Domestic violence rises

William Thompson

Local police and court officials are dealing with a number of domestic violence cases on a daily basis. According to the 2004 Tucumcari Police incident log, police officers have already responded to nearly 80 domestic disputes this year.

Tucumcari police officer Darrick Shaw said he has had to help a number of victims who have suffered physical violence. “About half the domestic calls I respond to involve someone who is injured or needing medical treatment,” said Shaw. “About a third or more of the parties involved in the disputes I respond to wind up going to court. Twenty court cases are currently pending or have already been adjudicated in Quay County Magistrate Court so far this year. Tammy Strand, judicial specialist for Magistrate Court, said the number of domestic violence cases varies throughout the course of a year. ”It seems to be seasonal,” she said. “Sometimes it’s really bad, and sometimes we don’t have many at all.”

Shaw said he has noticed a recent increase.
“I do think there have been more cases recently,” he said, ”but overall, the number of cases is about the same as usual.” Chief Deputy District Attorney Donald Schutte, said domestic violence cases take up a large amount of his office’s time. “Domestic violence cases are some of the more frequent cases we are seeing,” said Schutte. “We are going to start putting these people in jail.” Schutte said he will remain somewhat lenient for first-time offenders but will more vigorously prosecute cases involving second and third-time offenders.

“I understand that someone can get in an argument and something physical happens. Many first-time offenders respond to counseling,” he said, “but for the person with a second or third offense, we’re going to try to get significant jail time for them.” Local defense attorney Roger Bargas, who routinely defends those accused of domestic violence, said jail is not always the answer. “Usually, the best way to handle these cases is through counseling rather than jail,” said Bargas. “I think the people at the Tucumcari Domestic Violence Program are better able to handle these cases rather than the district attorney’s office.”

Bargas went on to say that it is very hard to prosecute domestic violence cases because the parties involved in the cases are often very close. “It’s very common for people to kiss and make up,” said Vargas. “When that happens, you have an uncooperative domestic violence witness.” Tammy Strand, of Magistrate Court, noted that in Magistrate Court, it is ultimately the judge’s decision as to what sentence a guilty offender will receive. Magistrate Court Judge Edwin Bruhn said he did not want to make any comments “at this time.”

In addition to police and court officials, other agencies must deal with domestic violence. Veronica Wright, advocate for the Tucumcari Domestic Violence Program, said 26 people have come to her office this year seeking restraining orders against potentially violent family members or domestic partners. “We’ve had 26 people come in this year, a majority of them have been women, but we’ve had some men come in too,” she said. “Some of those people have previously gone to the police and some have not.” According to a list of pending cases in Magistrate Court, 12 of 20 defendants in domestic violence cases are men while eight of the defendants are women.