While the Star-Advertiser’s report of the arrest of a witness in a pending domestic violence trial was factual in that, yes, the woman was taken into custody, its omission of critical background contributed to an inaccurate portrayal of the intent and actions of the city prosecutor’s office ("Assault victim arrested to ensure her testimony," Star-Advertiser, May 12).
Even worse, the more sensational elements of the story led to an unfortunate blurring of what is important when it comes to prosecuting domestic violence — that perpetrators of this kind of abuse be held accountable.
Here are the facts:
The woman’s testimony essentially represented the entirety of the state’s case against the man who abused her. If she walked away from trial, so would the man who slammed her head against a wall, choked her and held a kitchen knife to her throat. If, after agreeing to take him to court, she was frightened, manipulated or coerced into believing that the best thing was to do nothing, then the man who physically and mentally drove that fear into her would face no consequences for his actions.
This is simply not acceptable to the prosecutor’s office.
The decision to take her into custody as a material witness was extremely difficult and made only after weeks of communications, during which the woman repeatedly indicated she no longer had any intention of cooperating.
In the days leading to her arrest, she missed a meeting with a victim witness counselor and failed to return calls, which led to the serving of a subpoena ordering her to appear at trial. Upon being served, she again told an investigator she was leaving the state the morning after she graduated from college, which was two days away.
At that point, the prosecutor’s office had no choice but to request a bench warrant for the woman’s arrest. A judge agreed and the woman was taken into custody.
As unfortunate and bad as the timing of the arrest was, it was unavoidable, and investigators made sure to take no action until after the ceremony was completed and they had spoken with school officials and the woman’s parents to explain the situation.
The woman herself told a witness counselor later that the investigators were respectful and discreet and that no one outside her family was aware that anything unusual was going on.
Most important, the woman has since decided that she will follow through and testify. The prosecutor’s office salutes her courage and stands ready, as it has from the start, to seek justice on her behalf.
The real tragedy is that it had to come to this. But that is the ugly nature of domestic violence. Victimization takes many forms, and fear is always at its heart.
These are often difficult cases to take to trial and difficult cases to win. But domestic violence has to be dealt with and the prosecutor’s office has made it one of its highest priorities. In this instance, the office didn’t act with a heavy hand as much as it did with a very heavy heart.
Dave Koga is executive assistant for communications in the city Prosecutor’s Office.