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Richland County prosecutor commits to sweeping reforms after Mansfield domestic violence murder

Posted: 7:56 AM, Dec 22, 2017
Updated: 2017-12-22 23:34:14Z

In the wake of an exclusive News 5 On Your Side investigation into a March 8 domestic violence murder in Mansfield , the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office said it has implemented sweeping reforms to address deadly deficiencies we uncovered about how officials handle domestic violence cases.

Watch our 30-minute investigative special here.

This commitment to reform comes after a News 5 investigation uncovered critical missteps by police, prosecutors, sheriff’s deputies and court officials – failures that ultimately set the stage for Dakota Steagall, 20, to shoot and kill Kaitlyn Carroll Peak, 22, and then turn the gun on himself.

Richland County Prosecutor Gary Bishop is promising “to send the message that domestic violence is a serious crime that requires a unique response.” Among key reforms aimed at protecting domestic violence victims:

  • Victim interviews within 24 hours
  • Evidence driving prosecutions to protect against intimidation
  • Increasing criminal trials of abusers
  • Avoiding plea bargains 

A 30-minute special report by News 5 entitled “Who Killed Kaitlyn?” airs tonight at 5:30 p.m. and examines not only what led up to the tragedy, but also how Dakota left countless clues, red flags and repeated threats that should have led authorities to the crime before it happened.

One of the main changes the Richland County Prosecutor’s Office implemented is a policy where domestic violence victims, and victims of other assault crimes, must be interviewed by the prosecutor’s office within 24 hours following the assault, Bishop said.

Bishop also said the prosecutor’s office has placed more emphasis on evidence-based and “victimless” prosecution.

In addition, the prosecutor’s office has committed to taking domestic violence cases to trial at a higher rate, rather than plea bargain.

News 5 reviewed hundreds of domestic violence cases in both Mansfield Municipal Court and Richland County Court of Common Pleas and found it was common that domestic violence abusers there went unpunished. In Richland County, there were a total of 52 felony cases filed in 2016. Among those, we found:

  • 13 cases received prison time
  • Sentencing ranged from 2.5 years’ probation to 3 years prison
  • 40 percent of cases were dismissed

“…We want to send the message that domestic violence is a serious crime that requires a unique response from service providers, law enforcement and our court system if we are going to stop the violence and keep victims safe in their relationships in a meaningful way,” Bishop said.

You can read the prosecutor’s office full statement below:

We have implemented a policy whereby victims of domestic violence and other personal assault type crimes are to be interviewed by our office within 24 hrs following the assault.  We can then answer their concerns and provide them with information hopefully before they are intimidated or influenced by the offender or others and before they begin to imagine worst case scenarios about their finances, their future with or without the offender, etc.  We have also placed more emphasis on evidence-based prosecution and/or "victimless" prosecution when, for example, the victim recants or becomes uncooperative due to intimidation or pressure exerted by the offender, the offender's family or friends, etc. Finally, we have started to take these cases to trial more often so that juries and the public can see firsthand the dynamics that come into play when someone uses violence against an intimate partner; the police are called, an arrest is made, and the victim as well as the batterer then take a defensive position against prosecution for the violent criminal offense. Rather than plea bargain these cases, we want to send the message that Domestic violence is a serious crime that requires a unique response from service providers, law enforcement and our court system if we are going to stop the violence and keep victims safe in their relationships in a meaningful way.