GRAHAM: Police domestic abuse rate raises serious questions, concerns
Column: Considerations of Crime
You would never place a gun in a rapist’s hand. So why are abusive police officers allowed to keep theirs?
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) — a month aimed to show that domestic violence is extremely common and affects women and men across the country.
More than 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, and 1 in 5 women have experienced completed or attempted rape, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is not a single-gender issue, as nearly 1 in 4 men have also experienced sexual violence, and 1 in 38 have experienced rape or attempted rape. This also does not include those identifying as gender-neutral, gender fluid or transgender.
These cases are pervasive and becoming an epidemic across the country. Yet, many are still not brought to justice nor handled with the care needed.
Take the story of Jessica Lester, a young woman from Georgia, who began dating Matthew Boynton in high school. Boynton was the grandson of the county sheriff, while Lester was abandoned as a child and lived with adoptive parents in a less-than-wealthy home.
In 2013, after a year of dating, she became pregnant at age 16, forcing her to live at home with Boynton and finish school online. Boynton followed his dreams and became a police officer in his grandfather’s municipality.
There was always tension between the two, so much so that it was palpable for everyone around them. He would force her to leave her family’s holiday parties, claiming that they are not family because they are not blood-related. He even called the police on Lester twice, for “poking or yelling.”
The officers who reported to the scene described that Lester seemed reserved and upset, but what could they do about it? Boynton was the grandson of the sheriff, and a police officer in the municipality.
After a brief affair in 2014, Lester became pregnant again, but stayed with Boynton and they got married. Two years later, in 2016, Lester became aware of a relationship that Boynton was having with a female dispatcher, and decided to file for divorce.
After a heated fight at Walmart, Boynton called a police lieutenant from his municipality, asking how he could force Lester in his truck to go back to their home. He was told that he could not. Shortly after, a neighbor of theirs saw them return home. A half an hour later, she heard a gunshot. This was followed by a second shot, and then she saw Boynton run to his truck.
He drove to a Waffle House to have a late meal with a fellow police officer, at approximately 1 a.m. On his way there, he received a text from Lester’s phone — one written in the style of a suicide note. Exactly 1 minute later, he texted a joke to his mistress.
Afterward, he called the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and sent them to his house, and 6 minutes later he reported hearing two gunshots while walking up the steps to his apartment. He claimed that he could not find their baby, and was afraid that Lester would shoot the children, him and then herself.
Lester was found in her bedroom closet, face down, laying on top of Boynton’s service gun. She had on fuzzy slippers and a dog’s leash in her hand, ready to walk the dog before going to sleep. A piece of paper with a list of Boynton’s infidelities was laying next to her.
The case was ruled a suicide attempt. Her hands were never checked for gun residue.
Though she lived, she suffered gunshot wounds to the head, making it impossible for her to remember what happened that night. She knows, though, that she had never had any considerations of suicide, as all she wanted was to be a good mother to her children.
Boynton still has his gun, and still serves as a police officer.
Cases such as these are not uncommon. The National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP) reported that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence in the household. In contrast, only 10% of families without a police officer experience domestic violence.
Cases of domestic violence in which the abuser is a police officer causes the victim to be significantly more vulnerable, as he possesses a gun, knows where the women’s shelters are and knows how to manipulate the system. Further, if the victim is still strong enough to call the police, it is likely that reporting officers will be friends and colleagues of her abuser.
If the victim is able to contact the police, the response is usually an informal investigation of the allegations, often not even including a check of the victim’s safety. For discipline, the most common form is counseling for the abuser, with only 19% of departments indicating that they would terminate an officer after two complaints of domestic violence. In other cases, domestic violence complaints are not placed on officer performance evaluations.
Jess Graham is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science. Her column, "Considerations of Crime," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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