‘We need to do better’: Domestic violence advocates tired of seeing suspects walk out of jail

SPOKANE, Wash. — Some domestic violence suspects are being booked into jail and then released. It’s a situation Spokane Police and other advocates are seeing more often than they’d like.

It’s a cycle advocates keep seeing.

“When people are booked into jail and released, and booked in and released over and over, it doesn’t send a message of holding people accountable,” said Annie Murphey, with the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition. “We hear that from defendants in our own community and multiple stories of people saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t think the court’s held me accountable.’ So, we need to do better.”

Holding people accountable is what the court system is supposed to do.

Police say it makes their jobs harder when domestic violence suspects are easily able to walk out of jail.

“Our concern is because of the cycle of violence, and whats going on with families and the future threat to the victim, that the victims aren’t being protected properly when the defendants are getting out without any accountability,” said Sgt. Jordan Ferguson, with the domestic violence unit of Spokane Police.

RELATED: Domestic violence coalition working to make it harder for suspects to have guns

In recent weeks, 4 News Now has been told that some domestic violence suspects were released on their own recognizance, never having to post bond.

One man even had his bond reduced significantly, even though he was a repeat offender.

4 News Now reached out to one judge to see why this does keep happening, but we have not received a response yet.

Sgt. Ferguson said it all happens more often on weekends. On one weekend, seven suspected walked out with a judge not setting any bond.

“Because of the time constraints in how long they can be held before they see a judge, a judge will review the paperwork over the weekend and they might not even be appearing in front of the judge,” Ferguson said.

When considering bond, judges take a look at the suspect’s criminal history and danger to the community.

When it all happens over the weekend, it concerns the police department. That’s because offenders only read the terms of their release from jail, it’s not explained to them, Ferguson said.

“We would much rather see them held until that first appearance in the courtroom or when we have the opportunity to talk to them, explain what’s going on because we just want this behavior to stop,” Ferguson said.

It’s difficult even in a first appearance, too, because there are a list of suspects seeing the judge. At that point, everyone else is too busy to explain the terms of the suspect’s release, but the domestic violence unit  says they take time to explain what an order means.

“Making sure they don’t get into anymore trouble,” Ferguson said.

Both Ferguson and Murphey say domestic violence suspects are treated more like property criminals than violent offenders.

“In these specific cases it is concerning because domestic violence is not only a victim safety issue, it’s a law enforcement safety issue and ultimately it’s a public safety issue,” Murphey said.

Spokane Police Department, YWCA, Lutheran Community Services and the Spokane Regional Domestic Violence Coalition are all working to see what they can do to make it harder for suspects to walk out of jail.

“One thing that we’ve discussed doing is a safety audit of what happens at point-of-entry into the court system and carrying through prosecution to really drill down what is this process and what’s happening,” Murphey said.

Getting everyone to work together, including the courts, is key.

“We have a lot of people trying to do some good work in this town, if we can get everyone on the same page, it’ll make a difference,” Ferguson said.

For anyone suffering through domestic violence, or wants to provide help to others who are, there are several resources available:

  • YWCA: (509) 326-1190
  • Lutheran Community Services: (509) 624-7273
  • Safe Passage: (208) 664-9303