Barbara Burk has spent the past two years piecing together the last moments of her daughter’s life.
She knows that two men, a cellular store employee and a UPS worker, both tried to help her daughter as she fought for her life.
And she knows what one of the men saw as life left her daughter’s body.
“He said she had the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen, and they were staring at the heavens,” said Burk, who is the Comanche County treasurer.
But a lot of Burk’s questions are unanswered.
Her daughter, Barbara Diane Dye, 40, was killed July 19, 2010. Her husband dragged her across the Bank of the Wichitas parking lot in Elgin in broad daylight and shot her and then himself.
Dye had taken several steps in attempts to ensure her safety. One of those was to file a protective order, which her husband violated within minutes of being served.
Burk and other domestic violence advocates are calling on the Oklahoma Legislature to make protective orders worth more than the paper they’re printed on.
In a nationwide study, Oklahoma ranked highest in the percentage of women who reported to have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes. The state ranked second highest among men, according to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The day Dye was killed, she became a part of several startling statistics.
She is one of the 1,059 men, women and children who were killed between 1998 and 2010 in a domestic violence homicide in Oklahoma, according to the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board.
A protective order was in place in 19 percent of the domestic violence homicides reviewed by the fatality review board. In more than 66 percent of the cases where a protective order was active, the defendant had violated the protective order before the homicide, according to board data.
Burk is tired of hearing that a protective order won’t stop a bullet.
“One of the most frustrating things I ran into in my questioning was — how many times was I told that, ‘It’s just a protective order,’ and ‘Do you know how many bogus protective orders we have filed in a day?’ and ‘Do you know how many bogus protective orders we run on as a cop?’” Burk said.
“ ... They [said] ‘Nine out of 10 of them are bogus claims.’ And I said, ‘But you know what? That one is not, and you need to treat all 10 of them just like that one, like it could be a murder suicide.’”
A protective order is an order of the court on behalf of a person who alleges domestic violence. The order might require the abuser to move out of a home that is shared or to stop hurting, threatening, stalking or harassing the victim, according to the Oklahoma Domestic Violence Help website.
Because a protective order is filed at a county courthouse, the sheriff’s department of that county usually is responsible for serving the order.
Pottawatomie County Sheriff Michael Booth has taken steps to ensure that his deputies do not grow complacent with domestic violence.
Deputies responding to domestic violence calls take a list of questions called a threat assessment that they use to better understand the threat of violence the victim is under.
Questions include, “Does he threaten to kill you?” and “Has he ever used a weapon against you or threatened you with a lethal weapon?”
Burk said no one in the legal system was asking her daughter questions like that. If they had, many of the answers would have been “Yes.”
In the past 10 years, Oklahoma ranked in the top 20 among states for the number of women per capita murdered by men and currently is No. 11, according to the Violence Policy Center.
A few months before she died, Dye told her mother she had fallen asleep and woke up with a gun at her forehead. Burk said:
“And he looked at her, she said, and he said, ‘You know I’m going to kill you.’ And she said, ‘Ray, don’t say stuff like that,’ and said he just held it there for just a minute. And he just walked away, and he said, ‘No, not today.’”
Sheriff Booth wants to see law enforcement use a ranking system when responding to domestic violence calls. Under the system, a police dispatcher would try to get information from the call that would tell the officer whether the call was a domestic violence No. 1, No 2 or No. 3.
This would give a deputy some context of what he or she was walking into when responding to a domestic violence situation, which can be unpredictable and complex.
Booth and his deputies use evidence-based investigation practices to gather as much information as possible about a domestic violence situation. They get the 911 call. They record what the victim says. And when they arrive at the scene, they try to find out who the predominant aggressor is without making assumptions based on gender or size of the person.
“My job is to go answer the calls and help that victim, whenever they need a badge and a gun to come and help them,” Booth said.
When a person files a protective order, someone should be there to help guide that person through his or her next steps and to help the person understand the severity of the situation, Booth said.
“We need to educate that person more as to what to do, when to do it, and how to do it so they make themselves safe,” Booth said.
Burk remembers how scared her daughter was the day she filed a protective order against her husband.
Every time the door to the court clerk’s office opened, Dye feared it would be someone she knew or someone who would mention to her husband she was at the courthouse.
And there were things that she didn’t mention in the protective order that she should have been better informed about, Burk said.
“She really wasn’t advised as to what her rights were or what she could request in that protective order,” Burk said. “She didn’t know. She was just filling out the paperwork.”
It’s a common issue for domestic violence victims filing for a protective order, said Rebecca Schneider, who has been representing them for more than 25 years pro bono.
The Oklahoma City family law attorney said there are not enough attorneys who are well-versed in victim protection laws. Generally, when someone is served with a protective order, that person will hire a criminal law attorney. But usually, the petitioner doesn’t have a lawyer, which puts that person at a disadvantage, Schneider said.
Many family law attorneys do not screen their clients for domestic violence when they interview them, she said.
That means a significant amount of domestic violence in divorces goes unnoticed. Some legal experts estimate that at least one in four divorces involve some form of domestic violence.
“Our laws would be so much more effective if every person who practiced family law would screen their clients for domestic violence before they filed a petition,” Schneider said.
It can be a frustrating area of law when you see someone who is abused go back to the abuser, but it’s important to keep in mind why that person is going back, Schneider said.
“The majority of them go back to the perpetrator, and it’s because the perpetrator has broken down their (the victim’s) social network of family and friends,” she said. “They’ve alienated them from everyone they know, everyone they’re close to.”
Since Dye’s death, Burk has lobbied the Legislature to pass Senate Bill 447. The bill would shorten the length of time between when a victim files an emergency protective order and when the petition for a long-term protective order is granted.
Right now, the law gives law enforcement 20 days to find the perpetrator and serve him or her with the order and for the court to schedule a full hearing. SB 447 would shorten that to 14 days.
Dye was dead 11 days after she filed a protective order against her husband. Burk doesn’t know if a shorter time period would have saved her daughter, but she can’t simply sit in her office and wonder.
“If our loss can help save other people’s daughters, mothers, sisters, I’m not going to say it’s worth it, what we went through, but it will definitely make it easier to accept,” Burk said. “I don’t want her death to be just another number, just another statistic on the books. Something good has to come out of this, something positive has to come out of it. That’s what I’m fighting for.”