Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Two: Neighborhood Watch)

Non-Fiction | published in Real Change on May. 16th, 2012

This piece is part of a series:

- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter One: Honeymoon Phase)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Two: Neighborhood Watch)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Three: No Contact)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Four: Three Strikes)

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Hands, fists, teeth, etc.

On Saturday, Aug. 22, about a week before Karen walked into Room 16, Richard walked out of it. Already loaded on Red Stripe beer, he craved more, so he went to the Aurora Grocery. It was sometime after 11 a.m.

A small corner market, the grocery offered, along with canned tuna and beer, a computer with a free Internet connection. Richard opened a cold one, and he logged into his email. A subject line read: You have an important message from Sandra D. That was Richard’s sister’s name, Sandra Duncan. “I clicked it,” he remembers, “and it was one of those dating sites.”

His click initiated a VIP tour. Richard never entered any information but pored through the site’s offerings. For roughly an hour he sat, scrolled and drank. Then he meandered toward the Georgian.

Brandy met him at the door. What the hell is this? she asked. She showed him her cell phone. Richard’s email account, with a confirmation code from the dating site, appeared on her screen.

Shut the fuck up, he said.

Eff you, Brandy said.

Richard picked up a box of doughnuts and threw it at her. Brandy slapped him. He hit her in the face. Fearful the baby might be injured, Brandy grabbed Richard’s goatee in hopes he’d stop. Richard kept hitting.

The fight escalated.

Richard struck Brandy’s face with his fist. She yanked his goatee. Hairs came out in her fingers. She yelled, Stop!

Richard smacked Brandy in the mouth. In the melee, he knocked her down. Her right fingers gouged his left cheek. A sharp pain electrified Brandy’s foot.

The fight ended.

In the mirror, Brandy saw her face, then hobbled to the front office. “And I told the manager to call the cops,” she recalls, “because I didn’t want to lose my son.”

After their fights, Brandy didn’t usually leave the room, so Richard found it a little odd. Then he heard what sounded like a semi pulling into the parking lot. He looked. A fire truck. “And I’m thinking, ‘Oh, fucking great.’” Richard slipped out and hid in another open room. 

At 12:33 p.m., when a Seattle Police Department cruiser pulled up to the motel, Richard slunk away. Motel neighbors milled in the parking lot. One of them pointed and told an officer the man — bald head, white T-shirt — had gone south. The officer intercepted Richard two blocks away.

He noticed Richard’s left cheek. How’d you get scratched? he asked.

I did it myself, Richard said.

Police escorted Richard back to the Georgian, where he was arrested for domestic violence assault and read his Miranda rights. In the police report, the officer described the weapons used: hands, fists, teeth, etc.

Seattle Fire Department staff examined Brandy’s bruised and swollen face. Because of her pregnancy, an ambulance shuttled her to Harborview Medical Center, where she learned that though she was six weeks from her due date, her cervix had dilated two centimeters. But the baby was fine. An X-ray revealed a fracture in her left foot, so hospital staff fitted her with a cast. She hobbled on crutches to a cab for the ride back to the Georgian. The room was quiet. The doughnut box lay on the floor. For the first time in six months, she spent the night alone.

Motion denied

A week later, Brandy still sported a huge black eye. She couldn’t attend the baby shower, not the way she looked. Karen didn’t argue.

Without Richard, Brandy had to cover the Georgian’s $245 weekly rate alone. A manager took money out of his own pocket to help her out. Brandy’s caseworker at a social service agency found a program that offered up to $750 for emergency housing needs. That way, Brandy could cover rent for three weeks. The baby was due in less than four.

Brandy scrambled to find long-term shelter, but eight months pregnant and wearing an orthopedic boot, the scramble turned into a slow shuffle. Karen ferried her to almost a dozen housing agencies, where they spent hours with numerous intake personnel, only to hear, after filling out paperwork, Brandy would be put on a waiting list. One agency’s staff member told her they could help after the baby was born. At the end of it, Brandy was back where she started: the Georgian.

As the due date approached, the stress exhausted her. Raising a baby alone felt impossible. If only Richard … Richard. She knew people would judge her, but she still cared for him. She loved him. They’d dreamed of a family together. But the violence. Maybe prison would change him.

But a change had already taken place, at least legally. On Sept.14, Richard pleaded guilty to domestic violence assault in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor. A judge sentenced him to 120 days and initiated a no-contact order. Richard couldn’t come within 500 feet of Brandy for two years, and he was barred from any type of communication. Only a judge could change that. So on Sept. 24, 2009, Brandy, desperate for help to raise a child, had Karen drive her to the courthouse.

She and Karen sat in Courtroom 1102 in the Seattle Municipal Courthouse, as a prosecutor for the city addressed Judge Adam Eisenberg.

“The first matter is going to be Richard Duncan,” the prosecutor said. “In this case, Brandy Sweeney is present to address the court.”

Judge Eisenberg flipped through the case file. “He’s serving a substantial — Oh, my goodness. These are photos of the injuries? And the alleged victim was taken away by ambulance?”

“She was substantially pregnant at the time,” the prosecutor said.

Judge Eisenberg read papers detailing Richard’s prison history from the bench. “Assault with a deadly weapon charge that occurred in 2005. That’s a conviction, that’s a felony, and it’s out of the state of Nevada.” He turned a page. “He also has a DUI from 2004. That’s a conviction, so that would suggest he has alcohol issues underlying. He has possession of a stolen vehicle, which is a felony from 2002.” The judge’s tone was no-nonsense. “He had a domestic violence battery charge from ’98; it’s not clear what happened in that case. All right,” Judge Eisenberg said. “Ma’am, would you like to identify yourself for the record?”

“My name is Brandy Sweeney.”

The judge replaced his no-nonsense tone with fatherly compassion. “And Ms. Sweeney, what did you want to tell the court?”

“He’s the only person I have right now. And obviously, I’m pregnant with his baby, so I feel that he should be able to be part of the baby’s life,” Brandy said. “Obviously we have problems, and we probably shouldn’t be in a relationship, but I feel that I should be able to contact him and address him as just, as the father of my baby.”

“So, Ms. Sweeney,” Judge Eisenberg said, “I don’t know if you were aware of all those convictions —”

“I was aware.”

“But that makes it seem substantially likely that he is a very dangerous person, particularly for you. If he consumes alcohol, you and your baby will be at risk,” Judge Eisenberg said.

Brandy nodded.

“I think you should really take a step back and decide what’s in the best interest of you and your baby in the long term, because any person who would cause the kind of injuries that I’ve seen on a woman who’s expecting their child, is extremely potentially dangerous,” Judge Eisenberg said.

Listening to him, part of Brandy agreed. Another part felt overwhelmed by the prospect of raising a child alone.

“I understand you’re going to have a baby, which is a great thing. But I’m very, very concerned for your welfare, because if he drinks and gets violent, you know, you and the baby are in risk, so,” Judge Eisenberg said, “the no-contact order is going to remain in effect.”

Brandy felt dejected. Not only did she need an affordable place to live, but her hopes for a family were falling apart.

The seven-minute hearing highlighted Karen’s internal struggle. She wanted Brandy to be safe, but Karen felt reluctant to tell her how to live. Instead, she decided to support Brandy. A ride to and from the courthouse was nothing big.

Their next ride together carried a little more importance.

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