Domestic violence is a major issue in Toledo, including in this year’s mayoral campaign. Behind the conviction of Robert Carter last week in the shooting death of his estranged wife, Wendabi Triplett, is an all-too-common story of a woman trying to flee an abusive relationship, unable to get the help she needed.
Ms. Triplett, 41, was shot to death last Christmas Eve as she got out of her car in front of a friend’s house. With her were her two youngest children and brother. Family and friends of Ms. Triplett told a Blade editor last May that Carter had stalked Ms. Triplett for months, threatened to kill her, and pulled a gun on her three children.
Last year, domestic violence accounted for 14 of Toledo’s 36 homicides — twice the number attributed to gang violence. Some of these deaths — perhaps most — would have occurred no matter how well the social service and criminal justice system worked. Even so, local victims of domestic abuse too often fall through the cracks of an inept system, sometimes with tragic results.
Recent efforts to improve the system are generally encouraging. Lucas County has assigned a full-time assistant prosecutor to handle all felony domestic-violence and related cases in common pleas courts. The prosecutor’s office has hired an additional advocate to work with victims of domestic violence as their cases proceed through court.
Dave Toska, chief prosecutor for the City of Toledo, is launching a two-person domestic violence unit. Municipal Court judges are still considering a proposal to establish a dedicated domestic-violence docket, although the plan appears to have lost momentum.
While helpful, these efforts tend to focus on enforcement actions after an arrest is made. The community needs to do more to prevent cases like Ms. Triplett’s and to assist victims before the arrest.
The Family Justice Center of Northwest Ohio, created in Defiance in 2006, offers an excellent model of how a community can respond to domestic violence in a coordinated, proactive manner.
A one-stop shop for often overwhelmed victims and their families, the center provides legal advice, medical attention, and child care, as well as help with housing and food. Victims can meet with police at the center, gain access to social services, and get support and help in securing court orders.
Covering Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Putnam, Williams, and Van Wert counties, the center began with a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Justice Department administered by Advocates for Basic Legal Equality. Without such assistance, building a similar center in Toledo might not be practical. But a designated building isn’t necessary to coordinate services fully, and to make sure all victims have an advocate when they seek civil protection orders.
Meeting with probation officers, social workers, victim advocates, and others can help law enforcement officers get a broader picture of an abuser and help them decide whether to pursue an arrest. In Ms. Triplett’s case, police did not find and arrest Carter even after he threatened family members with a gun.
A domestic violence high-risk team, similar to one that operates in the Boston area, could help identify abusers who are likely to kill, even if their records would not otherwise make them a high priority for law enforcement.
The Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force already has done much to ensure that the community coordinates and delivers services to victims. But Robert Carter’s conviction for the murder of Wendabi Triplett should remind everyone that its work is far from finished.