National News

Nearly 1 in 3 Christmas arrests in Tampa Bay arose from domestic violence

Posted January 2, 2018 12:01 a.m. EST

Late Monday in a Temple Terrace home, a 30-year-old son threatened his mother with a butcher knife, and she pointed a pistol right back at him, deputies said.

Earlier in the day, a jealous 29-year-old assaulted a woman and smashed her iPhone in a Tampa driveway, police said.

And just before 8 p.m. a 6-foot-tall Ruskin mechanic head-butted an elderly relative, deputies reported.

It was Christmas in Tampa Bay. Those men and dozens of others were booked into county jails on domestic violence charges.

While the holiday season is a time of joy for many, some homes rarely see peace all year. Experts caution that family violence isn't limited to the holidays.

About one-third of arrests Monday in Hillsborough and Pasco counties followed reports of domestic violence, with nearly the same proportion in Pinellas.

It's a type of crime that victims are sometimes reluctant to discuss.

For the mother who held her son at gunpoint until deputies arrived, it was a family matter.

"I don't want to press charges," she said. "He has mental issues and this is a personal matter. A lot of people make a big deal of Christmas, but it's just another day for me."

At least 34 men and three women were taken to county jails Monday on charges of domestic battery or violating a restraining order in place because of prior domestic violence. It was an increase over Christmas 2016, when 23 were arrested in similar circumstances.

In most of the cases, suspects were arrested at their homes after a victim or witness called authorities.

For those who seek safety at shelters like the Spring of Tampa Bay, the holidays are a difficult time, said president and CEO Mindy Murphy. But she said she has seen the Spring range from full to nearly empty during past Christmases.

"There doesn't appear to be an rhyme or reason why some Christmases are worse than others," she said.

More attention may be put on domestic violence during the holidays, but Murphy said the suffering follows no calendar.

"Abusers are abusive all year round," she said. "When a family has an abusive person in the house, they deal with it daily."

On average, 17,129 domestic violence crimes are committed annually in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, according to data recorded between 2010 to 2016 by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Those numbers include crimes such as rape and murder, in addition to battery.

The idea that domestic abuse increases during the holidays is a myth that hides why the behavior happens, said Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"Holiday stress can increase risk factors, but abuse is about power and control," Glenn said. "When there is an increase in the number of reports on any given holiday, it's usually so small that it barely registers."

This week's violence didn't end on Christmas. Dozens were arrested in the hours after midnight.

Meanwhile, across the state, Flagler County authorities accused a man Tuesday of trying to electrocute his pregnant wife by rigging a door with wires.

On Thursday in Hillsborough County Tyler Bardin, 22, fatally shot his mother's boyfriend, deputies reported. The boyfriend had physically abused the mother for years, said an attorney for Bardin, who has not been charged.

Hillsborough sheriff's Cpl. Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the agency, said his office treats domestic battery seriously any day of the year.

"While victims want the violence to stop, they often don't want someone going to jail," he said. "We have a zero-tolerance policy. We have to take the aggressor to jail for the safety of his victims."

Five of 14 Christmas day arrests in Pasco County were related to domestic violence. The Sheriff's Office posted defendants' faces and names on social media, a daily practice, said spokesman Kevin Doll .

"It's the decision of our sheriff to post these," he said. "Deputies deal with this daily, but it's a societal problem. This is how we raise awareness on this important topic."

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