Utah's outdated definition of domestic violence cost Memorez Rackley her life

Sunday , June 18, 2017 - 4:30 AM

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

Memorez Rackley didn’t fit the definition of a domestic abuse victim.

She does now, but only because she’s dead — killed by a violent, unrelenting stalker.

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Utah must change the way it defines domestic violence, or we’ll continue to fail people like Rackley and her children.

Rackley, 39, once had a romantic relationship with Jeremy Patterson, a 32-year-old body shop manager from Draper. She called Sandy police June 3 to report that Patterson had followed her, publicly confronted her about their breakup, and sent threatening text messages that included photos of Rackley’s three sons.

The police told Rackley to stay with a friend and file a protective order. They also warned Patterson to leave her alone.

But the case didn’t qualify as domestic violence, so they couldn’t engage Rackley in a Lethality Assessment Protocol — a series of questions to assess the risk she faced and connect her with an advocate, perhaps even providing her with shelter.

Why didn’t police consider Patterson’s behavior domestic violence? Because he and Rackley weren’t married or living together.

Patterson followed Rackley as she walked her two young sons home from school June 6. When he confronted her, a woman stopped and offered the Rackleys a ride in her SUV.

A few blocks away, Patterson rammed the SUV, got out and started firing a handgun. He killed Rackley and her 6-year-old son Jase, wounding Rackley's other boy, 11, and the daughter of the woman driving the SUV.

Then he shot himself.

In many ways, Rackley's murder was typical of Utah domestic violence cases.

One in three Utah women experience domestic violence or intimate partner abuse at some point in their lives, according to the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Every year, about 80 Utah children see their mothers killed or attacked.

Utah records about one domestic violence homicide a month, the Utah Health Department reports.

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The majority of domestic violence homicide victims are female.

Males commit 88 percent of those homicides.

And a third of those domestic violence killers commit suicide.

Yet some police departments cling to an ancient definition of domestic violence that no longer applies.

Essentially, they insist that if you aren’t married or living together, you can’t be a victim of domestic violence.

They are wrong, insists Mark Wynn, a retired officer who worked domestic violence cases in Nashville and now serves as a consultant.

"Why would you exclude half of the population of your domestic violence victims?" Wynn said in an interview with Lindsay Whitehurst, a reporter for The Associated Press.

Victims often fear that by filing for a restraining order, they’ll enrage the people they’re trying to escape — a dread Rackley shared with Sandy police.

She never filed for a restraining order. Only 2 percent of domestic violence homicide victims do, the Utah DVC reports.

Take the fear out of approaching the police. Encourage expanded use of the Lethality Assessment Protocol. Get social workers involved as quickly as possible and move victims to shelter.

How? By expanding the definition of domestic violence statewide so it applies to people who are dating or no longer in relationships.

It’s our only chance to save Utahns like Memorez Rackley and her children.

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