Eighth Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo announced Thursday morning that his office, in addition to law enforcement agencies and social service organizations, will form a task force dedicated to fighting the criminal domestic violence problem in Greenwood, Abbeville, Laurens and Newberry counties.
The announcement was made at a Community Call to Action breakfast hosted by Wesley Commons. Representatives from nearly every law enforcement agency and social service organization throughout the Eighth Circuit attended the breakfast. Capt. Jarvis Reeder of the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Solicitor Lance Sheek gave a presentation on domestic violence laws and statistics for Greenwood County. Alice Hodges, director of Meg’s House, and Laurie Fallaw, Cornerstone’s coordinator for the Community Action for a Safer Tomorrow (CAST) prevention coalition , facilitated an open mic forum on root causes of domestic violence and steps that can be taken to prevent the crimes from happening.
Greenwood County Sheriff Tony Davis told those gathered that, from a law enforcement perspective, criminal domestic violence can be difficult situation.
“When an incident happens, we, as law enforcement, respond,” Davis said. We’re reactive. As a community, we need to be proactive. We don’t have all the answers, but we are going to seek the answers.”
Stumbo agreed with Davis’ take on domestic violence and called for community groups to assist law enforcement in identifying potential situations before someone calls 911.
“It’s very difficult for us to have a crystal ball to know when a crime is going to happen,” Stumbo said. “That’s where the social organizations, especially pastors, become critical. They can help us identify these situations on the front end.”
The formation of the new task force comes near the end of one of the most violent years in the history of Greenwood County. According to statistics provided by the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office, there were four murders throughout Greenwood County in 2010 and four more in 2011. In 2012, there were seven. In 2013, that number has jumped to 17, with 26 days remaining in the year. That puts the murder rate for Greenwood County at one murder for about every 4,100 residents. By comparison, the city of Los Angeles had a murder rate in 2011 of one murder for about every 13,000 residents, according to FBI statistics.
Six of the murders in 2013 were the result of a domestic violence situation gone terribly wrong. On Oct. 29, 27-year-old Bryan Keith Sweatt killed five people, including his former girlfriend and two children, before turning the gun on himself. The already shocking crime devastated the Greenwood community further when it was revealed that Sweatt executed the victims and possibly lay in wait on his victims for several hours. About a week later, on Nov. 4, 46-year-old Charles Ray Belcher killed his on-again-off-again girlfriend at her home before returning to his home in Abbeville County and killing himself.
Those two crimes caused great alarm in the entire Lakelands area, particularly after there were a total of four more killings less than a month later, one involving a man allegedly killed by his father in Abbeville County. During that month it was also revealed that South Carolina was once again at the top of the list in the number of women who died at the hands of men. Hodges noted that the majority of those victims had left their abusers prior to being killed.
“We have to address the violence occurring in our communities,” Stumbo said. “If we don’t come together and start working together, we are going to keep seeing the same situations occurring over and over again.”