Douglas County Probattion has specialized officers that handle domestic violence cases, as well as a Victim Specialist who works with victims throughout probation and beyond to help enhance safety and, where possible, help the victim's voice be heard in court. Lisa Comstock, one of Probation's Presentence Investigation Officers, recently completed a domestic violence PSI on a case involving a felony violation of protection order. The victim requested to meet and Lisa had Chief Deputy Beth McQueen join them. We quickly ascertained that she had speech issues that made effective communication difficult, and we spent hours trying to understand her wishes for sentencing and ensure her understanding of the court process and possible outcomes. She was very confused and has spent much of her life being manipulated and abused by both individuals and the system. We were concerned that she would be left without adequate resources after sentencing.
We sought help from Charlie Venditte with the County Attorney's office. Charlie and Beth met with her again. Her needs as a victim and the many ways others had distorted facts to make her believe she was stupid, crazy, stuck and undeserving became clearer. Yet her response to all the adversity was to enroll in college classes. She is a very resourceful, resilient woman despite many obstacles, but the years of abuse and isolation had taken their toll. When Charlie told her that we believed she wasn't crazy and that he could tell she was smart, she responded with an incredulous, "how can you tell that?" She was unaccustomed to receiving reassurance of her worth and intelligence.
Charlie drove her to the sentencing. Charlie, Beth and two WCA advocates accompanied her to the sentencing for her safety and support. Charlie leaned forward in his seat to shield her from facing her abuser while he waited in the jury box. The County Attorney effectively reinforced the PSI officer's rationalization for recommending the maximum sentence. When asked if she wanted to speak, she bravely faced the judge and spoke, not giving up when she struggled. The Judge listened intently and handed down the maximum sentence of 20 months to 5 years.
After sentencing, we all discussed her next steps and future needs for assistance. At one point she said, "I've never had help like this before." It was obvious that she was surprised and empowered by the magnitude of support. This case distinctly shows how a coordinated system response impacts victims. Our hope is that this coordination can move with her into the future, especially since the sentence only affords her a short reprieve.