Fatalities in Georgia related to Stalking: Annual Report 2017

Georgia’s Commission on Family Violence and the Coalition Against Domestic Violence provide us each year with an annual report that is more than just stats, it’s a roadmap to saving lives. The 2017 report focuses on stalking and is a must read for all responders and advocates. It’s especially important for victims and family members or friends of victims.

 

Georgia Domestic Violence – Fatality Review Annual Report 2017 by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Perpetrator of Domestic Violence Commits Murder-Suicide

A nationwide extradition order for Kelley James McDonald Jr. wasn’t enough to stop him from showing up in Georgia to murder his victim and her sister. Fortunately the three children involved are still alive, but two of the three are hospitalized with injuries including a gunshot wound to the teen girl.

McDonald was on the run for the last two weeks according to local Tampa news sources before locating his target and murdering her and her sister before taking his own life.

Law enforcement is still searching for the driver of a Ford Explorer believed to have traveled with McDonald. The color of the vehicle is described as gold or champagne.

The two year-old child injured at the house during the murders is McDonald’s own child. As is typical of perpetrators of domestic violence, harming what is believed to be his own child was apparently not a concern of McDonald. A sixteen year-old girl was shot and needed surgery.

Lumpkin County Sheriff shared with Georgia news media including WSB-TV that the deaths in north Georgia stemmed from a domestic abuse situation in Florida.

However, it’s important to point out that what occurred in Florida showed clear intent to cause permanent harm. The perpetrator did not just act “in the heat of the moment.” He broke in and attempted murder by strangulation.

Domestic abuse is too generic a term for what escalated into murder in this case. The criminal report specifically state battery by strangulation and burglary with assault/battery.

The AJC reported that the Sheriff is trying to determine how McDonald made it to the home to take their lives. In the meantime, we need to better educate victims and the public on ways to identify the kind of behavior that leads to loss of life. Sometimes there is a weapon involved, like a gun or maybe a knife as in the Kristofak murder in Cobb County after John Kristofak was let out of jail only 7 months into his four year sentence. In other instances the murderous mind uses others in an attempt to keep his hands clean and his reputation intact, such as was the case with Fred Tokars. Sometimes the perpetrator stops just short of murder, leaving the victim severely injured and suffering for a lifetime.

But we know enough about these deviants of society who desire to do harm to their victims, no matter the cost.

McDonald’s victim, the mother of his child, was right to leave the state of Florida and flee to Georgia to shelter with family. Unfortunately, she likely believed that she and her family would be safe from him. He was able to obtain access to another vehicle and show up at the residence of a family member to find and kill her.

In sharing this story, I encourage anyone who is battered by another to take the warnings very seriously. If you are subjected to cruelty and aware that a perpetrator will not hold back on causing you injury just because children are present, this is a solid indicator that greater harm will follow.

When a perpetrator is determined to locate the victim, he or she will likely employ whatever tactics can be managed, whether legal or not.

 

To news media and law enforcement:

This is not just another unfortunate incident or shocking murder story. Please let it be a wake-up call – – call it what it is and don’t soften the descriptives.

When a perpetrator of any form of criminal act involving domestic violence, abuse, cruelty, stalking – whatever label is used – shows you who he is, follow through. Protect the victim and the children. Communicate and engage in ways to keep the victim’s location secured and private.  Deal more harshly at the first sign that the perpetrator is not concerned about accountability.

Let’s not merely be busy or shocked and dismayed, but moved to prevent the next tragedy and loss of life. These children needed their mother to be kept safe. They need what they can no longer have.

We know the warning signs, we have the laws, but do we have the willpower and stamina to stay after those with cruel, destructive mindsets to stop them?

 

Photo courtesy of WSB-TV investigative reporter Mike Petchenik.

 

Preparing Your Court for a Trauma Consult

Being trauma-informed means asking,

What happened to you and how can we help?

versus

What is wrong with you?

The Trauma Manual for Judges in Family and Juvenile Courts

Informed judicial officers and other court professionals can make an immediate, positive impact on children and parents who are being traumatized by abuse and fraud within their immediate family or through their extended family units.

This applies to schools, churches and to healthcare companies and organizations as well. The kind of stress and trauma that is inflicted in litigation, especially where custody disputes are used as weapons against a victim of domestic abuse or fraud, for example. Any first responder, mandated reporter of abuse or anyone interacting with families and children in a professional capacity should become trauma-informed.

We believe it’s worth spending the extra time learning and discussing these issues with court officials, professionals in other fields, and also with family members in your cases to engage them in the process.

This guide or Trauma Manual as referred to by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges will go a long way toward making your courtroom a safer and more constructive path for those who enter your court seeking protection and relief from abuse. [Read the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases to learn to recognize signs that abuse may be concealed from the record.]

NCJFCJ Trauma Manual for Family and Juvenile Court Judges by Deb Beacham on Scribd

Trauma Prevention in Courts: What Judges Should Know

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has developed several insightful tools for judges and court staff involved with families dealing with conflict and troubling transitions. Mental health, family violence / economic abuse, child abuse and neglect, addiction, loss of homes and jobs, confusion and fear all mix together to bring new and greater challenges to our courts every day.

Previously I wrote about the Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases as the safety of children is often lost in the shuffle of legal documents and tactics to gain an advantage. Improving safety, reducing stress and keeping loving, safe parents together with their children can be back-burnered when professionals appearing before judges are too focused on billings.

Denying children safety or peace of mind and failing to protect parents who are being victimized by physical, mental and/or economic abuse translates to trauma and trauma-related symptoms that can set children up to fail, impacting them harshly for life. Fortunately more professionals are making time to learn and to advocate against abuse and uncertainty, and policy leaders are making this a priority.

Please read and share these documents with your staff and other judges and court professionals you know. Preparing to assess trauma and to respond for the sake of improving safety and recovery time will save lives. Contact me here if you would like to review case studies that show the difference – how lives are saved vs. lost depending on how courts respond to abuse of parents and children.

The Trauma Manual for Judges can be downloaded from this page as the next step after reading the “Changing Minds” Infographic below.

Thank you for paying attention – and taking action on this important topic!

Deb Beacham

Trauma Infographic for Judges 2016 by Deb Beacham on Scribd