City Hopes To Have Fully-Functional Family Justice Center By June 2015

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
- photo by Hollie Webb

In a Community Awareness Forum, Public Safety Coordinator Dr. Paul Smith said the city of Chattanooga hopes to have a fully-functional Family Justice Center by June 30, 2015. He said the center would be a "one stop shop" where victims of domestic violence would not only be able to get psychological help, but also legal and financial help.

He said, "There's an absolute need for a Family Justice Center in Hamilton County," saying the facility would also provide services to children of victims.

He continued, "This is a place where everyone can go and know that someone is going to hear what they have to say." 

In his presentation, he showed the audience several sobering statistics. In the United States, one out of four women will become a victim of domestic violence, and currently, a woman is assaulted every nine seconds. The state of Tennessee also has the fifth highest number of women murdered each year.

Sessions Court Judges Christie Mahn Sell and Gary Starnes were among members of panel selected to answer questions about the project and to help get the public involved. 

Judge Sell, who was a family attorney for 12 years before become a judge, said, "The more you learn about domestic violence, the more you realize it really trickles through our community." Victims of domestic violence outnumber victims of gang violence 55 to one.

Judge Sell helped establish Hamilton County's Domestic Violence Court. Having a time period each week allotted to only domestic violence cases allows the victims to stay in another room where they do not have to see the defendant until their case is ready to be presented. 

Judge Starnes pointed out that while the court must remain neutral, this creates a safer environment without advocating one person's side over another.

Both he and Judge Sell described Domestic Violence Court as a "first step." Judge Starnes said a Family Justice Center would also help victims who were afraid to prosecute their abuser. He said, in his experience, most victims have three common fears holding them back: being cut off financially, losing their children, and being unable to pay for a lawyer. 

He said, "If you have a Family Justice Center, the problem cures itself. You take care of those initial concerns and their fears, and you'll be able to do a lot."

Another member of the panel and a victim of domestic violence herself at one point in her life, Kate Murray, agreed with Judge Starnes statements. She said she was in an abusive marriage and her husband had convinced her she had no education or job skills. She said she had no idea how she would support herself and two children on her own.

However, she said when her daughter witnessed her abuse one night, she knew she had to leave. She said even though her family did not support her and blamed her for her situation, she did not want her children to have the same life. 

Sandra Hollett, CEO of the Partnership for Family, Children, and Adults, said, "Children who witness domestic violence have two pathways unless there's a serious intervention: they will either become future victims or future abusers."

Judge Sell also told the audience, "The bulk of our community does not understand what domestic violence is." She said, "We have to teach this to our young people, to our high schoolers," pointing out that discussing healthy relationships should not be put off until a young person started to date. 

She continued, "A lot of our leaders are older white men who have either never been in that situation or don't have family that has been in that situation. It's still too easy to say 'It's not my problem.' We have to talk to our leaders, get them to understand what domestic violence is."

She said, "A lot of people have gone through the system and dealt with a judge, a DA, or an attorney who did not understand, and they were further victimized." 

Judge Starnes agreed and urged women in the community to use their political voice to support projects like the Family Justice Center. He said whether or they realize it, as 55 percent of voters, women have a strong political voice.

At the end of the presentation, a woman in the audience spoke up, saying she had just recently left a husband who had regularly beaten her. 

She said, "I had no idea there was so much help out there. I took many, many beatings to try to hold on to what I thought was a family...The last time I went to court, I was absolutely terrified standing next to the defendant. I think that this is a wonderful, wonderful idea. There are many women who have no idea of the resources that are in Chattanooga."

The panel will hold another public forum on April 10 at the Brainerd Recreation Center at 6 p.m. 



Man Shot In Knee On W. 38th Street; Won't Cooperate With Police

A man was shot in the knee on West 38th Street on Monday afternoon. Police said he would not cooperate with the investigation. At approximately 4:59 p.m., Chattanooga Police responded to 262 West 38 th for a person shot.  Officers located a 22-year-old black male suffering from a single gunshot wound to his knee.  The victim was transported to a local hospital ... (click for more)

2 Brothers Arrested For Armed Robbery At Dollar Store

Two brothers have been arrested for the armed robbery of the Dollar Store on 23rd Street that took place on July 3.  According to police, Dominique and Trevor Casteel came into the store with pistols, demanding money. The two cashiers working handed them the tills from the cash register, and then they said the men put the money in a drawstring bag and fled.  Bandanas ... (click for more)

Senator Bob Corker: An Open Letter To Tennesseans

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a state in which companies worldwide are clamoring to establish a presence. Many attribute it to our pro-business culture, well-prepared workforce, low tax environment, right-to-work policies, and engaged citizenry.  That is why the announcement by Volkswagen to build its midsize sports utility vehicle and establish the South’s ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Wamp Refuses To Stoop

With less than two weeks before the Aug. 7 th election and the last week of early voting now underway in Hamilton County, Congressional challenger Weston Wamp sounded upbeat and relaxed early yesterday afternoon. “I’m pleased to say that I believe we are right where we need to be … maybe even more than we had hoped.” Wamp, who is challenging two-term incumbent Chuck Fleishmann ... (click for more)

Prep Football Practice Starts Today

Coaches barking instructions, players blocking and tackling, quarterbacks and receivers working on timing routes and error-free handoffs to fleet-footed running backs.   In the greater Chattanooga area and throughout the state it can mean just one thing. It’s time for Prep Football 2014.   Today is the first official day ... (click for more)

NPSL National Championship To Be Played At Red Bulls Arena

The NPSL announced on Monday that the national championship match between Chattanooga FC and the Red Bulls U23 will be played on Saturday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.  The match will be played following an MLS match between New York Red Bulls and the New England Revolution.   Local fans took to social media to appeal for the game to be played in Chattanooga. ... (click for more)