All the Devils and Details behind this Sad Courtroom Drama
A few weeks ago, a story went viral about how a dispassionate, mean even, judge sentenced a domestic violence victim to three days in jail for failing to appear in her court to testify against her abuser. The social media mob ruthlessly condemned the judge for this unfortunate display of cruelty. The major media picked up the story, and even George Stephanopoulos and Nancy Grace piled on. And although I condemned her too, the stronger the backlash erupted, the more I wondered what happened to, you know, the guy at the root of the problem?
This guy, Myles.
Here he is with his one-year-old child mentioned by the victim in the court room video. Looks like this photo was uploaded to his Facebook page the same week the victim was served with a subpoena to come to court. He appears smug to me, but I come at this with a heavy bias.
Now, I’ve blurred out the innocent child’s face here. However, this innocent child was privy to seeing his dad take a knife from the kitchen and start stabbing the stairs around his mom’s feet (allegedly, of course). And, chances are he saw his dad place his hands around his mom’s neck and choke her too, and then push her head into the microwave. (Allegedly.) There was enough probable cause for the arresting officer to contact child protective services regarding the incident, and go looking for Brennan. When the officer eventually found Brennan, he arrested him on a charge of aggravated battery and aggravated assault — domestic violence.
And this isn’t Myles’ first rodeo. He has a series of charges against him, including at least one other charge of domestic violence with a different woman in another county, and another one in the same county. He’s what we call a repeat offender. And he’s a dangerous one, too: Strangulation is one of the leading lethality indicators for severe violence, including homicide.
So where am I going with this?
This story happened in my backyard. The young woman featured in this video lives a few miles from me, in the town where I live. I sent her flowers and asked her to talk to me about this case. She declined, but thanked me for the flowers. I explained in a handwritten note that I started a company to help end the kind of lives she and I have had to lead. My heart broke for her when I saw that video. I even donated to her crowdfunding page. I know the courage it takes to leave your abuser, try to get help from the system, be afraid for your life, be afraid for your child, and how it feels to simply want to give up. I’m aware she may be considering going back to him. It happens. I get it.
“Tie a toe tag on her”
Regardless of my sympathy for the victim, and my disappointment in the system failing — yet again, I had to ask myself, “What could have been done differently?” This judge was livid because she could not serve justice, and I’m sure the State Attorney’s Office was frustrated too. Even if they felt the judge could have handled this case differently, in the end, good ole’ Myles simply slithered out of the criminal justice system relatively unscathed. The prosecution had already knocked the case down from a felony charge to misdemeanor battery — domestic violence, which was a stronger charge than the plea of simple battery Brennan eventually took after the victim wouldn’t testify. He was sentenced to sixteen days and left the jail with time-served. Poof. Gone.
I was talking about this case with an old friend of mine who is an attorney here in Florida. She’s prosecuted thousands of cases over the course of her long career. She told me she spends 90 percent of her time trying to convince people to show up in court. On this particular case? She was unsympathetic. She said she sees it every day. She told me she tries hard to be nice while trying to convince domestic violence victims to come to court , but she eventually says something like,
“Good. Don’t call the police. You’re better off dead to me when he kills you. Then, I can use you as evidence against him.”
I’m paraphrasing, and she didn’t want to go on the record with this, but this is how she feels. Victims seldom testify against their abusers, yet the court exists to provide protections for the defendant. Not the state. It’s a rotten conundrum.
If the victim doesn’t testify, how do we hold offenders accountable in the criminal justice system?
There are a lot of ways we, as a society, can hold offenders accountable. But we have a long way to go in the criminal justice system. This case was documented well. The arresting officer had photos of the victim’s neck; he completed all the domestic violence paperwork at the scene, yet the prosecution still couldn’t make the case beyond a reasonable doubt without her testimony.
At Big Mountain Data, we are constantly on the lookout for cities and towns in the U.S. where communities are winning the fight against intimate partner violence. One of our prized case studies is High Point, North Carolina. We interviewed the assistant district attorney in High Point, Walt Jones, about this case to see how his office would have handled things differently. It’s not clear that High Point would have been able to land a more serious conviction on Myles Brennan without her testimony, but the prosecutor’s sensitivity and understanding of the dynamics of intimate partner violence offers a good role model for everyone in the criminal justice system who works these cases.
Bottom line: The offender is the problem in intimate partner violence. How about some moral outrage over the fact that another one got away? What is the mathematical probability that he will offend again? High. Double digits. He’ll keep reoffending until he has a reason to stop. This high profile media incident exemplifies and perpetuates every facet of a broken system. Sad doesn’t go far enough to describe it.