CLEVELAND - More than 90 percent of female homicide victims are killed by a man they know. It's a cycle that will only continue unless someone steps in. That's the goal of a high-risk team working with law enforcement in Cleveland.
Cleveland police Detective Martina Latessa and Sergeant Shamode Wimberly are part of this effort. Latessa has seen some alarming domestic violence cases. "From threats and stalking to being killed. Beaten with shovels. Surgery. Fractured skulls," she said.
Wimberly said her unit handles over 3,000 cases.
"More of the severe ones are coming from the (High-Risk Team) cases that I work," Latessa said.
Case Western Reserve University is leading the countywide, federally-funded, Cuyahoga County Domestic Violence High-Risk Team. It's where researchers, domestic advocates, and Cleveland police like Wimberly and Latessa come together to help victims and prevent tragedy.
For Latessa, it's personal. She's watched a family member struggle for years.
"At some point, we have to break that cycle," Latessa said.
Officers start by asking victims a series of 11 questions that are optional to answer. The questions determine if a victim is at risk of being killed or seriously hurt by their abuser. Then a detective like Latessa, a prosecutor, and the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center step in to offer help.
"Sometimes it resonates with them when I tell them you are at the highest risk of being killed. We do eye-to-eye contact, and you can see it hit them. They sit back in the chair, or they begin to cry because I don't think anybody has ever told them," Latessa said.
According to the CWRU report, 45 percent of domestic violence victims in two Cleveland districts are at high risk right now.
Of those 45 percent:
88 percent survived a previous strangulation attempt
88 percent had already been threatened with murder
89 percent believed their attacker is capable of murdering them
"They've had comments that said 'I've never received these services before,'" Wimberly said.
Wimberly said they want to expand the program into every district in Cleveland.