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Fox 25: Law enforcement using gun charges to lock up domestic violence offenders

By Connor Hansen
Published: November 14, 2019

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It’s not a crime that’s talked about often, but some experts estimate one in six Oklahoma City homes is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence.

Police work through thousands of cases each year.

Now police, prosecutors, federal agents and the group Palomar are teaming up to hold some of the most violent offenders accountable.

When that task force started last year, it noticed many of the cases involved firearms.

Under federal law, it’s a felony to have a firearm if you have a victim protection order against you or a previous domestic assault on your record.

The group found that was an effective way to prosecute dozens of offenders.

At the end of October, police announced a sweep of arrests.

There were almost 30 men accused of domestic violence crimes.

Investigating those cases are a group of detectives, federal agents and prosecutors all working under the same roof.

They’re based out of Palomar, a group dedicated to providing resources to victims of domestic assault and other crimes.

“Domestic violence is a problem everywhere in the country,” said Lt. Dustin Motley with the Oklahoma City Police Department. “It’s one crime that has no boundaries. There is no socio-economic boundary, no racial boundary. It’s a problem that effects every aspect of our communities.”

Motley has been working on domestic violence cases for most of his career.

The unit he supervises inside Palomar is one of the department’s biggest, receiving about 5,500 cases a year.

OKCPD has been with Palomar since it started in 2017.

Beginning last year, the task force added federal agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office looking at about 300 cases a month.

“One of ATF’s responsibilities is to enforce the federal firearms laws,” said Brad Beyersdorf, from the ATF’s Oklahoma City field office. “We know that domestic violence situations are extremely violent and dangerous.”

According to the state attorney general’s office, out of 82 victims killed as a result of domestic violence in 2017, more than half were killed with guns.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma says it realized federal laws were stronger when it comes to offenders carrying firearms.

Someone who is caught with a gun and has a protective order against them, or a previous domestic violence misdemeanor can face 10 years in federal prison.

“We know that as domestic violence escalates typically an individual, an abuser will bring a firearm into the violence,” said Lori Hines, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “When that happens, the chances go up for the victim being killed by a firearm.”

So far, Lori Hines says the U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted 84 people for those crimes.

Early statistics show, on average, those people spent more than 80 months in prison.

Advocates at Palomar say that time with those offenders off the street is crucial for victims to come in and use their services.

“Just this weekend, we received a message from a survivor who said thank you for arresting my offender, that she can sleep safer at night,” said Kim Garrett, Palomar’s CEO.

The task force says another advantage of arresting offenders for firearms charges is that many times their victims don’t have to testify in court.

Prosecutors say testifying can be traumatic, and many cases are dropped because victims don’t want to.

Palomar is growing rapidly and says there’s still work to be done.

If MAPS 4 is passed, it will get $38 million to expand.