UNION — A ceremony to remember the victims of domestic violence in Union County also honored the county chief law enforcement official for his efforts to aid the victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The “Silent Witness Vigil” held this week at the Union County Courthouse remembered the six women and one man killed as a result of domestic violence in Union County since 2002. The ceremony also honored the unknown victims of domestic violence in Union County with speakers pointing out that many incidents of domestic violence are never reported to the police.
Among the speakers was Lynn Hawkins, executive director of SAFE Homes Rape Crisis Coalition, who announced shortly before the end of the ceremony that the organization was presenting its Leadership Award to Union County Sheriff David Taylor for his efforts to help the victims of domestic violence and to punish those who commit the crime.
“Sheriff David Taylor is the kind of sheriff that every county should have,” Hawkins said. “He believes in protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable, no matter who they are. He is very concerned about security for victims and victim advocates in this community. He attends court hearings with victims when he believes that they are in danger from their abuser. When he can’t attend, he often has his chief deputy attend with the victim and victim advocate.”
Hawkins said Taylor’s determination to protect the victims of domestic violence helped an abused woman find the courage to testify against her abuser.
“Recently, a domestic violence victim was so terrified by her abuser and his escalating and continuing threats to hurt her if she testified against him,” Hawkins said. “Her injuries were horrendous, and she almost didn’t testify due to her terror of what he would do to her.
“Sheriff Taylor and several of his officers attended court to make sure that she wouldn’t be intimidated in the courtroom,” she said. “Thanks to his efforts, she testified against her abuser and he received eight years for criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and eight years for intimidating a witness.”
Taylor’s efforts to help the victims of domestic violence was also recalled by Susie Fernandez whose daughter, Aretha Maria Fernandez, was murdered by her boyfriend in 2008. Fernandez recalled how Taylor kept her informed of the search for her missing daughter and personally brought her the news when her remains were found. She said he’d worked hard to find her daughter and bring closure to her case.
Fernandez called Taylor “one of the special people” God put in her life to help her as she grieved and sought justice for her daughter.
During his remarks at the vigil, Taylor said that when he took office as sheriff in 2009, he went to Fernandez’s house “and told her that I would not rest until we found who was responsible for Maria’s disappearance.”
The day after Taylor made that promise, Maria Fernandez’s remains were discovered near Carlisle. A little over a month later, Maria Fernandez’s boyfriend, Jamel Good was arrested by the sheriff’s office and charged with her murder. In December of that year, a jury took less than 30 minutes to render a verdict of guilty and Good was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Hawkins said Taylor’s efforts to bring the perpetrators of criminal domestic violence to justice and to help their victims is not limited to Union County.
“Sheriff Taylor has even advocated with a sheriff in another county for a victim who was wrongfully charged with domestic violence,” Hawkins said. “Her abuser was a chronic case, and had been arrested six times for domestic violence.
“Sheriff Taylor takes time to explain the charges and penalties to victims,” she said. “He has delivered Union County victims to the shelter in Spartanburg to decrease their anxiety rather than asking Spartanburg County to meet them at the county line to transport them into the shelter as is the protocol. He makes regular checks on victims’ cars for tracking devices.”
Hawkins praised Taylor for his leadership of his department and his willingness the tough decisions required of his office.
“Sheriff Taylor leads by example,” Hawkins said. “He will stand in the rain with his deputies for a license check. He doesn’t hesitate to make the hard calls, whether it is to seek psychiatric care for a person filing a false rape incident or to serve a prominent citizen at work, if need be. Sheriff Taylor has been in the tough position of arresting a law enforcement officer for criminal domestic violence. He didn’t shy away from the case. He stepped forward and did what he needed to do to protect the victim.
“In my book, Sheriff Taylor is a man of integrity, common sense and good, solid leadership skills,” she said. “Which is why Safe Homes Rape Crisis Coalition is honoring him today with our Leadership Award for his leadership and support of victims of domestic violence in Union County.”
For his part, Taylor praised SAFE Homes for the job it does for the victims of domestic violence in Union County.
“I was surprised to get the award, we have a great working relationship with SAFE Homes,” Taylor said. “We never hesitate to recommend somebody to SAFE Homes and Libby Whitaker does a great job for us down here as the SAFE Homes representative for Union County.”
Taylor said he remains concerned about the growing problem of domestic violence in Union County, pointing out that the number of incidents more than doubled from 40 in the first nine months of 2011 to 112 in the first nine months of 2012.
“It concerns me that we have such a problem with criminal domestic violence in Union County,” Taylor. “There is no excuse for it.”
The SAFE Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition is a private, non-profit organization that provides services to victims of domestic violence in Spartanburg, Cherokee and Union counties and assists victims of sexual assault in Spartanburg and Cherokee counties. For more information, call (864) 583-9803.
Editor Charles Warner can be reached at 864-427-1234, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.