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In the month after a South Toledo woman was shot to death by her abusive ex-boyfriend, the number of felony domestic violence indictments returned by Lucas County grand juries rose to the highest level in a year.
Seventeen felony domestic violence indictments were returned in April compared with four in March and between one and five during the previous 11 months, statistics from the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office show.
Prosecutor Julia Bates said she has no idea whether the uptick is connected to the well-publicized March 24 slaying of Kaitlin Gerber, 20, who was chased in her car and shot to death by Jashua Perz, 29. Perz, described as Ms. Gerber’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, killed himself later the same day during a standoff with police in Maumee.
“It can be an enigma or it can be an epidemic,” Mrs. Bates said when questioned about the rise in felony indictments.
“I have no way anecdotally to say what is the reason,” she said. “All of the sudden, are the police arresting more people? Are victims becoming more willing to call the police? Is it just exploding or is it just an enigma for one month? I don’t know the answer.”
Not all cases of domestic violence are charged as such. When there is serious physical harm or a gun involved, the suspect is more likely to be charged with felonious assault or other felony-level charges.
Jeff Lingo, chief of the prosecutor’s office’s criminal division, said a first-time domestic violence offense in which a suspect caused or threatened to cause physical harm, is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in jail. For a defendant with two or more domestic violence convictions, domestic violence is a felony punishable by one to three years in prison.
In the aftermath of Ms. Gerber’s death, the prosecutor’s office was criticized along with Toledo and Sylvania municipal courts where Perz had faced charges of abuse involving Ms. Gerber.
Still, Mrs. Bates said she did not tell her staff to pursue more felony domestic violence cases because of that. And she said she was unaware of any victims telling prosecutors they wanted to aggressively prosecute their abuser because of what happened to Ms. Gerber.
All too often, the opposite is true. Prosecutors struggle with the dilemma of victims who are reluctant — or in some cases, adamantly opposed — to pursue felony charges against their abuser, Mrs. Bates said. She met with two young women recently, both ex-girlfriends of the same man, who said they did not want to press charges.
“I said, ‘You can’t tell me this.’ I said, ‘We’ll help you. We can’t be with you 24-7, but you can’t let him get away with this. He broke your jaw. He strangled you,’ ” Mrs. Bates said. “They told me, ‘We don’t care. The only way we can survive is if we don’t do this because if we do do this he’s going to be madder and he will kill us.”
She’s not sure what the answer is, though she said she is working on some changes that she hopes will ease some victims’ reluctance to prosecute. She would like to have one assistant prosecutor concentrate exclusively on domestic violence cases so that individual can follow a case from arrest through municipal court to grand jury and common pleas court. “That might build a better rapport with the victim, might give the victim more security, a higher comfort level, and maybe more cases will go forward instead of the reluctance we see now,” Mrs. Bates said. “We’re in the process of trying to get the money to do that.”
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.