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Prosecutor part of breaking the cycle of domestic violence

10/17/16

Watching a domestic violence victim recant a story, or swear that it wasn't the abuser's fault, is nothing new to Numa V. Metoyer III and those who work with the prosecutor.

It happens often, and working to overcome that takes a lot of work and patience. But Metoyer, the sole prosecutor handling domestic violence cases in Rapides Parish, believes his goal is to break the cycle of violence.

To do that, he says he must be fair to both the victims and defendants, know when to get the parties help and know when to prosecute.

"Ultimately, my job is not to put people in jail," he said. "My job is to stop the cycle of violence."

Domestic violence cases are different from most others. Many defendants receive probation, and there's a lot of counseling and follow-up care. The cases also differ because many victims don't gain the public's sympathies easily.

"I have a victim, typically, who is going to be reluctant because she loves the defendant. And people don't understand that," Metoyer said. "A lot of this is about healing families and keeping them together. But sometimes it's also about prosecuting cases, and that's part of what we do as well."

In his job, Metoyer's paramount duty is to ensure the safety of victims. Following that, Louisiana law allows him leeway on how to approach cases. Even if a victim wants to recant her story, or to have charges dropped, he doesn't have to agree.

Sometimes, a case will be dropped for a variety of reasons — the arrest wasn't solid, witnesses may not be believable, evidence may be problematic or any number of other reasons. Other times, an offender is so violent that the only way to ensure the victim's safety is to prosecute.

Metoyer prosecuted such a case in January, winning an attempted second-degree murder conviction against a Pollock man. The man controlled his wife through cycles of violence and affability, he told jurors, yet he tried to kill her when the wife left him for good.

"Domestic violence is always about power and control," he said during the trial.

Once victims are safe, Metoyer said his office's objectives are to treat defendants fairly and to make sure his office operates ethically.

As long as those goals are met, he said there are myriad options aside from prosecution that can be harnessed to resolve cases. Some cases go to pretrial intervention, while some are delayed. Others get probation.

Counseling is part of all those options. A lot of defendants see counselor George Allen III in Alexandria, whom Metoyer said has a "dynamite program." Defendants who are veterans have another program available because, in addition to anger management issues, they may be facing post-traumatic stress disorder issues.

Metoyer said those who successfully complete Allen's program rarely offend again. Those who do often are the ones who didn't complete counseling.

"It's a little bit like being an addict or an alcoholic," he said. "The counseling only works for those who want to get better and go to the counseling and take it seriously."

Getting to that point, however, can be vexing. Often, victims are angry at the system and do not want to cooperate. They also want to hear that the system is not trying to rip apart their families.

"What we're working towards is to make sure that we can get the defendant and the victim into the proper counseling they need because there's something unhealthy about the relationship, and it's gotten to a point on both ends (that) there's a need for professional care," he said.

Metoyer often uses an analogy of a child abuse victim to help explain the thought process of a victim: "Little Billy" has had his arm broken by his father, but won't tell anyone what happened because he loves his father and wants to protect his father from getting into trouble. Even though he loves his dad, he still could be afraid of him and also feels responsible if the family breaks apart.

"Now, we can understand when Little Billy goes through that, but people don't understand when we have a woman who goes through that, or a man who's been a victim of domestic violence, but it's largely the same feeling," he said. "It's largely the same types of emotions that we're dealing with."

Louisiana has consistently ranked high in the numbers of women killed by men — the state ranked second in the country in the most recent study — but parish-by-parish numbers of domestic violence cases handled by district attorney's offices are not readily kept.

At a 2015 forum, Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle III remembered taking office and being told that his parish has the highest rate in the state. Then, at a training seminar, he heard one fellow DA claim that his parish had no domestic violence cases.

"What it was, was they just didn't prosecute it," said Riddle at the forum. He said Avoyelles "vigorously" prosecutes domestic violence cases, estimating then that about 75 percent of victims end up recanting.

Metoyer is hopeful that the new Family Justice Center and work being done in the community to combat domestic violence can make a dent in the problem.

"If we're going to stop the violence, we have to be able to look past the policy of silence that victims and perpetrators put between themselves, and we have to be able to teach people to see beyond just the smoke and mirrors that come up."

How to report domestic violence:

Domestic violence can be reported by the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence hotline at 1-888-411-1333 or the national hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Child abuse and neglect can be reported to the state Department of Child and Family Services at 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437).