Legal loophole in Ohio puts domestic violence victims in danger

Published: May. 2, 2022 at 8:05 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A 19 News investigation found legal loopholes are putting domestic violence victims in extreme danger.

Leslie Terry is a domestic violence survivor, and she said the system failed her.

“All out of nowhere, the yelling, cursing, calling me out my name,” Terry recalled. “I mean, that all started and that’s when I started getting afraid.”

The Cleveland mother told 19 News she was silent for years. She kept the pain bottled up. Her former boyfriend beat her over and over again, left bruises on her body, and even put her in the emergency room more than once.

She first met him in 2002 and it wasn’t until nearly a decade later that she finally found the strength to walk away. There were times she thought she wouldn’t survive.

“Oh, yeah, I was afraid it was twice, twice,” Terry said. “I was choked so bad, where I lost conscience. I was choked, almost to death.”

Terry says over that decade dozens of people tried to help her.

“My job even tried to get me help because we have an employee assistance program,” Terry explained. “They tried to give me shelter. I didn’t take it, didn’t want it.”

Terry says after years of emotional and physical abuse she was so battered she was afraid to even press charges against her abuser.

“I don’t think they do enough to help us women that’s in this situation and I believe they look at it too, ‘Oh, she’s gonna go back. She’s gonna go back.’ Some laws need to change,” Terry said. “Because no way I had so many police calls and so many ambulances to every address - police calls, police calls, police calls, and they should have seen you know, it repeats, we out at this address again, we out to this address. Something’s not right.”

Terry feels like since the police had the evidence, they should have pressed charges against her abuser anyway.

“I felt that they failed me,” admitted Terry. “I mean, I went to the police headquarters one time they took a picture of my whole body. They took a picture of my whole body. I was bruised, I was black, I was blue scratches, scraped up. But they had the photos, they had the photos. They saw I was scared, and I didn’t press charges.”

Finally, one day, something changed.

“I just woke up one morning and I was like you know this is not working. It’s not worth my life.”

Terry channeled her pain into a book to help other women who are going through the same thing. But she was one of the lucky ones. In the past two years, as we discovered, the number of people murdered in domestic violence-related incidents in Ohio increased by 62%.

“Like I used to get beat in my head all the time,” Terry said. “And it takes one blow to the head that can kill her. There’s too many females out here that’s being killed because of their boyfriends.”

But based on past cases in Ohio, even if a domestic violence victim files a protection order against their abuser – that doesn’t guarantee their safety.

James Kimbrough was recently charged with murdering his ex-girlfriend Milenna Lopez in Sheffield Village.

“Domestic violence is real, you know, a lot of people they don’t like to talk about it, but it’s real,” said Lopez’s mother, Jessica Mojica. “We’re living it you know.”

Court records show Kimbrough’s ex-girlfriend had filed nearly a dozen orders of protection against him. In four years, records show at least eight separate domestic violence cases, five of them related to violating a protection order. The most recent one was filed just a couple of months before Lopez was shot and killed.

More than three years ago Shaker Heights mother and teacher Aisha Fraser was brutally murdered by her ex-husband.

“I helped to raise her,” said George Fraser. “She was born the year I got married, 45 years ago.”

Aisha was George Fraser’s niece.

“When she was murdered it was like someone murdering my daughter,” Fraser said.

For nearly two years, lawmakers have been working on Aisha’s Law. The bill was passed by the house last fall. Now, all it needs is to be approved by the senate.

Representative Janine Boyd has been pushing for the state to put victims first. She says if this law had been in place, then, Fraser might still be here.

“I cannot imagine if the lethality screening tool that had been administered to her, if it could have been administered to her had been considered evidence, the kinds of responses she would have given to those questions we know would have elevated law enforcements concern, the court’s concern,” Boyd said.

As we discovered, Aisha’s Law would do several things including requiring police to screen victims of domestic violence using something called an evidence-based lethality assessment screening tool.

“The other thing that the bill does is it creates a new protection order and emergency protection order that can be implemented anytime a day, anytime or night,” explained Boyd. “You know, on holidays, on weekends, we didn’t have that access before.”

The statistics are scary. 131 people died in Ohio from domestic violence from July 2020 to June 2021. At least 20 attackers had previously been charged with or convicted of domestic violence before the murder.

What the law would not include is -- convicted domestic violence abusers would still be allowed to keep their guns.

“The number of firearms they found, and they all meant that he was likely going to hurt more than her at some point,” Boyd said.

After pleading guilty in 2015 to domestic violence for a 2014 assault on Fraser, former judge Lance Mason, her ex-husband, still owned a number of firearms.

19 News has learned that domestic violence murders in Ohio increased by more than 60% between 2020 and 2021. In nearly 90% of those murders, guns were used.

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