There were numerous red flags, support services and court intervention. But all that wasn't enough to prevent the worst possible outcome: another life lost to domestic violence.
Brandon Phillips was arrested Wednesday morning after he stabbed his girlfriend to death during an argument at his Zachary house, according to police. He had been released on bond just weeks earlier after another domestic violence arrest involving the same victim.
The woman was pronounced dead on the scene. Police have not yet released her name pending family notification.
The stabbing was reported around 8:45 a.m. in the 4700 block of Avenue E in Zachary, and it wasn't the first time officers had responded to domestic abuse calls at that address.
Phillips, 36, was already facing domestic violence charges in two separate pending cases — one from December and one from June — when he was once again placed in handcuffs Wednesday morning. The June case involved the same victim, who was the subject of a protective order forbidding Phillips from contacting her.
Phillips was arrested June 20 and accused of beating up both his girlfriend and his mom. He told police the argument started over cigarettes, according to his arrest report. The victim said he chased her through the house and grabbed her around the neck, strangling her.
When his mother tried to intervene, Phillips shoved her to the floor and started fighting with her too, according to the report. He was arrested and charged with domestic abuse battery with strangulation.
Phillips spent several days in jail but was released into a drug treatment program last month, court records show. The judge agreed to reduce his bond from $7500 to $750 on the condition that Phillips enroll in treatment and sign a protective order promising no contact with the victim. The order also forbids him from coming within 100 yards of her.
It appears that Phillips completed the drug treatment program a couple weeks ago, which allowed him to return home.
The victim had told prosecutors she didn't want to press charges as long as Phillips got treatment for drug use, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said. Prosecutors still pursued the case, which was ongoing with an upcoming hearing scheduled for next month.
Moore said cases like these are some of the most difficult ones in his office. Many domestic violence cases present an impossible balancing act for prosecutors and judges trying to respect the victim's wishes while also protecting her from potential future abuse. He said his office is looking to fund a new program that would evaluate domestic violence defendants based on a risk assessment tool.
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Phillips' December domestic abuse arrest involved a different victim. That woman told police Phillips accused her of seeing other men, then began punching and kicking her and ultimately strangled her until she lost consciousness, according to a police report. The woman said her toddler son tried to pull Phillips off her.
Phillips was later arrested and the case remains pending.
His criminal record also includes yet another case from 2015 in which he was accused of attacking an ex-girlfriend, pulling out several of her dreadlocks in the process, while his mom and brother tried to restrain him. Court records indicate the charges in that case were dismissed in 2018, though it's not clear why. He was convicted of aggravated battery in another 2015 case and sentenced to five years in prison.
Phillips faces the following new counts in the stabbing: second-degree murder, resisting arrest and drug possession. Police said they found a large amount of drugs inside his house, including synthetic marijuana and crack cocaine.
Police said the victim had been living with Phillips at the house on Avenue E where she was killed. The initial call about the incident was a report of Phillips fighting with his grandfather, but police arrived to find his girlfriend had been stabbed.
Zachary Police Chief David McDavid acknowledged that officers had responded to past domestic incidents involving the same couple.
He urged people to stay connected with domestic violence service providers, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, which experts and advocates have warned for months would exacerbate abusive relationships and lead to more domestic violence calls. People are stressed out and normal life has been upended, many are unemployed and facing unprecedented economic hardship, not to mention some victims are stuck at home with their abusers and disconnected from outside support systems.
Homicides across East Baton Rouge Parish — including domestic violence killings — have reached a historic high over the past several months as 2020 threatens to become the parish's most murderous year on record.
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Such displays of violence are rare in Zachary. But the town saw a similar tragic incident in April when a man shot and killed his twin stepdaughters, then turned the gun on himself, according to police.
McDavid mentioned that case during remarks at the scene Wednesday morning, saying the small town of Zachary is torn apart from the losses. The chief also said he knew Phillips, having grown up with his parents.
"Everybody around here knows each other. … It's somber," he said. "It's a tough situation."
The crime scene was quiet despite a large crowd of neighbors and relatives who gathered outside the police tape, watching while detectives collected evidence and coroner's investigators removed the body. Sometimes the only sound came from a small brown and white dog tied to a tree outside the house where the stabbing occurred.
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