Bill would require domestic violence training for prosecutors, judges

For Trenton lawmakers talking about domestic violence on Monday, the brutal murder of Tiffany Wilson proved a tragic case in point. The young mom died last Tuesday, gunned down in Newark, allegedly by boyfriend Kareem Dawson, who’d twice been arrested on domestic violence charges, but was released both times by the court pending trial.

Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin says domestic violence survivors often tell her, “They need the judges to have more training in dealing with domestic violence.”

Pinkin is sponsoring a bill that would require specialized training for judicial personnel.

“Those red flags are not going off, that should be the trigger to say, you know what, maybe I don’t have all the facts,” said Pinkin. “And these can be life or death situations. And many times it does happen that, it’s life or death, that there’s warning after warning after warning.”

Wilson’s case was full of red flags. She’d already obtained a restraining order. Advocates listed other risk factors for domestic violence victims.

“We know that a history of strangulation in a relationship is a high risk indicator. Access to firearms and previous threats of use of weapons and firearms is a high risk factor. We also know abuse during pregnancy is a high risk indicator for potential homicide later on, and also changes in the relationships,” said Nicole Morella with the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

New Jersey State Police logged almost 62,000 cases of domestic violence in 2015. Of those, 49 were murders. They counted more than 26,000 cases each of assault and harassment. Yet police made only 19,000 arrests, that’s 31 percent of cases. A New Jersey Supreme Court committee in 2016 issued a report recommending mandatory domestic violence training for municipal prosecutors, law enforcement officers and county prosecutors. On Monday, the Assembly Judiciary Committee considered bills to do that.

“It is paramount as to how to be able to handle a domestic violence case when a police officer is faced with it. You have so many emotions, so many issues going on,” said Assemblywoman Carol Murphy.

“Any time a victim comes and shows evidence that something happened, we have to listen,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano.

Dawson has been charged with murder. Critics claim he should never have been released pending his trial on domestic violence charges. Tiffany Wilson’s funeral is scheduled for Thursday. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka called her case, “A sobering example of why the flaws in bail reform must be fixed. We can’t go on losing lives like this,” he said in a statement. “We need to look at the downgrading of charges by prosecutors, especially in cases of domestic violence.”

“Domestic violence cases change very rapidly. The escalation can change over time, and so at every point we should be doing that good assessment and identifying those risk factors,” said Morella.

The bills cleared committee easily. Meanwhile, advocates say, they’ll press for changes in New Jersey bail laws to better protect domestic violence survivors.