held at the county jail on $66,000 bond. If he posts bail, he faces an order of no contact with the victim.
Six years ago, before his last prison sentencing, he had pleaded with Circuit Judge Matt Foxman in a letter (Foxman was the felony judge in Flagler at the time): “I am asking if you can please have an open heart and opinion in this matter,” Westervelt wrote. He described himself as having had “a very bad drug problem” for many years. He pleaded that if he were not addicted, none of the problem he faces would have happened. He said being in jail “is not the right place for me.” He referred to his fiancée, eight months pregnant, and how she would struggle without him (the one who recently filed the legal action for child support). He asked to be sent to an in-patient drug program so he can learn to “keep myself clean and sober” and better himself for himself and his family. And so on and so forth.