1 in 3 domestic violence abusers in Cuyahoga County rarely spend a day behind bars

Exclusive: News 5 Investigators review 700 cases
Posted at 6:35 PM, Nov 21, 2016
and last updated 2018-11-17 20:33:51-05

An exclusive News 5 Investigation found a vast number of domestic violence abusers rarely spend a day behind bars through the routine practice of plea deals.

The On Your Side Investigative Team reviewed nearly 700 felony domestic violence cases filed in Cuyahoga County in 2015.

We tracked every abuser in every case and found 8 out of 10 repeatedly abused women.

In addition, we found 582 of nearly 700 felony abusers struck plea deals leading to reduced charges, including when guns are involved.

Only 161 abusers actually went to prison, and only 180 spent time in jail.

We also uncovered only 235 abusers, or 1 out of 3, never spent a day behind bars and received only probation. 

In one case, a victim was attacked by an abuser who had already struck twice before but received probation in the first case, and only 30 months in prison for the second case -- despite trying to run one victim off the road and grabbing another by the throat trying to choke her.

Diane Russell, deputy supervisor in Cuyahoga County's Major Trials Unit, said domestic violence cases are difficult to prosecute.

"She wants to believe that he's sorry and it will never happen again," said Russell, describing how many victims fail to prosecute and seek to dismiss charges.

But domestic violence advocates said our findings point to a system that is seriously flawed and placing women at risk.

Linda Johanek, who heads up the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland, said what we uncovered sends a message to abusers.

"If someone abuses their victim and just gets a slap on the hand, they know they can get away with it and they'll do it again," Johanek said.