The Sheriff's Office hopes to create a task force that can come up with a comprehensive plan on domestic violence within 120 days.
Deputies and police officers in Flagler County arrest about one person per day on a domestic violence charge. In 2013, Corey Miller, 29, was one of them.
"What about that little boy who for the past five years — before it has become a public problem — has watched his family become something so dark that his life, his choices and his love are forever altered?"
— COREY MILLER
At a summit convened by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office June 28 to announce the agency's intention to form a task force to address domestic violence, Miller spoke about how domestic violence reaches through generations, warping children's understanding of family and leaving them vulnerable to self-medication with alcohol or drugs.
By the time law enforcement officers are called to a home, he said, domestic violence in that family is already out of control.
"What about that little boy who for the past five years — before it has become a public problem — has watched his family become something so dark that his life, his choices and his love are forever altered?" Miller said.
Miller, a native of Mississippi, had been removed from an abusive home as a young child. At age 5, he was placed in a viciously abusive foster home before being sent to a military-style boarding school. He got out, joined a gang — "Thinking that being in a gang was something I was supposed to do; this was something that adults do” — started taking drugs, and moved to Florida after his birth father offered him a job in the state.
He continued to get in legal trouble until Judge Kim Hammond offered him the choice of jail or the military. He joined the Army, became a medic, continued his drug habit, got out, married and had two children.
The marriage was marred by violence.
"We both were the perpetrator and victim the entire time, just depending on what day it was, and how we felt at that time, and what drug I was on, what drug she was on, who was drinking," Miller said. "I felt shameful that at that time I'm putting my kids through the exact same thing that I went through. But I didn't care, all I cared was the end result of hurting her or her hurting me."
That lasted about eight years. Miller was arrested in 2013. He realized he was "going to have to face the music," and has since been rebuilding his life, attending college and staying out of legal trouble since that last 2013 arrest.
There were 667 reported incidents of domestic violence in Flagler County in 2016 and 362 arrests, most of them for simple assault.
"It is the only area of criminal law where the night before trial, the victim and the defendant generally are sleeping in the same bed together. ... They will get up in the morning and drive to court together for one to testify against the other."
— JAMES PURDY, public defender
At the domestic violence summit at the Hilton Garden Inn June 28, Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly told the audience of about 70 people the story of some of those local arrests.
In March of this year, there was the case of Pariate Moore, a 26-year-old who was arrested after he had attacked his girlfriend while driving home from the beach, stopped the car, dragged her out into a wooded area, beat her, and said he was going to kill her and throw her body in a creek, according to deputies. He'd been arrested nine times in Flagler County since he turned 18.
In June, there was the case of a 38-year old Palm Coast man who was hospitalized with a 4-inch stab wound on his shoulder. The man's wife told deputies he'd fallen and hurt himself, but an investigation showed that the couple's 14-year-old son had stabbed the father while trying to break up a fight between his parents, Staly said.
Then there were the two murder cases: 52-year-old Dorothy Singer was arrested in May and charged with shooting her husband to death, execution style, while he slept; 74-year-old Bobby Gore was charged in April with shooting his 31-year-old son to death after the son argued with his mother.
Those murder cases, Staly said, are "the ultimate tragedy in domestic violence," but even cases that don't end in death can scar families.
Dealing with them takes a wide range of community resources.
Enforcing the law
In the four-county Seventh Judicial Circuit, said State Attorney R.J. Larizza, about a quarter of the murder cases are domestic violence related.
"I believe that domestic violence is the number one problem to deal with right now in the criminal justice system," Larizza said.
Dealing with domestic violence, he said, can mean moving forward with prosecution even in cases where ether victim doesn't cooperate as a witness.
Seventh Judicial Circuit Public Defender James Purdy told the audience what can happen if law enforcement agencies and prosecutors don't follow through.
"Once, we had a case out in Deltona where a lady would be continuously battered," he said. Officers would intervene, but then the woman would decline to press charges. The violent boyfriend would be sent home, because back then, prosecutors wouldn't pursue domestic violence charges when the victim wasn't cooperative. "Finally, he got out and he killed her in front of her children, and that was a wake up call for us in the State Attorney's Office," Purdy said.
The nature of domestic violence cases can make them difficult to prosecute, he said.
"The dynamics of a domestic violence case are unlike any other criminal case that we have," Purdy said. "It is the only area of criminal law where the night before trial, the victim and the defendant generally are sleeping in the same bed together. ... They will get up in the morning and drive to court together for one to testify against the other."
Protecting victims can also involve creating programs to help domestic violence offenders stop their behavior.
Programs that address anger management or substance abuse aren't enough to curb domestic violence, said Sonny Donaldson, of Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare.
"I don't feel like I have the answers I can tell people when they say to me, 'Well, now my husband's been arrested. He's the only person that works. ... What do I do about paying the rent in 16 days?' I don't have those answers."
— GEORGE HRISTAKOPOULOS, detective, Flagler County Sheriff's Office
Although about 60% of domestic violence offenders have substance abuse problems, Donaldson said, substance abuse is not itself a cause of domestic violence.
"Domestic violence is used to exert power or control over others," he said. "Substance abuse does not cause violent behavior," but is often used by perpetrators to excuse their acts.
One primary reasons domestic violence victims are often reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement is that they're often financially dependent on perpetrators, Larizza said. If the abuser goes to jail, the victim could be left without food and shelter.
This year, the Family Life Center, which shelters local domestic violence victims, has helped 114 women and 94 children, said Executive Director Trish Giaccone.
"We need to come together as a community to address this, otherwise, there will be no change," Giaccone said. "Really, what we need to do is look at what's happening before the murder."
Detective George Hristakopoulos spend much of his career as a patrol deputy dealing with domestic violence calls regularly.
"Sometimes as a detective, as a patrol deputy ... I don't feel like I have the answers I can tell people when they say to me, 'Well, now my husband's been arrested. He's the only person that works. What am I supposed to do about getting to work in the morning? He's the only person with a driver's license. What do I do about paying the rent in 16 days?' I don't have those answers." Hristakopoulos said. "And hopefully, by coming here, by training, by talking, by communicating with each other and by having more events like these, we can put our heads together and come up with some solutions — so that the next time I have a situation where I have a victim asking me questions like that, I have a better idea of what to tell them."