The Detroit News

Wayne officials say virus led to rise in domestic violence-related deaths

- BY GEORGE HUNTER

Detroit — Domestic violencere­lated homicides in Wayne County have skyrockete­d during the coronaviru­s pandemic, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said Thursday during a virtual forum of law enforcemen­t officials and other stakeholde­rs.

Wayne County prosecutor­s usually handle 8 to 10 domestic violence-related homicides annually, but last year there were 24 — “and we’re on track this year to go even higher than that,” Worthy said during the Detroit Board of Police Commission­ers’ “Roundtable on Criminal Homicide and Nonfatal Shootings.”

Multiple topics were covered during the virtual meeting, which lasted almost two hours, including a year-long backlog of court cases because of the pandemic, early jail releases and cash bail reform. The discussion’s central theme was how the COVID emergency has impacted crime and law enforcemen­t.

In addition to Worthy, the panel consisted of Chief Wayne Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny, Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington, Detroit police chief James Craig, Sgt. Kyla Williams of the DPD Domestic Violence Unit, the Rev. Louis Forsythe of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, and Toson Knight, dean of students for Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Moderating the roundtable was Bishop Darryl Harris, cofounder of Total Life Christian Ministries, and faith-based coordinato­r for Operation Ceasefire, a joint DPD-U.S. Attorney’s Office initiative that offers gang members job training and other opportunit­ies.

Worthy said the domestic violence during the pandemic is among the most concerning trends she’s seen.

“Our office usually sees anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 domestic violence cases,” she said. “In 2019, there were 8,810. In 2020, that jumped to over 10,000, and right now, in the first week of March, we’re on track to hit more than that.

“We expected to see higher numbers,” Worthy said. “The victims are forced to stay in the home 24/7 with their abusers. You have children who cannot report abuse in the normal way; they’d normally report it to a school teacher.”

The Wayne County court docket is backed up with more than a year’s worth of cases because of the pandemic, and during the wait, Worthy said 40% of the domestic violence victims in cases being handled by her office have changed their minds and decided not to cooperate with authoritie­s.

Harris said his congregati­on and the police helped out a fellow worshiper at her church who was dealing with domestic violence. He said police from the 9th Precinct responded to his call and arrested the abuser.

“This was a member of our church, and so our church was able to fold around them,” Harris said. “But think about so many others who don’t get that foldaround.”

COVID-related Wayne County Jail inmates releases also were discussed Thursday. Kenny said he, Worthy and representa­tives from the jail released 205 inmates from March 16-Sept. 30, adding: “Only three were returned to the jail because ... they went out and committed other offenses. Those were nonviolent offenses.”

But county records released to The Detroit News show as of September, five of the inmates who’d been released because of COVID had been charged with new crimes they allegedly committed after they got out of jail — including Tyler Cole, who was charged with criminal sexual conduct following his release from jail, after prosecutor­s say he held three females at knifepoint and assaulted them.

Craig criticized Kenny and Worthy for releasing inmates accused of sexual assault.

“I appreciate the direction we’re going in now, relative to compassion­ate releases ... but when we talk about compassion, what about the victims?” Craig said.

Worthy insisted the only inmate to be released after being charged with criminal sexual assault was a 65-year-old man who suffered from serious medical issues.

The man, whose case was among the 11,000 unattended rape kits found in a Detroit police property room in 2009, was awaiting trial on first-degree criminal sexual assault charges. He was released April 2 because of his advanced age and health problems.

However, according to records the county released to The News, three inmates who’d been convicted of sexual assault also were freed as part of the COVID releases: Brandan Prather, who was released April 24, after a conviction for fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct; Jameel Bradley, released April 29 following his CSC 3 conviction; and Kaylin Drewery, who was released May 12 after being convicted of CSC 3.

Kenny said because jail staff have become adept at stopping the virus’s spread, COVID releases have “dropped off astronomic­ally.”

The infection rate in the jail as of two weeks ago was 0.2% — “in other words, you’re more likely to catch COVID at Meijer than at the jail,” Kenny said.

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