Laverne Ware Jr. will be sentenced June 28 for the 2016 shooting death of his girlfriend Sesalie Dixon.
As in most cases of domestic violence, Dixon's troubles with Ware did not begin the night she was shot to death, according to Dodge County District Attorney Kurt Klomberg.
“We have enough information to know there was a significant assault that led up to the homicide,” Klomberg said.
Ware did several things domestic abuse victim advocates say are common in such situations. Klomberg said Ware prevented Dixon from contacting her friends and took her phone away. According to testimony during his trial, there was physical abuse in the months leading up to her death.
“It is not uncommon for domestic abuse to fly under the radar,” Klomberg said. “A lot of times the police have not been called and the abuse has been going on for years.”
Even when abuse is reported, the situation can escalate.
Klomberg said Dodge County has had five first-degree homicide cases in the last 10 years; three of them were related to domestic abuse. In addition to Ware, there is an open Dodge County case against Ulisses W. Medina Espinosa, who is accused in the shooting death of his ex-wife Stacia Hollinshead. Hollinshead had previously filed a restraining order against Medina Espinosa.
In Columbia County jail, Fuad V. Pashayev, 31, took his own life in his jail cell on May 5. Pashayev was being held in on $1 million cash bond on charges he stabbed his wife, Tetiana Huhzov, 23, to death April 4 at Wisconsin Dells home. Pashayev faced prior domestic abuse charges filed in January, including strangulation and false imprisonment.
Wisconsin has a mandatory arrest law in which police must detain those believed to be involved in a domestic dispute that could turn violent. Klomberg said the law is designed to ensure law enforcement officers err on the side of caution when called to a domestic situation.
“We don’t want to miss something in the field that could end up as a domestic homicide or something else more serious,” Klomberg said. “It is probably the most common type of arrest. However, a lot of times the arrests don’t involve charges.”
Police take those calls very seriously, according to Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner.
“Domestic abuse calls are some of the most dangerous calls that our deputies respond to,” Brandner said. “They have anger, high emotions and are often chaotic. The two most dangerous moments for our deputies is during the initial approach to the residence and at the time of arrest. We recognize that family violence often happens many times before a call to law enforcement occurs."
Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt agreed.
“Domestic incidents are dangerous calls, not only for victims who are involved, but also for their children and law enforcement officers who are responding,” Schmidt said. “We work hard to identify signs of abuse so that we can take appropriate action to hold offenders accountable while at the same time protecting victims."
Brandner said the department is investigating more strangulations and other serious injuries than in the past. He said drug use also has become a greater factor in such incidents.
“Living in a rural county, we have more incidents of domestic violence calls where a gun is present,” Brandner continued. “The trend seems to be that more domestic abuse calls turn into barricaded subjects because the suspects don’t want to be responsible for their actions. The domestic abuse suspects are not happy to see law enforcement.”
District attorneys in Wisconsin are required to annually report domestic abuse law enforcement responses, arrests, prosecutions, and convictions to the Wisconsin Department of Justice
Law enforcement reported 283 suspects in domestic calls in 2017 for Dodge County. Sauk County law enforcement arrested 357 people following domestic calls. Columbia County had 536 people taken into custody during domestic incidents in 2017.
Incidents can include related law enforcement contact that does not include abuse such as bail jumping that occurred after initial contact for domestic abuse.
Statewide, the number of domestic abuse incidents reported has remained fairly stable over the last five years ranging from a low of 28,868 in 2016 to a high of 29,809 in 2017. While that represented a 3 percent increase, the difference over all 5 years was lower and the 5-year average of reported incidents is 29,436.
Local agencies that help victims of abuse keep their own statistics related to the people they serve. In Dodge and Jefferson counties, Protect, Advocate, Validate, Educate offers a variety of services that include a shelter.
In 2016, PAVE provided 3,687 nights of shelter, served 658 individuals, and provided prevention education to 1,623 people. In 2017, PAVE provided 4,077 nights of shelter, served 772 individuals, and provided prevention education to 3,889 people. In 2018, Pave provided 3,064 nights of shelter, served 1,099 individuals, and provided prevention education to 3,184 people.
Hope House of South Central Wisconsin is located in Baraboo and provides free and confidential services to people affect by domestic abuse and sexual assault in Sauk, Columbia, Juneau, Adams and Marquette counties.
In 2016, Hope House of South Central Wisconsin provided 89 families nights in shelter, served 2,222 individuals and provided 357 youth prevention and education presentations. In 2018, Hope House had 80 families in the shelter, served 2,684 individuals and provided 603 youth prevention and education presentations. In 2018, Hope House had 63 families in the shelter, served 2,562 individuals and provided 583 youth prevention and education presentations.
Both agencies work closely with law enforcement.
Cooperation is key
Brandner and Schmidt said they encourage people to reach out to local agencies for help.
"We encourage anyone who may have been involved in a domestic related incident to reach out to PAVE, Dodge County’s Domestic Abuse Advocates,” Dale Schmidt said.
Jess Kaehny, community education program manager for Hope House, said they work with law enforcement in Marquette and Adams counties on the Maryland Model Lethality Assessment Program (lethalityassessmentprogram.org) and hope to implement it in other counties in the future.
The program is an evidence-based domestic violence homicide prevention strategy, largely based on research led by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell. It involves law enforcement's use of an 11-question lethality assessment tool while on the scene of domestic violence calls to identify victims at the greatest risk of homicide. Officers provide an immediate referral via telephone to a trained domestic violence advocate who then provides education and safety planning to the victim and asks to follow-up with them, Kaehny said.
Schmidt said all law enforcement in Dodge County also use the lethality assessment program program. Law Enforcement in Dodge County partners with PAVE to implement the program.
Domestic abuse response is not all that PAVE and Hope House do.
Hope House Services include a 24-hour helpline at 608-356-7500 or 1-800-584-6790, supportive counseling, legal assistance, support groups, safety planning, 24-hour availability for support during sexual assault nurse exams, emergency shelter services and community education.
Kaehny said while the organization's shelter is important, many more people utilize its support counseling in person or on the phone, advocacy services and legal help.
“A misconception we’re still working on with the community is that we’re only a domestic violence shelter, when in reality, that’s the smallest piece of what we do,” Kaehny said. “Some people believe we only serve women and children, which is not true. All of our services are for victims, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, race, ethnicity, immigration status, or background.”
In addition, Kaehny said Hope House does extensive community education for school-age children.
“We present on topics such as protective behaviors, bullying and sexual harassment, internet safety, healthy relationships, peace and respect, diversity and inclusion, dating violence, sexual assault and consent, bystander intervention, media literacy, and gender stereotypes,” Kaehny said.
There are more people utilizing services through Hope House over the last few years, including teens who experience dating violence and sexual assault.
“I think that continuing outreach and awareness, including education in the schools, has helped more people know of Hope House services,” Kaehny said. “Our staff also work closely with area law enforcement, health care providers, human services, schools, and churches to build better partnerships in order to get people connected to services.”
PAVE or Protect, Advocate, Validate and Educate is based in Beaver Dam and offers a 24-hour crisis hotline and texting line. They operate out of a five-bedroom, 21-bed facility.
Ashley Welak, PAVE’s interim executive director, said programs include legal advocacy, family advocacy, sexual assault victim advocacy, child and teen advocacy, LGBTQ services, and Spanish-speaking services. There are two locations for PAVE.
Services include, but are not limited to, safety planning, options counseling, education on the dynamics of power and control in LGBTQ relationships, support for emotional abuse and bullying, legal advocacy, case management and shelter service, Welak said.
“Our shelter is located in Beaver Dam, which address is confidential, and we have an outreach office at 600 E. Main St in Watertown,” Welak said.
The agency is in the process of acquiring land and building a new, larger shelter and office facility.
Anyone who needs to reach PAVE can call the crisis line at 800-775-3785, business line is 920-887-3810, The texting line is 920-344-0123, Watertown cell phone is 920-344-1351. To find out more about the services offered at PAVE, visit pavedc.org.