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Combating domestic violence

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Local law enforcement honored for efforts

By John Barnhart

Bedford Domestic Violence Services recently honored local law enforcement for their efforts to help domestic violence victims.

    This year marked the sixth time the organization has done this, with Virginia’s attorney general on hand to make the presentations. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore started this tradition in 2004 and Attorney General Bob McDonnell continued it. This year, McDonnell is running for governor and, following a longstanding Virginia tradition, resigned at the beginning of the year to focus on his campaign. Bill Mims was chosen by the General Assembly to fill the job until voters elect a new attorney general in November. Mims came to Bedford to present this year’s awards.

    “I know some of you are saying, “Bill who?” Mims commented.

    Mims said that the tradition that a Virginia attorney general resigns early when making a gubernatorial bid began in 1957.

    “Somebody you never heard of becomes attorney general until a new one is elected,” he said.

    Mims said that, on an average day, 130 domestic violence crisis calls are made to law enforcement in Virginia. At any given time, there are 812 adults and children in overnight shelters.

    Among the local officers recognized were Deputy Tommy Witt. Witt is a baliff in Juvenile and Domestic Relations (J&D) Court. Connie St. John said that, when a victim is asking for a protective order to be worked into the court docket, Witt makes sure the judge knows that. He also makes sure that victims are safe in and around the courthouse. Baliffs, St. John said, are good at making sure victims get to their cars safely.

    Officer Randall Fletcher was noted for how he treated a victim while taking her from Bedford Memorial Hospital to the shelter. Fletcher did this in the middle of the night when there was no shelter staff to do it. The victim later stated that she was pleasantly surprised by how well she was treated as she had previously been treated badly by an officer in another area.

    Investigator Josh Hubbard, of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, was honored for how he treated a victim, a young woman who had nothing with her but a baby and a diaper bag, when providing her with transportation. He took extra time with the victim.

    “It was incredible to watch,” said St. John. “He didn’t have to do it. I thought we were all going to cry.”

    Sergeant Butch Dooley, also of the Sheriff’s Office, was also honored for his concern for a victim. Deputy Tom Montgomery was noted for his efforts to help a woman who showed up too late in the day to file for a preliminary protective order at the Court Service Unit.

    Deputy Scott Arney, back in March, noted a case that he thought Bedford Domestic Violence Services should be involved with. He arranged for them to get a copy of the report and offered to go with them and the victim to the magistrate office.

    Officer Neil Baltzelle was noted for how quickly he responded when the shelter staff asked for extra patrol coverage. St. John noted that the staff feels secure when he is patrolling.

     Sergean McAlexander and Officer Joe Dooley, of the Bedford Police Department,  were honored for their follow-up on an incident which, St. John said, affected her entire staff. She said they stayed in touch with staff for a week after and made frequent patrols. Investigator Tim Stanley, also of the Bedford Police Department, was honored for his concern for St. John’s staff and clients after the same incident.

    Special Agent L. Lee Willis was honored as one of the investigators in a marital rape case. It was tried as a jury trial and lasted four days. Willis was at court for every day of the trial, even after he had testified and was free to leave. He encouraged the victim through the court process and after the trial, stated St. John, sought constructive criticism and sought ways to improve the joint effort of investigation and prosecution.

    Corporal David Mays was also honored. Mays is the school resource officer at Staunton River High School (SRHS). The school’s student body raised $700 for Bedford Domestic Violence Services. St. John noted that he goes beyond the duties of a school resource officer to promote both her organization and youth awareness of domestic violence’s impact.

    “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today,” commented Mays, pointing to Zach Divers and Sara Zimmerman.

    The two SRHS seniors, who came to the ceremony, are the president and vice president of the SRHS YOVASO club. Divers is headed to Ferrum College where he will major in criminal justice. Zimmerman will go to Liberty University. She plans to be an elementary school teacher.

    Bedford Domestic Violence Services has a 24-hour hotline at (540) 587-0970. Free services include shelter, court accompaniment for people seeking protective orders and a walk-in counseling center. Last year, the organization responded to 38 referrals by law enforcement and 15 by Adult Protective Service. Workers answered 3,688 hotline calls, counseled 202 people at the walk-in center and provided 323 court accompaniments for protective order requests. The shelter provided 1,262 nights of shelter to 29 families.

    The organization also gets help from the community. Last year, it received $31,505 in cash contributions and in-kind donations valued at $51,868.