One-stop site helps domestic violence victims

One-stop site helps domestic violence victims

By Joe Gamm joe.gamm@news-record.com | Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 11:21 pm

GREENSBORO — Laurrissa Armstrong was an educated woman. She was a longtime teacher with Guilford County Schools. But she didn’t know what information to provide to two judges to persuade either one to issue an emergency restraining order against her husband.

He shot her on Aug. 29 and she died Sept. 7, nine days later.

She might still be alive if Greensboro or Guilford County had a Family Justice Center, a one-stop place where victims of domestic violence can be guided through the process of obtaining a protective order and gain access to victims’ services.

Alamance County has such a facility and Guilford County leaders have often considered the benefits of one.

Lynn Rousseau, director of Family Abuse Services of Alamance County, said a victim’s advocate might have been able to help her with the paperwork.

“From reading the case — it sounds like — if there had been an advocate to explain, there probably was a series of (threatening) behaviors,” Rousseau said. “She could have explained to the judge that there was a valid basis for the order, but because no one had explained to her that that was one of the things she would have to prove, she may not have known what to say.”

In North Carolina, a person can obtain a protective order against another person in a domestic violence case who is:

  • Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury,
  • Committing rape or other sexual offenses,
  • Creating fear of imminent serious bodily injury or continued harassment.

In explaining why she turned down Armstrong’s request for a protective order, Judge Angela Foster told News & Record editors that Armstrong “did not meet the qualifications.”

A Quick Reaction

Unofficial records show the Guilford County Clerk of Courts office in Greensboro has processed more than 5,500 requests for protective orders since Jan. 1, 2010 — about 126 per month.

In Guilford, a potential victim can file for a restraining order at the clerk’s office and in many cases be heard by the judge the same day.

But waiting one day can be too long.

The Alamance County Family Justice Center provides a place where victims can file their complaint with the clerk’s office and go before a judge — all in the same building.

Officials in Greensboro and Guilford County have begun conversations about creating a site where victims of domestic violence can seek services — putting them in touch with Department of Social Services workers and helping them to get protective orders, find legal support and connect with court advocacy.

It is very early in coversations, said Greensboro police Deputy Chief Dwight Crotts.

“Part of the goal is that one-stop-shop type of location,” Crotts said. “There’s frustration if I have to go to this place and tell my story. Then from there, I get sent to another place and I have to tell my story and get sent to another place where I have to tell my story.”

A one-stop location is just what Alamance County offers, said Cindy Brady, director of the Alamance County Family Justice Center. “For safety reasons, that really was a key component for us,” Brady said. “The victim never has to leave the building and gets everything she needs.”

Brady emphasized that the center serves male and female victims of domestic violence.

When a victim enters the center, he or she is assigned an advocate. The advocate can walk the victim through the paperwork to obtain a protective order.

Working with the courts, Alamance County has begun a pilot program in which an advocate sits down with the victim and fills out the forms online. The court forms are automatically generated and submitted in PDF form to the court clerk, who electronically signs them and enters them in the courts.

The clerk sends the forms to a judge who holds a video conference with the victim to determine whether to approve or deny the request. One of the four District Court judges is available every business day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for hearings on the ex parte’ (brought by one party and not requiring the others to be present) orders. The advocate remains in the room with the victim to help make the victim more comfortable, Rousseau said.

“I feel very confident we’re the first place in the U.S. that uses remote filing of the forms,” said Chief District Judge Jim Roberson.

Alamance County has even speeded up the process to serve the protective order. Once the order is approved, deputies within the Domestic Violence Unit can print the restraining orders in their cars, said Sgt. Marcus Orr with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.

“We used to have to drive across town to pick them up,” Orr said. “It’s much, much faster.”

Reducing the violence

Officials believe getting the protective orders issued and served quickly has reduced domestic violence in Alamance County.

In 2009, Alamance County had two domestic violence-related homicides. The county had one such homicide in 2010, the year the program began — and none since.

Armstrong’s death marked the ninth domestic violence-related homicide in Greensboro this year. Crotts said there are folks who are uncomfortable coming to police, and having a family justice center — where they might go without involving police — might have prevented some of those homicides.

“Whatever their reasons may be, family pressures, community pressures, whatever it is that they’re feeling that keeps them away from engaging assistance,” Crotts said. “Perhaps having a center such as this would give them a place that they can go to get those resources to help them beyond police involvement.”

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