Nothing good was going to happen when 38-year-old David Johnson showed up at the party his estranged wife was having for her son who was going to be heading off to college.
The estranged wife had sought and received a restraining order on her husband after a prior event in which she said he tried to strangle her.
In a just a few minutes after his arrival at the Geismar house, he had beaten his wife to death with a baseball bat and used the same bat to break the arm of the younger Johnson and is awaiting trial for murder.
So much for the protection of the restraining order.
Could her death, more than a year ago, have been prevented? Maybe. Probably. Here’s something that might have saved her.
Several years ago three small towns in Connecticut experimented with placing a global positioning system tracking device on persons who had been arrested in domestic abuse cases and were deemed to be dangerous. According to reports, not one person that participated in the GPS program was harmed for several years.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, who recently issued a sobering report on domestic abuse in his parish, is aware of GPS devices and their ability to reduce the chances of a domestic partner being the victim of violence.
Essentially, Moore said, the device “would put a fence around the person. … But they are expensive to operate.”
So therein lies the rub: How much are we willing to spend for the safety of a human being?
Here’s how the Connecticut program was explained. A judge in one of the three towns participating in the program orders the offender to wear the GPS device. The victim is given a corresponding GPS device to either carry or keep at home.
If the offender gets within 5,000 feet of the victim, the victim is notified.
If the offender gets within 2,500 feet, the victim is alerted, and local police respond to the victim’s house or wherever they are located.
In addition, family services and the state’s attorney are notified, and the offender must make a court appearance.
If the device is removed the police would get a notice.
A 2015 report said the ankle bracelets were placed on 168 high-risk offenders in three regions on Connecticut. There were no killings and no one was injured since the program began in 2010. Connecticut has an average of 15 domestic violence deaths a year, the report said.
That pilot program costs about $500,000 a year to run. Initially, the program was paid for with a federal grant. Then it was funded with state grants, and more recently, funded through the state Judiciary Department budget.
The program would probably be much less costly if operated in a single parish.
Moore suggested the cost of the devices could be borne by the city-parish, the court system or a variety of sources. There could be grants and some of the cost could be reduced by leasing the devices rather than purchasing them. There would also have to be a couple of people hired to participate in the monitoring of the devices.
“Yes, it can get expensive,” Moore said.
Twahna P. Harris, executive director of the Butterfly Society, an anti-domestic violence organization, said she supports the GPS idea and believes the “money for a pilot program has to be made available… Maybe several law enforcement agencies, civic and business groups” and some philanthropic organizations could pitch in.
Harris, a survivor of domestic abuse, said believes Mayor-President Sharon W. Broome’s office may want to get involved. “I know she supports our anti-domestic abuse effort,” Harris said.
After Johnson beat his estranged wife to death, Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said women should get a concealed weapon permit and learn how to use a gun.
But that sets up the old better-to-be-judged-by-12-rather-than-carried-by-six scenario. There is a chance, in some cases, where the abused partner could wind up going to jail for defending themselves.
Broome said recently after a woman was killed in a case of domestic violence, “Another victim is one too many. We have to stop this violence. None of us can do this alone.”
She’s right. And, we have to answer the question of how much are we willing to pay, even in tight budget situations, to save lives?
Email Ed Pratt, a former Advocate staffer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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