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Occurring without limits

Officials say domestic violence in Tri-State can happen anywhere

Officials say domestic violence in Tri-State can happen anywhere

March 16, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

In 2006, a woman was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend.

This is the same man who police said abused her in 2002. This is the same man, according to court documents, police say had fired a rifle at her in 1996.

This case, a true story, shows how complicated domestic violence can be.

The woman was Martinsburg, W.Va., resident Tracey Spriggs. Her ex-boyfriend was Antonio Hernandez.

In 2006, The Herald-Mail reported that Spriggs, 34, died on her way to the hospital. Hernandez had shot her in the torso several times and then killed himself, The Herald-Mail reported.

According to Berkeley County Magistrate Court records, in 1996, police said Hernandez had fired a rifle at a car Spriggs was driving - two young children were passengers.

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Hernandez was charged with felony wanton endangerment with a firearm. He was arrested in 1999, Magistrate Court records show.

The case was dismissed in Berkeley County Circuit Court on Dec. 28, 1999, because Spriggs did not want to prosecute, according to Circuit Court records.

There were other instances of domestic violence between Hernandez and Spriggs, court records show. But in the end, Spriggs didn't break free.

"Death is always a threat when it comes to domestic violence," said Vicki Sadehvandi, executive director of CASA Inc. (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused) in Hagerstown.

Domestic violence isn't limited to a geographical region, Sadehvandi said. It reaches all income levels and racial backgrounds.

"We've had ministers' wives, attorneys' wives, law enforcement (officer)s' wives - we've seen everyone in here," Sadehvandi said.

While there have been recent efforts to better protect victims of domestic violence, lawmakers, advocates and community groups like CASA are urging the victims of domestic violence to take advantage of resources that are already in place.

In Washington County, the Hagerstown Police Department and Washington County Sheriff's office referred 1,185 victims to CASA in 2007, according to data provided by the Washington County Family Violence Council.

CASA offers professional counseling services for both the victim and abuser, emergency shelter services, children's services and abuser intervention services.

Regionally, law enforcement and community organizations have been working together in an effort to reduce the occurrence of domestic violence and prevent deaths.

The prevalence of domestic violence

Nationally, domestic violence rates have declined.

In 1995, there were slightly more than 1 million victims of non-fatal domestic violence - about five victims for every 1,000 people living in the U.S. that year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

That dropped to 564,392 victims in 2005 - a rate of roughly two victims for every 1,000 people living in the U.S. that year.

In Maryland, domestic violence crimes accounted for a little less than 10 percent of all incidents (21,965 of 233,590 incidents) reported to police in 2006, according to Maryland's Uniform Crime Report, which provides crime data that has been collected at the state and county levels.

Washington County reported 440 incidents in 2006. Baltimore County had the highest number of incidents, at 5,165. Kent County had the fewest, at 52.

Women are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men.

Federal statistics show that there was a higher rate of domestic violence for women in 2005. When the national average that year was 2.3 domestic victims for every 1,000 people, the rate was 3.6 for women, compared with a rate of 0.9 for men, according to federal data.

In 2006, women in Maryland accounted for 16,742 - more than two-thirds - of the 21,965 victims of domestic violence in 2006.

Murder is not typical in cases of domestic violence.

Nationally, fewer than 10 percent of the homicides reported in 2005 were committed by a spouse, ex-spouse or intimate partner. There were 16,692 homicides reported that year, with 1,510 of them committed by domestic partners, according to federal data.

Legal protection for victims

Prosecutors say protective orders are the main form of legal protection for domestic violence victims.

People can file for a protective order if they are in fear of imminent harm. The protective order is mostly intended to protect victims from abuse or harassment, but they also can prohibit contact, can include an order to attend counseling, and can call for the removal of guns and weapons, said Kelly Clopper, staff attorney at CASA.

People who violate a protective order face fines or jail time for each violation, Clopper said. Protective orders can be rescinded or modified if a judge approves, she said.

CASA offers free legal services to domestic violence victims, assisting with protective orders and offering assistance with divorce and custody cases, said Johanna Keefer, a legal advocate at CASA.

CASA does not provide attorneys in court, Keefer said.

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