Cover Story: Dealing with domestic violence - | WBTV Charlotte

Cover Story: Dealing with domestic violence

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -  A quadruple murder suicide in Gaston county.  The lone survivor remains in serious condition.  Destiny Minter is still on a respirator.

She was shot in the head but somehow survived.  Her father, Austen Minter pulled the trigger.

He killed his pregnant girlfriend Tracy Hedgepath and their other two children before turning the gun on himself.

Little Destiny's chilling words: "Daddy did it." 

Family members say Minter was a monster - a violent criminal.  The criminal justice system had a file on him.  But four people are dead. And a lot of people say a broken system is to blame.

The writing wasn't just on the wall. The writing is in a court document. Quote: "Austen Minter has threatened to kill me."  That from Minter's pregnant girlfriend, Tracy Hedgepath.

Court records show Austen Minter had a history of mental illness and there were numerous violent episodes, including death threats.

"Domestic violence is a huge problem in our society."

"It's really important for us as a community to intervene."

Two women, two of many who are on the front lines fighting the war against domestic violence in Mecklenburg county.

Want to know how widespread a problem it is?

Officials say a majority of the inmates in the Mecklenburg jail - like all institutions - are there due to some form of family dysfunction and most of that dysfunction is family violence.

Karen Simon is the director of inmate programs at the Mecklenburg Jail.  She says, "Domestic violence is probably the most dangerous issue that we confront in our community period."

She adds it's domestic violence that's more likely to end up with someone's death than anything else.

"It's a part of our culture. Violence is part of our culture unfortunately," says Cindy Patton managing attorney for Legal Aid of North Carolina. 

Legal Aid is a state-funded program that operates in all 100 counties in the state.  Locally, it handles nearly all the domestic violence cases in Mecklenburg county.

How do cases like Austen Minter's happen?  Court records show he had a history of mental illness and numerous violent episodes involving family members, including death threats.

Why wasn't he stopped?

Theories abound.  You can't lock up everybody with a mental health problem - it's a matter of resources.  You also can't predict human behavior.  And neither is the court system designed to jail for a long period of time every defendant who's ever assaulted someone.

It can leave advocates frustrated.

"You just have to take the steps that you can within the confines of the system. It is such a huge problem. I don't think it's anything that's going to be eradicated overnight," says Patton.  She adds it requires more education.

Gains are being made and some of that work is going on behind bars.

Mecklenburg county is unique in the country in that every inmate in jail gets domestic violence counseling.  For women, who are often victims, they receive training in how to recognize an abusive relationship.  And for men, they get training in anger management among other things.

Karen Simon, director of inmate programs, says they're hoping it can be passed down.  "There's nothing more important for us as a community to do than protect our children. And it really is.. domestic violence in more significant than partner violence.. is children whether that child is actually abused by the adult or whether they see their mother being abused over time."

There's a batterers intervention program called NOVA that's often ordered by the court as part of a defendant's sentencing.  Many times an offender will not attend all the training sessions upon the release from jail or prison.

Mecklenburg jail is looking at introducing the program to inmates while they're incarcerated as a way to deal with the violence.

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