Prince George’s County Police have touted an overall decrease in crime over the past several years, but officials say one crime that significantly contributed to the county’s 97 homicides in 2016 remains a scourge: domestic violence.
The most recent case involves Melba Williams, 41, of District Heights, who fatally stabbed her boyfriend Feb. 17 after a verbal argument that eventually became physical, marking the county’s 13th homicide this year.
According to police reports, the majority of homicides last year involved drug cases, disputes between acquaintances and domestic-related incidents.
“I don’t think there is no one inherently violent living in the county,” said Sophie Ford, executive director of the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County in Brentwood. “We have got to get this system to work together. The very system that is supposed to prevent this from happening [has] some disconnection in very distinct places. It is very frustrating as a provider. There is so much bureaucracy.”
Ford, whose 57-bed center is the only place in the county that provides temporary housing for domestic violence victims, said her office dealt with a situation three weeks ago with an alleged abuser who served in the military. She said the man visited the center’s main office in Brentwood seeking information about his ex-spouse.
After the man sought to connect with center staff through its social media links, Ford drove to the county’s District Courthouse to file a peace order that forced the man to stay away from the premises and not contact her staff.
Unfortunately, such orders don’t always work. Gladys Tordil, 44, was fatally shot in May by her estranged husband, Eulalio Tordil, 62, outside High Point High School in Beltsville while picking up her daughter, despite Tordil receiving a domestic violence court order two months prior to stay away from his wife’s place of employment, her daughter’s school and her residence in Adelphi.
“The law is not working because everybody is not protected,” said Kesslyn Brade Stennis, a social work professor at Coppin State University in Baltimore. “You don’t have access to the resources because what you’re experiencing doesn’t fall in line with what the law provides.”
Meanwhile, hundreds of documents float inside the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis by legislators pushing for tougher domestic violence laws.
The Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence documents in a recent report that Prince George’s had 32 domestic-related fatalities in fiscal 2015 and 2016, the most in the state.
Such statistics have spurred Delegate Angela Angel and state Sens. Douglas J. J. Peters and C. Anthony Muse have legislation in both the House and Senate that seek to expand the definition of domestic violence to include harassment and malicious destruction of property.
Angel, 37, a domestic violence survivor, explained how her estranged husband sent constant emails, continuous phone calls and even threatened to call her business contacts. If this law had been in place for her, she could’ve received legal protection sooner.
The Democratic lawmaker, who represents District 25, pushed the domestic violence legislation last year, but it failed to make it past a House committee because some lawmakers expressed concern that the language regarding property damage was too broad. For example, a wife could file a restraining order against her husband if he became upset and threw a shoe at a television.
“We [now] have very succinct language that says it has to be of no legal purpose,” Angel said after a Feb. 23 press conference in Annapolis to promote her legislation, labeled HB 803. “It has to be done with an intent to annoy. A judge needs to find that a reasonable person would have suffered emotional distress. I know we still have some work to do, but I think we have strong proponents of it.”
A hearing on her bill will take place Thursday, March 2 before the House’s Judiciary Committee.
The bill also has an educational component that request school boards to incorporate age-appropriate lessons on domestic violence into its curriculum.
Muse, a co-sponsor of the bill’s Senate version, titled SB 900, helped create a domestic violence task force after last February’s death of NeShante Davis and her 2-year-old daughter, Chloe Davis-Green. Both were fatally shot by Chloe’s father in a dispute over child support payments.
One proposal Muse (D-District 26) said he will introduce to the task force and incorporate into his legislation would require an accused abuser to not only participate in anger management courses, but also wear an electronic monitor that would signal to law enforcement the person’s location.
“It may sound like it is way out there, but our situation is too far out there,” he said. “These are unusual times and we have to do some unusual things.”
One major supporter is the county’s top prosecutor, State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, who not only proposes legislation for lawmakers but also travels throughout the county to speak with community groups and administrative personnel at churches to help train and counsel those in need.
Thanks to a $1.5 million state grant that could start being distributed this year, she said victims in Prince George’s will receive a temporary decrease toward rent. Discussions continue with property owners such as Southern Management Corp. of Vienna, Virginia, which has more than six dozen rental properties in the D.C. and Baltimore regions.
However, a stipulation with the grant doesn’t allow those currently involved in active criminal cases to receive any financial assistance.
In the meantime, domestic violence remains one of the most challenging crimes to handle because it can affect anyone.
“You find domestic violence in every neighborhood,” she said. “There are a lot of people who remain in domestic violence situations not because they are living in poverty, but because they’re living in mansions. They don’t have the resources to leave those situations to live at the level they are accustomed to. [It’s] a very complex issue.”
For a list of resources and information about domestic violence advocacy in Maryland, go to http://mnadv.org.