THE INVESTIGATORS: Recent officer shooting highlights rise in capital area domestic violence

THE INVESTIGATORS: Recent officer shooting highlights rise in capital area domestic violence

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Just outside Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters, Lt. Glenn Dale Hutto Jr.’s unit sits covered with flowers. Not far from that, at the entrance of the department, his name is newly etched into the fallen officers memorial wall.

The 21-year veteran of the force was tragically gunned down in April in the line of duty after being ambushed by a suspected shooter he was searching for following reports of a domestic violence-related homicide. The tragic loss is inflicting yet another wound on the police department that sadly, no amount of time can heal.

"When we talk to our officers who are going through this experience, it takes them back to 2016... it takes them right back to that time,” said BRPD Chief Murphy Paul.

While tragic in itself, Hutto’s death is now shining a light on a far more troubling issue in the capital city: a surge in domestic violence. The 9News Investigators looked at data from January to May. In 2019 during that same time period, BRPD officers responded to 846 domestic violence calls. This year, those numbers are up by 6%, with the department taking on 904 domestic violence calls.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief if the numbers surprise him.

"It does concern me a little bit," Paul answered.

One of those domestic violence calls came in during April after Ronnie Kato, 36, got into an argument with his fiancée. When family members tried to step in and intervene, Kato allegedly shot and killed his fiancée’s relative. That’s when police were called. When officers got to the scene, police say Kato opened fire, killing Lt. Hutto and leaving Cpl. Derrick Maglone badly hurt. Kato finally turned himself in after a four-hour standoff with law enforcement.

This is the third officer shot in the line of duty during a domestic violence call within a year. Sgt. Ralph Walker was shot in the leg in August of 2019 during a domestic call on Geranium Street and survived.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief if it’s harder for officers to respond to domestic calls because they’re unpredictable.

“Well, we train our officers to respond, but when you’re talking about domestic incidents, they are some of the most emotionally charged calls for service,” Paul answered.

Chief Paul says officers must continue to respond despite the danger involved, but he tells WAFB they lean heavily on training and resources, like peer support and counseling. Those services have proven crucial as officers have had to take on more domestic calls, which the chief describes as stressful.

"That does create additional stress and that's why we're very concerned about our officers and we're making sure we give them the help that they need," said Paul.

The chief adds that no amount of training or support can truly prepare officers for what they will face every time one of those highly stressful domestic calls comes in.

“We have the training in place to make sure that our officers are equipped with the tools, but it’s unfortunate when you have evil people out there," the chief said.

The same data WAFB looked at indicates domestic calls are also up since the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to stay home. In March, officers responded to 204 domestic violence calls while in April, 227 of those same calls came pouring in.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Twahna Harris, executive director of the Butterfly Society. “What’s so sad and unfortunate is that it’s happening.”

Harris is a survivor herself and says she’s terrified for victims who may either be trapped with their abuser or who may not have the resources to leave amid the pandemic. She says calls into her agency are up 5%.

"It's hard to hear the fear in their voices on the other line, knowing that they're there 24/7 and there's no place to go, there's no outlets and fear takes over," said Harris.

Harris says all too often, victims stay because they have been threatened with their life or the lives of others. In the most recent case, arrest records show Kato did threaten his fiancée, allegedly saying he would “Gavin Long” police if she tried to call them. This is, of course, references the tragic ambush shooting of six police officers in 2016, three of which were killed.

“He threatened to kill her, her family, and police officers and it’s unacceptable. It shouldn’t be tolerated. I am happy and thankful that the perpetrator was captured and is where he needs to be, but it was a very sad and tragic day for the city of Baton Rouge,” said Harris.

Chief Paul tells WAFB it’s heart-wrenching when the department loses an officer, especially in a senseless way, but he says after every stressful situation, they evaluate what happened and work to identify what went wrong.

“We go back and we look at mistakes... where mistakes were made and what can we do to prevent those incidents from happening again. We look at every one of them,” said Paul.

As highly dangerous domestic violence calls come in, the chief hopes by evaluating previous calls, more of them will not end in gunfire and loss of life in the future.

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