Domestic violence activists say they have been assured by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office that hauling domestic violence victims to court in handcuffs has not been, nor will be, a common practice.
Advocates expressed concern earlier this month when they received word that Lohra Miller's office had sought a material witness warrant for the arrest of a domestic violence victim to compel her to testify at a preliminary hearing.
The case of Lonial Milline Jr. raised questions about how the DA's office handles victims. Milline was charged with felony aggravated assault and two misdemeanors after he was involved in an April 12 fight with his girlfriend. Prosecutors said in addition to a prior domestic assault case involving another woman, this was the second domestic violence case which involved the current victim. The latest assault also had children present.
After failing to get the cooperation from the victim to testify, prosecutors obtained the arrest warrant. The woman was arrested and held in the Salt Lake County Jail before being led into the courtroom on July 10 in a jail jumpsuit and chains.
The case raised questions by domestic violence advocates concerned that county prosecutors were going to start arresting victims if they didn't cooperate.
"We certainly do understand that domestic violence victims can find themselves under very difficult circumstances," said DA's office spokeswoman Alicia Cook. Miller's office has a domestic violence team staffed with five attorneys and a licensed clinical social worker to deal with such cases, Cook said.
While they try to work with the needs of victims, Cook said her office also has to balance the interest of the public's safety. In cases where they know a suspect has a history of domestic violence but the victim does not want to testify, prosecutors have to consider the potential for yet more violence if the defendant is not put away. In very rare circumstances where there is a threat of further violence and where the victim's testimony is the only evidence they have, prosecutors will consider seeking a warrant against the victim, Cook said.
"It's not a tool that's used frequently," Cook said, "but there are circumstances where the benefit just outweighs the circumstances."
In Milline's case, Cook said he had a previous conviction for drug possession and arrests for domestic violence. In the first domestic violence case, Cook said the victim refused to cooperate and the charge was dropped. On the second case involving the current victim, again the lack of cooperation led to the case being dismissed. Cook said on the third case, the woman refused to even talk with her office and told prosecutors that even if they sought a warrant against her, she would hide.
"It was apparent to us that he had discovered that if the victim just didn't show up then the case would be dismissed," Cook said.
The news of the case prompted a meeting with advocates and the DA's office. "It did open up a dialogue," Cook said, and gave a chance for her office to explain its policies.
Stewart Ralphs, executive director of Legal Aid Society, which provides legal services for victims of domestic violence, said after the meeting he felt satisfied that Miller's office has a policy that respects victims.Milline is free from custody after posting $15,000 bail and faces sentencing next month.