Seminole County sheriff's deputies Marvin Williams and Robbie Chase Whitebird lost their lives two years ago on the type of call that makes law enforcement officers extremely wary — domestic abuse.
Patsie Hobert had called 911 asking for help in getting her son, Ezekiel Hobert, 26, out of her house in Seminole. He already was facing a charge of trying to strangle her. Hobert is accused of opening fire at the deputies with a rifle when they went to his mother's door.
Williams, 43, was shot outside the residence, and Whitebird, 23, died inside the home.
Responding to abuse
State officials say domestic violence cases are some of the most difficult situations to deal with for both victims and law enforcement. October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month.
“Domestic violence calls are one of the more unpredictable and dangerous calls that an officer will respond to,” said Oklahoma City police Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow. “You usually have people who are very upset, tempers are flared and it's an unpredictable situation.”
“You don't know when you're walking into it if it's a verbal argument or something that has escalated into some type of physical altercation.”
Wardlow said officers in the domestic violence unit worked 6,492 cases in 2010. The numbers are on track to reach the same level this year.
Upholding the law
Oklahoma statutes include misdemeanor and felony charges for domestic abuse, but it's up to officials to decide the victim in a relationship and the appropriate punishment.
Defense attorney Dustin Phillips said the Oklahoma Legislature decided to make domestic violence by strangulation a felony in July 2005.
When an offender hits a spouse, Phillips said it is considered a misdemeanor if the offender has no prior convictions of abuse.
He said a domestic violence felony can also be filed if the offender causes great bodily injury, meaning any type of bone fracture, disfigurement, impairment of a body part or substantial risk of death.
Phillips said domestic violence is prevalent.
“And there's usually a lot more in the lower income,” he said. “I've actually had cases where the man was accused of hitting the woman, and a year later I've defended the woman accused of hitting the same man.”
Phillips said the hard part about defending domestic abuse offenders is that he sees victims return to the people who hit them.
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Domestic Violence defined in Oklahoma statute.
Domestic Abuse is an assault and battery against a current or former spouse, a present spouse of a former spouse, a former spouse of a present spouse, parents, a foster parent, a child, a person otherwise related by blood or marriage, a person with whom the defendant is or was in a dating relationship as defined by Section 60.1 of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes, an individual with whom the defendant has had a child, a person who formerly lived in the same household as the defendant, or a person living in the same household as the defendant.
Felony, misdemeanor sentences
Felony domestic assault and battery carries a sentence of up to 4 years in prison
Misdemeanor domestic assault and battery carries a sentence of up to 1 year in the county jail and/or a fine up to $1,000
Felony domestic assault and battery by strangulation carries a sentence of 1-3 years in prison and/or a fine up to $3,000 if the person has no prior convictions. If they have a prior conviction for felony domestic abuse, they could serve 3-10 years in prison and/or pay a fine up to $20,000.
* Any conviction for domestic abuse requires the completion of a 52-week domestic violence program. The courts are required to set a review date of no more than 120 days out to review whether the defendant is making satisfactory progress in their domestic violence classes.
* A person convicted of either felony or misdemeanor domestic abuse is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Domestic violence cases, deaths by county in 2010
Oklahoma County — 5,608 cases, deaths: 21
Tulsa County — 5,839 cases, deaths: 12
Comanche County — 1,511 cases, deaths: 7
Muskogee County — 775 cases, deaths: 5
Canadian County — 456 cases, deaths: 0
Lincoln County — 158 cases, deaths: 0
Logan County — 108 cases, deaths: 1
Kingfisher County — 18 cases, deaths: 0