Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Recent killings have an invisible link: domestic violence

Post by Brian O'Neill on Sep. 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm with 25 Comments »
September 3, 2012 10:22 pm

“Some men you just can’t reach.” An excerpt from “Cool Hand Luke”

In past columns I have made the case that some criminals could have been steered away from crime had the mental health system not been dismantled. For all the money we spend incarcerating the mentally ill, not to mention drug addicts, there is certainly an argument that money could be better spent on preventive and long term care for these unfortunate souls.

But when the crime involves domestic violence, I make no such case. I have no pity for criminals who prey on their own family, who physically assault a spouse, romantic partner or any person who might look to their abuser for guidance, strength, friendship or love.

Domestic violence is a personal betrayal. It is bullying at the most intimate level.

As a cop, handling a DV scene professionally requires several tasks: calming everyone down; ascertaining the facts; and making appropriate legal decisions. Doing so in the midst of a sometimes explosive incident also gives police officers a clinical detachment. That sense of removal also negates the normal human response to the presence of a cowering victim next to her defiant abuser (for the record it would be to beat the pathetic lowlife abuser like a dirty carpet).

Although domestic violence continues to ravage families throughout our community, the sense of urgency about these cases appears to be diminishing. Such was the impression when the following domestic violence incidents were reported in last week’s newspaper.

1) A Tacoma man stabbed his estranged wife inside a Lakewood bank and then held other customers hostage (Trib 8/25). When he emerged, holding his wife at gunpoint, police shot the man. He is expected to survive.

2) A Tacoma man was charged with a July 26 shooting (Trib 8/29) in which he fired at his estranged wife as she and her eight children fled their home. Before the shooting he allegedly told her, “I love you and I gotta kill you.”

3) Army CID agents investigated a fatal stabbing of a woman at JBLM on Saturday (Trib 8/29) by her soldier husband.

4) A Spanaway man was booked into jail for killing his wife and daughter early Tuesday morning (Trib 8/29).

The final tally is three homicides, a separate shooting, a stabbing and a kidnapping, all of which the Trib covered well: two were front page stories on different days; the other two were side by side on the same day. But the link in these stories – the elephant in the room – was never mentioned. The task of framing these incidents as domestic violence should be a splashy news story, but instead a week has gone by without a ripple.

The deafening silence on this topic may be due to the ubiquitous presence of domestic violence, or it may be the fallacy that it represents little more than, say, the neighbors’ dirty little secret. If that is true then we are truly failing to see the forest for the trees.

The cycle of violence is real. It distorts relationships until friends, lovers, husbands and wives gravitate towards the roles of abuser or victim. Abusers are criminals whose arrogance make it impossible to see their victims separate from themselves, and whose cowardice makes them monsters capable of horrible crimes (consider the alleged admissions of the Spanaway man who told police that, after killing his wife and daughter, he somehow lacked the courage to kill himself).

If you need some enlightenment on the subject of domestic violence, then follow this link to the Pierce County YWCA. This nonprofit has been a haven for abused women and their families since 1976, and it has served the Tacoma-Pierce County community extremely well.

Domestic Violence Awareness Ribbon

I would encourage you to educate yourself about domestic violence. Don’t let it continue to be a quiet killer.

Leave a comment Comments → 25
  1. KrissyC says:

    The other invisible link is most likely the fact that each of these men has probably cheated on his wife or girlfriend at some point. The mess they create for themselves by cheating on spouses makes them frustrated and paranoid. I would be surprised to hear otherwise in the background details of these cases. Of course, this is no excuse for domestic violence. I just think cheating can contribute to it in a big way.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thank you for your comment. In my experience the abusers are very likely to be unfaithful in their relationships. The ironic result is that they can not imagine their partner being faithful, given their own faithlessness, so they can grow increasingly jealous to the point of becoming controlling, manipulative and violent.

    Though you make a good point, it is certainly not always the case. I have heard from many, many DV survivors and their stories are all unique in some way.

  3. lynnmelville says:

    I agree that the media seems to have become numb to the killings in our country, not just through domestic violence, but men leaping off bridges, men shooting themselves and taking their whole families with them. Our struggling economy is taking its toll.

    However, I think you’ve given up too early when you say that “some men you just can’t reach” and that the mental health system (“if it hadn’t been dismantled”) wouldn’t have helped domestic violence abusers.

    I believe that domestic abusers ‘can’ be reached and ‘can’ be helped – if the domestic violence industry itself would give them the treatment they need and advise their victims of the disorder their abusers are suffering from.

    I experienced an emotionally abusive relationship with a former partner. I believed that if I just loved my partner enough, I could compensate for the damage done by his abusive childhood experiences and that the hurtful behavior would then disappear.

    I didn’t know that my partner was suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder – a thinking disorder that makes people misperceive the interactions they have with others, overreact and then act out all the rage they still have stored inside from their abusive childhoods.

    The core symptom of a Borderline is seen as frantic efforts to avoid real or “imagined” abandonment. When feeling this fear, they have inappropriate, intense anger and difficulty controlling that anger. That’s why their behavior “looks” like jealousy and control. Their actions are an attempt to keep something from happening that frightens them so much. These are our abused, neglected, abandoned children grown up.

    Usually the woman in domestic violence killings has made an attempt to escape her abuser, causing the man to feel like his life is literally over. So he desperately plans to kill himself – and take her with him.

    Read the extensive studies of Dr. Donald Dutton on the personality disorders of abusers.

    My book, Breaking Free from Boomerang Love, seems to help abuse victims distinctly see how disturbed their partner is and the reality of their situation.

    Domestic violence abusers need professional mental health help, to understand the intense feelings that are causing their behavior. Jail will never cure them.

    Lynn Melville

  4. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks for your insight, Lynn (on a side note I had to edit your links because the website typically allows only one per comment).

  5. DavidAnderson says:

    “As a cop, handling a DV scene professionally requires several tasks . . . ascertaining the facts . . . .”

    Totally agree. And wouldn’t the facts ascertained include making the connection between the crime and the contributing cause/s?

    The late Norm Norm Maleng, King County Prosecuting Attorney was quoted in the Seattle Times November 22, 2005 with this: “There is a direct link between problem gambling and domestic violence . . . .”

    Why, among police officers particularly, is that connection seldom if ever made, a “deafening silence” pervading the profession?

    For example, former Lakewood Police Independent Guild President Brian Wurts – whose whereabouts remain unknown to the general public following his leave of absence early this year pending investigation of his possible involvement in fellow officer Skeeter Manos’s embezzlement of department funds used in part for gambling – was quoted in an op-ed piece in the August 14, 2008 TNT:

    “Police are rarely called to the four small (Lakewood) casinos, and not one of the officers sharing hundreds of years of experience can remember ever dealing with a situation involving negative effects from gaming in the home.”

    Then, in a letter to the Editor of The Suburban Times on Feb.24, 2010, Wurts – then a Republican candidate to represent the 28th Legislative District, a race which he lost, wrote “I am against banning our lawful casinos because they simply do not cause problems. With all of my contacts in domestic disputes over 14 years you would think I have ever heard a fight or assault happened ‘because he was gambling’ or ‘because he lost our savings at a casino.’ I have never heard it and have never heard of anyone else who works these streets in any police department ever heard it.”

    And yet what state leads the nation in women killed by men? Nevada. (The National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling – Gambling Addiction Statistics).

    As you wrote, “the link in these stories (to which you referred) was never mentioned”, the missing link in your view being domestic violence. But I find it more than disingenuous for a police officer, charged with “ascertaining the facts” to not also connect the dots to the cause.

    We are indeed “failing to see the forest for the trees.”

  6. anne2215 says:

    Brian, I don’t know you but I must tell you I appreciate the very knowledgable way you wrote about domestic violence…Having been a cop for 20 years at SDPD and focusing on DV and Stalking for the last 6 years I am impressed by your article…keep on trying to educate the public and stay safe!

    Anne O’Dell, Ret. Sgt. SDPD

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    Mr. Anderson- Thank you for your comment, though I must admit I am having trouble narrowing your point down. It appears to equate gambling addiction to domestic violence, though I’m not sure why. No one can deny there are many connections between abusers and addictive habits, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling or sex, but that is beside the point for which I wrote this column.

    Whatever the reason that people become abusers, domestic violence was and is a cancerous growth in our community. Failing to recognize its impact only dooms more victims to abuse, suffering and possible death. Next to that reality, your comment amounts to a footnote.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thanks very much for your comment, Sgt. O’Dell.

  9. leehallfae says:

    “Don’t let it continue to be a quiet killer.”

    What could one do, that would not put ones own life at risk, Officer Brian?

    There are two people involved, and at some point, the future victim made a choice to stay with the abuser. We, other citizens, may “see it coming” but we have no legal power to separate the couple.

    It is my belief that there is NOTHING, nothing, nothing ‘society’ is able to do that will convince future victims that they deserve to be safe.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    I appreciate your viewpoint, leehallfae, but my experience tells me that you are wrong. There are several reasons why victims stay with abusers including low self-esteem, depression, addiction, and poverty. None of those are good enough reasons to justify taking a beating, but DV is a slippery slope.

    I would again suggest you read some of the material at the YWCA site. It represents the wisdom and experience of the legal, financial, and mental health professionals who work with DV victims every single day. Better yet, request a tour or consider a donation.

  11. kelly1966 says:

    I feel the bigger problem is with the prosecutor’s office. It would be helpful if the protection orders were upheld. If the abuser moves even to another county they can call, email, come onto your property, ect and as long as they make it back across the county or state line the prosecutor’s office will do nothing about it. In fact I was told by one of the Tacoma prosecutors, “that maybe I should talk to someone and put it behind me”.

    So how can the victim feel they can break away when the protection orders are not upheld? I was lucky I have a job and own my own home and I must admit the only place that tried to help me was the YWCA.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    Kelly- Your statement concerns me, because handling protection orders is part of a cop’s bread and butter.

    I have investigated protection order violations that crossed both county and state lines, and the only thing that might have prevented an arrest would be failing to locate the violator. If I determined there had been an order violation, I would write a report and complete a criminal citation (on misdemeanor violations), and forward it to the city prosecutor. He or she would then review and (nine times out of ten) file the case in court. That would lead to a hearing within a week or so, and, if the violator failed to show, a warrant would be issued for his or her arrest.

    Order violation warrants are typically good throughout the state, though it would be up to the prosecutor’s discretion (and case law) as to whether the warrant would allow extradition outside the state. I can not imagine the circumstances you are describing, so I would urge you to check in with legal experts at the YWCA. They are superb.

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    At the very least, victims or potential ones should have pepper spray on them at all times. When seconds count, LEOs are many minutes away.

  14. serendipity says:

    I left my abuser on May 21. I stayed in a shelter for 80 days in a rural area. I left Pierce County. He was not held accountable by the last responding officer, Ronnie Halbert. No report was written for his interference with a 911 call.

    My heart is broken. I am one of the lucky ones. I am alive thanks to a network of women who assisted me in getting away from a true sociopath. I wonder if Halbert did not write him up because my abuser is also in the law enforcement field.

    Tacoma has broken my heart for the last time. I now live in another part of the state. My abuser left 15 post it notes around his house threatening me. In the end, it was the news team who rallied for me. I would lock myself in a safe room sending messages to them. I held up the phone as he raged. I sent the pictures of the post-it notes to the news team.

    The last three or so 911 call from his house are concrete recorded proof of a crime. The advocates called Halbert several times. He kept hanging up on them.

    We can’t trust you blue line men. The silence is there and you are letting us die. Why? Explain this to me? I am still here. For now. Perhaps he will come after me. I cannot stop him. I did not file a protection order. Why bother? Brame proved those just get shot through.

    Thank you TPD. Thank you for your utter silence. I was slammed against walls, dragged, humiliated, he sexually abused me and taunted me, I have concrete evidence of his seeking three way sexual contact with people and yet he is a public servant. He tried to get me to participate with him. He sprayed semen in my face.

    Thank you officer Halbert. Thanks for nothing. Remind all women to just let him kill you instead of even trying to call 911. I had actually reached that point. I actually looked at him and said, “Just kill me. You want to kill me. So do it. I am tired of the injuries”

    My last injury is a fractured ankle. I have a physical disability and he knew loud noises cause me to fall over. He lied to the advocates and told them not to have me come when the house siders would be there. They were there all right. I came back with movers and an attorney to get what I could and when I did fall, he laughed. He laughed. And his finaly remark to me? “I just can’t quit you.” This is a reference to the movie “Brokeback Mountain.” It was a carefully thought out comment given his sexual perversions. He had to just keep taunting me. If not for the movers and my attorneys he probably would have just sprayed more semen in my face.

  15. kelly1966 says:

    Officer O’Niell, all the officers that I spoke to were very nice and seemed concerned. However, the detectives and the prosecutor’s office is a different story. I had a protection order and a post conviction no contact order broken several times and not once did anything get done. The guy didn’t even show up for a court date after his conviction, a warrent was issued and nothing more was done. The court system does not want to deal with domestic violence cases…. end of story… til someone ends up dead.

  16. Brian O'Neill says:

    Serendipity- That’s a pretty tragic story for which I have no answer. I haven’t lived your life so I won’t lie and tell you that I feel your pain. I also wasn’t there when the police answered your call, so it would be irresponsible for me to take sides. What I can tell you is that the vast majority of police officers with whom I have worked since 1988 would, at the very least, have done their jobs when they arrived.

    What does that mean? It means that when there is any hint of a domestic violence dispute, even so much as a loud argument between a couple, the incident requires a police report. When someone in a domestic relationship assaults their partner, an arrest of the primary aggressor (sometimes a very subtle issue) must be made. These are not suggestions. These are not “good policy”, but are in fact our state law. Survivors, advocates and politicians worked very hard to put the mandatory DV laws into place, and in my experience they are followed without deviation.

    I am truly sorry if those rights were denied you because of police error. For my part, the only time DV victims were angry with me was when I arrested their abuser (for which I blame the cycle of violence rather than the victim). Best of luck to you.

    And kelly1966- to me it sounds like your case went as far as it possibly could. When you say a warrant was issued and nothing more was done, it sounds like the prosecutor did what he or she was supposed to do – prosecute the case. The warrant will eventually end up being served when the cops find the guy, but I can tell you this from experience – when someone wants to stay hidden they can be very tough to find.

  17. kelly1966 says:

    Officer O’niell, the DV charge went to court, not one of the violations of the protection/no contact ever went to court. You just get a letter saying that right now the prosecutors office is not doing anything. As for the warrent on the DV charge… he’s in Oregon living in Corvalis and working there if the court had any idea of bringing him in they could… the fact is they don’t want to spend the money on it. My tax dollars go to pay for whole lot of non-action when it comes to DV. The DV office at the court house told me to file contempt of court documents for one of the violations and a court commisioner told me “the protection/no contact order was for protection ONLY and I was not in danger”, I was then exited from the courtroom. In this violation the offender and a friend cut the lock off of a car that I was to have for my use under the order, while it sat on my property, and had my name and his on the title (which I still hold. Please do not tell me the detectives and prosecutor’s office is out to uphold any order… the court is unwilling to uphold the orders. Maybe the News Tribune should look into the DV cases… you will find unless he comes back and has his hands around your neck nothing will be done.

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    I’m sorry about your situation. I don’t know why the prosecutor chose not to file on the violations, but I do know that extradition from out of state is typically reserved for felonies. It’s a money issue, obviously. In reality, there really are not sufficient resources to GUARANTEE anyone’s safety. The best plan is to coordinate with advocates, such as the YWCA, and work out a safety plan.

  19. kelly1966 says:

    I just would have been happy if someone would have given me the truth of the situation from the beginning… right after walking out from the courtroom.


    1. the protection/no contact order is not going to be upheld in most cases unless the offender is in physical contact with you.

    2. the offender WILL contact you, have no doubt of that. when they do, call the police and report the violation. Please do not expect that anything will come of it… it is a paper trail to show continued attemps by the offender to manipulate you should they attack you again.

    3. go out and buy a defense spray.. My choice was one with mace, military grade CS gas and a UV marker so the detectives and prosecutors could not say “we couldn’t prove it was him”.

    4. watch your surroundings..park where people can see you, always have your spray within reach, always have your cell phone with you.

    5. once out never look back, rebuild your life. heal your soul, your mind and your heart… and above all be grateful that you got out alive.

  20. Pacman33 says:

    “If that is true then we are truly failing to see the forest for the trees.”
    I disagree. In fact, I attribute the silence to news outlets gradually seeing DV for what it is; Violence. They are realizing there are just some individuals who happen to be violent, for a long list of different reasons. Inasmuch, common sense tells them that violent people are likely going to harm those around them and if they didn’t have families to abuse, it would be the next closest people that would end up being victims of their violence.

    In my opinion, I think it’s a good thing that writers are straying away from catagorizing acts of violence, beyond sexual assault/rape or child abuse. Indirectly suggesting some “types” are worse than others, only because the attacker harmed the most obvious victims for even more obvious reasons; The Control and Domination Issues, common in violent criminals. If we can get over this odd impulse to characterize DV as something other than what it is, I think we would see an overall decrease in spouse on spouse violence.

    All of the distortion and hype from the media and political left has ingrained this notion in us that there is some transcendental distinction between Domestic Violence and Other Violence. This disconnect must have some impact on how many avoidable tragedies have instead, come to be realized, despite the warning flags. Often we hear : “He/she wasn’t abusive/violent before we got married and/or started a family, except that one incident with his brother a few years ago. Maybe a couple ‘bar fights’ and that time he was sent home from work early for a scuffle. He might have kicked the dog also and ….. ”

    Thanks to this status we have slapped on violence at home, many victims find themselves ‘trapped’ or ‘without escape’ in abusive relationships by the time they realize the danger they are in. Not all, but many of these victims could avoid this dispicable violence inflicted upon them if we could only find a way to set the political and dramatic bent aside in the DV conversation. If replaced with simple logic and common sense, victims could associate and identify general violent tendncies in a possible future spouse. They would at least have a chance to avoid entering the relationship that might cost them their lives.

  21. serendipity says:


    I am meeting with an investigative reporter in a couple of weeks. I am scared and yet also want to be a voice not only for me, but particularly his future victims which he likely began trying to find when he found me of no use to him anymore. Once a sociopath has no use for you anymore, he moves on to the next target. In other words, he could no longer control me. I am relocated in a more beautiful location than I could have ever envisioned. However, I am deeply concerned about future victims which he is no doubt seeking.

    I think our only hope is the free press and this is a right no abuser can take away from any victim. I have concrete evidence he is participating in three way sexual acts which really begs the question: Aren’t civil servants in law enforcement held to the same ethical conduct code as teachers? Apparently he has been doing this his entire life: even during a 15-year marriage.

    This is the kind of story reporters sink their teeth into. I am not doing this for me, I escaped. I am worried about the trail of victims past and future who have been on his probationary caseload. I have already drawn some lines that need to be fully investigated. He often talked about female clients, their locations and in particular, one he got a deal so she could drive during the day (DUI). I think it’s time the TPD is held accountable again. I think it’s time an investigative reporter asks him why he swaps out his vehicles about every six months. I counted some 20 different trucks, etc. he purchased during the seven years I knew him. I also would like to know why his cousin jumped off the east 34th Street bridge on April 28th. This was four weeks after I notified this family member the amount of abuse in this family I was uncovering was so disturbing I was making an escape plan.

    This man’s father, also a former attorney, had a once convicted rapist home to dinner with their family. Really? Is this what a normal family does for dinner? This now serial rapist was released into Tacoma after a 30-year civil hold. But then again, I must have brought the assaults on. No, no I did not. I think a story like this for an investigative reporter comes around only a few times in one’s journalistic career.

  22. Brian O'Neill says:

    Your efforts on behalf of potential future victims is admirable, serendipity. It sounds like your story may be in need of airing out, and I wish you luck with it.

  23. The situation when dealing with a domestic violence is all behind a closed door. No one else can witness it, only those involved. One minute going along just fine and then all of a sudden an explosion of threats and accusations. When you are dealing with a multiple personality and mental chemical imbalance, not when using any drugs or alcohol, but a true personality disorder you need outside help. The mental health facilities are truly failing. Due to budget cuts, people are not being sent to crisis recovery centers soon enough. The people who need mental health help are walking the streets, acting nice and moving in to your home, then the explosions start. They need help and a place to recover and discuss their past issues, that cause the anger. The killing threats are real when they make them. They threaten you if you go to the police it will be worse. Until you have been in this situation, you always think you would know what to do. Please start believing the person, and Mental Health, please start sending people to crisis center recovery. I finally called the police , I could not get help from family or mental health. These are very serious issues, still not being addressed soon enough. I still hope I am safe but I will need to always be watching around me , as long as I live in this state.

  24. Brian O'Neill says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Katlina. Thanks for your comment.

  25. leehallfae says:

    The first time you are hit, you are a victim. If there is a second time, you are a volunteer.

    There is this thing called Making A Choice to remain with an abuser.

    Gavin De Becker stated it, Men who can not let go choose women who can not say no.

    There is one gal I know; Male made the mistake of hitting her. She knocked him out and by the time he was regaining consciousness, she had packed her bags and was out the door, and never looked back.

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