The story shared by Pine Bluff Police Department Chief Jeff Hubanks on Saturday morning at the Domestic Violence Forum in downtown Pine Bluff was simultaneously sobering and horrifying as well as an absolute synopsis of the mindset of a victim of abuse at the hands of a significant other.
Hubanks recounted the investigation of his first case as a detective with the PBPD in the late 1980s as part of a panel discussion organized by the Delta Omega Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and hosted by the Committee Against Spousal Abuse women’s shelter.
“I remember the date; it was Feb. 3, 1987,” Hubanks said. “A man poured gasoline on his wife, took out a green Bic lighter and lit her up. We could trace her steps inside the house by following the sections of carpet that had melted where her burning feet had made contact.
“She was a pretty woman before this happened,” Hubanks said. “I went to the hospital to take her statement because we didn’t know how long she would survive. When you listen to the tape you can hear this chattering noise. It was her teeth. So much of her skin had burned off that she couldn’t retain heat. She was freezing.”
Then Hubanks delivered the statement that elicited gasps from the audience as well as a few knowing nods of the head.
“The woman said ‘my husband didn’t throw gas on me; it was an accident,’ ” Hubanks said. “The ultimate victim. She was the ultimate victim.”
Hubanks said domestic violence victims have much more access to legal assistance than they did when he became a police officer.
“When I began my career in law enforcement in 1985 the offense of wife battery was delineated,” Hubanks said. “It was an important distinction from simple battery because it let abusive partners know that it was in fact against the law to hit your wife. Now. there is still a lot to be done today but let me assure you, things are 1,000 times better today for victims of domestic abuse than they were back then.”
Hubanks said law enforcement officials have many more tools to assist domestic violence victims today than they did several decades ago.
“No other offense allows an officer to arrest a suspect based on an observation of an injury,” Hubanks said. “We look at it as a situation where we send them to jail and let the court work it out. That way we don’t just wait around and hope things don’t end up in a homicide.”
Hubanks said domestic violence forces law enforcement to be reactive more than proactive.
“Parents have to teach little boys not to be bullies and not to hurt people who are physically weaker than they are,” Hubanks said. “And we need to teach our little girls to be strong and self-sufficient.”
Tangela Smith is a CASA client.
“I first came to know CASA as a volunteer in 2009,” Smith said. “In 2011 I moved to Virginia with my fiance. He was in the Navy and we were living in a two-story house. I felt so blessed; that everything was perfect. Well, I enrolled in beauty school and pretty soon my fiance began asking me why I was spending so much time out with other people. I met a lot of people in school and I am a social person. Well, one day I went to church and when I came home he started giving me the third degree. He started asking me what the sermon was about and telling me that he didn’t think I had actually gone to church. That night I had a bad feeling and decided not to sleep in the same room with him.”
Smith said she soon made the decision to leave her fiance and return to Pine Bluff, where she became a client of CASA.
“I went back to school and I will be graduating from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff,” Smith said to applause from the audience.
CASA Executive Director Karen Palmer spoke about the services provided by the shelter.
“Not every community has the level of support for shelters like ours that exists here in Pine Bluff so we are thankful for that,” Palmer said. “We are open 24 hours a day. seven days a week. We are always available to anyone who needs us. We talk to young girls about the warning signs of domestic violence. We know that one in four women have been or will be a victim of domestic violence.”
Palmer said CASA has a support group for victims of domestic violence every Tuesday at 6 p.m. that is open to the public.
Denice Howard is the supervisor of the Victim Witness Division of the Eleventh Judicial District (West) Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Howard related that Arkansas is number four in the nation in the number of women killed by their male partners.
“This year so far the PBPD has responded to 578 domestic violence calls,” Howard said. “Our division has processed more than 340 orders of protection and has assisted up to 500 victims.”
Judge William Benton is the circuit judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit (West) Third Division.
Benton, like Hubanks, noted how much more supportive society is today of domestic abuse victims than it was when he began his legal career.
“I regularly issue orders of protection for domestic violence victims,” Benton said. “At one time we did not have this legal remedy available. There was only the civil restraining order which required an attorney and the payment of court costs. This was just not possible for many people.”
Benton said orders of protection do not require an attorney to process and do not cost anything to file.
“A court date is set to determine if the order should be made permanent,” Benton said.
The Social Justice and Human Rights Committee of the DOO chapter presented Palmer with a check for $2,000 to go toward the work of the CASA women’s shelter.
Palmer thanked the group for its donation and said anyone who is interested in volunteering with the shelter or providing items such as diapers, baby wipes and food as well as monetary donations should contact her at CASA.