ELYRIA — Community members were encouraged to raise awareness about domestic violence during a town hall held by Genesis House Friday.
Virginia Beckman, executive director of Genesis House, detailed how the justice system can fail victims of domestic violence, from GPS monitors to light sentencing.
She highlighted the case of Brian Fazio, 40, who reportedly stabbed his ex-wife in April in the presence of two of their children.
That was not Fazio’s first crime. His first crime as an adult happened months after he turned 18.
From there on, he had multiple crimes where his jail time was often traded in for conditions of good behavior or probation.
He had racked up everything from domestic violence, aggravated burglary, obstructing official business, felonious assault and other charges just in Lorain County’s courts and the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
Fazio was charged with domestic violence in October. He then was charged again in March for violating his temporary protection order. He would go on to violate it two more times before the stabbing in April.
Fazio is being held in Lorain County Jail on a $2.3 million bail.
Beckman said there were issues where his name wasn't run through the system before being charged with a misdemeanor when it should have been a felony or a domestic violence case that she said probably wasn't put into the system at all.
Beckman said she hopes this stops the narrative that blames victims for not following through or that they don’t leave.
“The truth is, victims are reaching out for our help over and over and over again,” she said. “And it’s not OK for those that have all the power to do things to protect victims, but they’re not doing it. And they’re holding up their hands saying ‘It’s these darn victims, and if they would just prosecute and help us.’ We need to stop it.”
She said there are no protective measures for victims through the justice system. Some GPS ankle monitors do not send out an alert when the abuser goes where he’s not supposed to. Others will notify, but only through email to the probation office, which is closed after hours.
After a domestic violence case through Wellington involved a disabled GPS monitor, Beckman said she had extensive conversations with Wellington police about them.
However, she said it’s Lorain County’s judges who need to show up at the meetings. Genesis House also offers a men’s anti-violence program, a 26-week curriculum that focuses on accountability and ideology of the abuser.
But Beckman said only Lorain Municipal Court refers to the program, but the other courts stick to a half-hour online course. Oftentimes, Beckman said the abuser forces his victim to take the class.
Despite conversations with judges in the county, Beckman said they haven’t been able to get the judges to refer to their program.
Wellington Police Chief Tim Barfield said his experiences working more than 30 years in Cuyahoga County showed him domestic violence issues are not just a Lorain County problem. He said domestic violence is not taken seriously, and judges and prosecutors can do more damage than the police.
“They aren’t held accountable at all,” Barfield said. “That’s certainly something we felt in Wellington. I think it’s such a serious problem.”
In Wellington, every domestic violence call must be reviewed by the prosecutor and they file an assessment. To his surprise, Barfield said Wellington is one of only two police departments in the county that does that.
He said it’s his hope that the judges look at the assessment and see the progressive nature domestic violence offenses can have. Lorain County judges are elected, and Barfield said those elections matter.
Elyria police Lt. Deena Baker said she’s felt some of the same frustration. As she is in charge of training officers, Baker said it’s important she teaches young officers how to respond to domestic violence calls.
She said she often tells them to act like there is no victim at all and focus on prosecuting the abuser. Baker said she also tells young officers to push for a sentence to not be reduced if a prosecutor asks about it.
Lorain County Domestic Relations Court Judge Sherry Glass agreed. She said it's important for prosecutors to go ahead without the victim, and she said she thinks they’d see better results in court.
Beckman encouraged attendees to reach out to local judges and probation offices to try and get a change. She also encouraged them to use their own sphere of influence to change the domestic violence victim-blaming narrative.
“We all have a sphere of influence,” Beckman said. “We all are involved in groups; we all have a role where we work. We all have a sphere of influence. … Changing the narrative is going to change the culture.”
Contact Laina Yost at (440) 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.