KC Prosecutor’s Office uses data to better understand domestic violence cases

Nov 22, 2022, 5:27 PM
King County Courthouse domestic violance...
The King County Courthouse in downtown Seattle. (Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)
(Joe Mabel, Wikimedia Commons)

King County prosecutors filed 629 criminal charges in October, averaging roughly 20-30 cases filed in each of the 21 business days last month.

When looking at last month’s cases, a trend that started when the pandemic began continues to dominate, Casey McNerthey with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said.

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“Unfortunately, domestic violence remains the most common type of crime for King County prosecutors,” McNerthney said, citing that those cases account for nearly 21% of the 629 charges filed in October.

But there was a recent bright spot for prosecutors handling domestic violence cases last week.

“A very successful week in the domestic violence unit in Seattle. We had three cases culminate in findings of guilt by juries,” said Senior Deputy Prosecutor David Martin, who heads up the Domestic Violence Unit at the Prosecutor’s Office.

In one case, a person was convicted on felony harassment charges for threatening to kill the victim with a deadly weapon. The second case involved charges of domestic violence, kidnapping, and felony aggravated assault involving domestic violence. The third case involved multiple violations of a court order for tampering with a witness and burglary.

“This was three separate cases, and the verdicts came back within a day of each other,” Martin said. “I think its a testament to the work of the teams that are operating in the Seattle Domestic Violence Unit, the deputies who were there, the advocates and the paralegals, and also that the court system is back and working at a high capacity across the board.”

Despite those wins, Martin said domestic violence still remains a huge concern in King County.

“There’s still a lot of domestic violence going on in the community,” he said. “Unfortunately, a mixture of homicide, suicide, and corollary domestic violence deaths. This year has exceeded what happened in the first year of the pandemic, which was really a surge of domestic violence.

“So even though the rate of domestic violence appears to have stabilized in felony cases and in some other areas, the rate of violent death is still very high,” Martin continued. “And that’s of deep concern to us that remains an ongoing and serious issue.”

But Martin also stated there is reason to hope that trends turn around.

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“The first hope begins with the way we’re measuring this now,” said Martin. “In the past, there was really just a focus on homicide and that those are the most important cases that we see. And there’s an enormous commitment to doing the best job possible on those types of cases. But what’s also true is that domestic violence has an impact on marriage, in many areas of the community. Measuring each one of those areas is really important and we’re especially committed to that.”

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has partnered with Public Health, Seattle-King County over some of these cases. For this, both parties are planning on using grant money to further research the intersections of domestic violence and how this can affect the overall health of the community, specifically around mental health issues like depression and suicide.

“We received a grant from the Center for Disease Control to study the intersection of domestic violence and suicide in King County, and we’re sharing our data with Public Health,” Martin said. “This will be a multi-year process to connect data to really understand the intersection of domestic violence and suicide.”

The Prosecutor’s Office has also worked alongside the University of Washington, a partnership that extends into the Harborview Injury Prevention Program.

“We’re making those commitments because we want to take a holistic view to these issues, and be a partner with many in the community to make a difference,” Martin explained.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here

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KC Prosecutor’s Office uses data to better understand domestic violence cases