CMPD: Domestic violence abusers who strangle victims are "ticking time bombs" in our community

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and domestic violence advocates are sounding an alarm to relatives and friends of victims whose intimate partners strangled them.

They say there's a correlation between men who strangle women and men who commit "other horrifically violent acts."

"This is not a domestic violence problem. This is not an intimate partner behind closed doors problem," said Sgt Craig Varnum. "This is a public health crisis. These folks are ticking time bombs in our community."

Sgt Varnum said the nationally known Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention found that strangulation in domestic violence is a red flag.

"When a man puts his hands around a woman's neck, he's just raised his hands and said I am a killer," Sgt Varnum said the Training Institute wrote. "They are more likely to kill police officers, kill children and to kill their intimate partner. So when you hear the phrase he choked me now we know we're on the edge of a homicide."

Police say most people confuse choking and strangulation.

They say choking is "an individual cause by an internal obstruction of the airway. Strangulation is the manual restricting of the blood or airflow passages in the neck by external pressure."

While people tend to think of death when they hear strangulation, police say strangulation doesn't always end someone's life.

"Nationwide numbers on domestic violence tell us that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence sometime in their lifetime," Sgt Varnum said.  "Of those one in four women, 68% have reported they've been strangled at least one time during the course of those domestic violence relationships."

Police say domestic violence abusers are dangerous individuals.

So far this year, Charlotte has had four homicides and all four are domestic related. One case speaks to investigators' concerns about strangulation.

Case in point: Jonathan Bennett.

On Thursday, Jan. 11, CMPD responded to a call for shots fired on Carlyle Drive. When officers arrived they found Brittany White shot to death.

Investigators later named her child's father, Jonathan Bennett, as a suspect.

Bennett eluded police for hours then later that night showed up at the parking lot at CMPD's Law Enforcement Center and shot at officers, wounding one. Police say Bennett died when officers returned fire.

Sgt Varnum says there was a red flag in Bennett's and White's relationship.

"We know that in a public pleading she filed in April 2017 when applying for a domestic violence protection order against Mr Bennett she stated that he had strangled her," Sgt Varnum said.

"Our problem is we're not getting information early enough, " said Chief Kerr Putney. "When a friend of yours says he put his hand around my throat and you don't say anything about it you're not helping the situation."

Police are asking relatives and friends to speak and help referrals to victims.

"Communicate when we see it, get involved," Chief Putney said. "Holistically support our victims to give them that strength that they need."

In North Carolina, the crime of strangulation is a felony.

Police say in 2016, officers charged 257 people with the crime of strangulation. Seven were convicted.

Sgt Varnum says the vast majority of strangulation cases was reduced to a misdemeanor crime, such as assault on a female or dismissed entirely if victim didn't remain engaged with the prosecution of the case.

Investigators say CMPD will host a four day advance course on strangulation investigations and prosecutions. They say everyone from the medical field to legal will attend the course.

"I think I was blown away by the number of, the percentage," said Dr Maria Pelucio of Carolinas Medical Center Emergency. "I was shocked and I was stunned to know that I did not know this and also don't think we as a medical community appreciated the association... connected that kind of injury. I don't think we asked victims about it."

Dr Pelucio says CMC sees domestic violence cases everyday. Their protocol is to ask victims questions. But she said they didn't know to ask if the victim had been strangled before.

That's changing.

"To really bring it to the medical community, particularly front line physicians, E-R physicians because we will be the ones who will see these victims the most often" she said.

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