What Fresh Hell Is This?

June 10, 2009

Domestic Violence In Pittsburgh: When you do everything right and the system still fails you

From Sunday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The second time Robert L. Taylor beat Donna Williams, she had to bite off part of his finger to make him stop, according to court filings. By the time she escaped from what she called a weekend as his hostage, she was determined that her former boyfriend of three years wouldn't hurt her a third time.

But Ms. Williams' subsequent visit to Pittsburgh's Zone 2 police station did not bring a swift end to her troubles, much as her 911 call after the first incident of abuse four months earlier brought only a respite. Decisions, errors and communication breakdowns in the courts and police combined to give Mr. Taylor five weeks of freedom and sentenced Ms. Williams to more than a month of fear.


Ms. Williams' case is now the subject of a Citizen Police Review Board investigation. It comes two years after the Pittsburgh Police Bureau's sensitivity to domestic violence became an issue, with the promotions of three officers who had faced abuse allegations.
We often see in cases of domestic violence people asking "why didn't she just leave," perhaps not realizing that the very act of leaving can be dangerous (A United States Department of Justice, National Crime Victim Survey revealed that the most dangerous time for a woman who is being abused is when she tries to leave).

However in this case, Ms. Williams did everything "right." She repeatedly reported incidents to the police and utilized the courts. She tried to escape her abuser but the police and the courts failed her time and again.

What's needed now is to find out if policies were violated/if new policies need to be put in place.

Some may notice a familiar name in the P-G article: George Trosky. He was one of the three officers with a history of domestic violence charges who was promoted in 2007 by by Police Chief Nate Harper with the approval of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. According to a P-G article at the time of his promotion, Trosky made an "unusually steep leap from detective to head of the Zone 2 operation" and had "incidents and allegations of violence and drunken driving."

From Sunday's P-G article:
In a typical year, Allegheny County sees upward of 10 domestic violence-related homicides, according to the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. For Ms. Williams, the danger level was about to rise, precisely because she had helped police to find Mr. Taylor, only to have them opt not to arrest him.

On May 3, he called her from Mercy Hospital. "He was all crying that they were about to cut his finger off," due to an infection, she said. She called 911 to report his whereabouts. Police served him with the PFA there, but left him.

According to Zone 2 Cmdr. George Trosky, a police supervisor "said to leave the guy there, because he was going to be in for a lengthy stay." Mercy Hospital security agreed to call the station when he was about to be discharged so police could arrest him.

The bureau sometimes arrests a hospitalized person and posts an officer outside the room, paying overtime so an officer does not have to be pulled off the streets. The Citizen Police Review Board began investigating Ms. Williams' case after receiving an anonymous tip, purportedly written by someone in the police bureau, suggesting the zone didn't want to incur overtime costs.

That expense did not factor into the decision not to guard Mr. Taylor, according to Cmdr. Trosky. He said the determination "was my supervisor's decision, and I'm going to stand by his decision," declining to explain how it jibes with bureau policy.


In Ms. Williams' case, Cmdr. Trosky said the promised call from hospital security regarding Mr. Taylor's departure "never happened." Mercy spokeswoman Linda Ross, though, said the hospital's security department called Zone 2 at 8:32 p.m. on May 3, after Mr. Taylor left without doctor approval.
Back in 2007, we closely followed the promotion of these officers and the subsequent legislation passed to deal with domestic violence by police officers. Some of you may recall that a coalition of groups was instrumental in setting new policies for the police. That same coalition is looking into the case of Ms. Williams. Here's a statement by them via Heather Arnet of The Women and Girls Foundation:
The coalition of women’s serving agencies and advocacy agencies that coordinated the coalition led effort to develop an improved domestic violence policy for the City of Pittsburgh Police Department (in fall 2008), held a conference call to discuss the recent Domestic Violence case outlined in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article this weekend. The Women and Girls Foundation hosted the conference call and is serving as the convening agent for the coalition. Participants in the coalition include domestic and sexual assault agencies from throughout the region, and advocacy organizations like NOW, NCJW, B-PEP, Women and Girls Foundation, as well as supportive funding partners such as FISA Foundation. The coalition is having a follow up call to review information gathered throughout the case and discuss next steps re: recommendations for systemic improvements which would help prevent the communication breakdowns which occurred in this case and ultimately improve victim’s rights, supports, and services moving forward.
For the record, I am on the list serve for this coalition and participated in the above mentioned conference call.

What you can do:

The Citizen Police Review Board will be reviewing this case at their upcoming meeting. You can attend.

Citizen Police Review Board Meeting
June 23, 2009, 6:00 PM
Freedom Unlimited Building
2201 Wylie Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
(412) 434-0922

Let's not fail Ms. Williams -- or any other survivor of domestic violence -- one more time.


Sherry said...

people don't take it seriously. they don't understand why a woman just doesn't walk out.

it needs to be taken seriously.
it is a DEADLY serious matter.

Gloria said...


Thank you for bringing attention to this issue, other than the P-G's article and your blog post, I am not aware of any other local media outlets' coverage.

It is up to all of us to spread the word on this situation, with the goal of never having it occur again.

Gloria Forouzan