They’d been laughing. And drinking. Blowing off steam, as couples do, when he got off work on that June evening nearly a year ago.
“Everything was awesome,” Amanda Blair said. “Everything was fine.”
Then ugliness erupted after she tucked in her three children. The arguing turned physical.
“I was hitting him and punching him, and he was hitting me and punching me,” the 22-year-old Pierce County woman said.
Her fiancé began bleeding at the lip.
“That’s when he went off on me,” she said. He choked her unconscious. Kicked her. Bruised her.
“I couldn’t see out my eyes. They were like glued shut,” she said.
She escaped and ran into the arms of a neighbor. Paramedics and doctors attended to her injuries, including a concussion. Her 19-year-old boyfriend, father to her then-1-month-old son, went to jail.
“The officers told me I could have been killed,” she said. Court documents confirm the events and the extent of her injuries.
Her body healed. The bruises faded. But the emotional hurt didn’t disappear.
A few days after the attack, she pulled out the card that county sheriff’s deputy Jason Tate gave her for the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.
The warm-hearted but tough-minded souls there became navigators for Blair, helping her conquer the tide of emotions pulling her back toward the abusive relationship.
“They explained to me … if he is in my life again it would be bad,” she said.
In the 15 months since the center opened in the basement of a former funeral home on Tacoma’s Court E, it has dispensed legal and life-affirming aid, comfort and dignity to about 1,000 victims of domestic violence, director Susan Adams said.
Last year, another 1,344 people sought services via its crisis line; and about 4,800 got quick referrals or questions answered, Adams said. That doesn’t count the untracked number of calls that “roll over” to the local YWCA hot line after business hours and on weekends.
The 11,000-square-foot facility, run jointly by the city and the county with an array of municipal, tribal and social services partners, is a “one-stop shopping” center for men and women in crisis.
It operates on a $1.4 million annual budget, derived from government funding and grants.
The center’s name speaks loudly to the pain levied by batterers. Crystal Judson was fatally shot by her estranged husband, Tacoma Police Chief David Brame, on April 26, 2003.
The services provided by the center aren’t new. Local legal and emotional aid long has been available for battered men and women.
But they weren’t bundled together until a grieving community demanded that Judson’s death make a difference.
“We had to do something tangible,” said Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma, “something that people could relate to and see.”
Wrapping victims in services
Because the center houses victim advocates, Department of Social and Health Services representatives, attorneys, chaplains, police officers and sheriff’s deputies, there’s no need for someone who’s already suffering to shuttle here and there for help.
Adams, the 41-year-old former prosecutor who runs the center, calls it “wrapping somebody in services,” a sort of warm social blanket in time of need.
“We really work to make our clients as comfortable as we can when they come in,” she said.
The center’s exterior is plain. The pale yellow building sits along Court E, more of an alley than a street.
A wall-sized forest scene creates a peaceful greeting in the patio-like lobby. Soothing sounds spring from a fountain of falling water.
A black-haired boy of about 5 sits on a gray carpet in the great-room area, riveted by cartoons on a large flat-screen monitor. A young woman’s arm wraps protectively around a long-haired girl as they cuddle together on a soft burgundy-colored couch.
A kitchen and a pantry beyond the cozy family room provide for sometimes starving clients.
Two intake rooms flank a children’s area where a rainbow of teddy bears, a Raggedy Ann doll, a stuffed stegosaurus and a triceratops sit atop windowsills, awaiting hugs. A Little People roller coaster, a “Sesame Street” fire engine and dozens of other toys busy small hands.
Windows allow moms or dads to monitor their kids’ play while they attend to restraining orders and safety planning. The intake rooms are comfortable but relatively spare. A computer linked to the courthouse and an oft-used tissue box on a low table are focal points.
A maze of offices and cubicles fills the rest of the center. Phones ring, advocates answer. Court papers get filed via computer. Lives are mended.
Police and prosecutors from the city and county domestic violence units staff offices on the other side of the building, physically separated from clients for comfort and confidentiality, Adams said.
The cops are there if they’re needed or wanted, said Pierce County sheriff’s Sgt. Roland Bautista. But victims choose whether to see them.
“We have two different missions,” one to help victims, the other to find and punish abusers, he said. “We try not to interfere with each other’s services.”
But the marriage of law enforcement and victim advocates in one building can be off-putting to women who’ve been battered by cops.
“I speak strictly to officer-involved victims, and they say the justice center is the last place they would go,” said Cherry Gilbert, a volunteer victim advocate who is not connected to the facility. “They see the police cars out front, and they don’t even stop,” she said of the women she counsels.
They worry their abuser’s fellow officers might see them coming or going, or spot their cars in the tiny parking lot and report the sighting to the men they’re trying to escape.
Gilbert knows the special care these women demand. When her now ex-husband beat her, he was a King County sheriff’s deputy.
One recent weekday afternoon, five unmarked cars – bristling with antennas, and thus unmistakably those of law officers – lined the alley in front of the center.
“I think they have a valid concern, but I really don’t know what kind of answer there is for that,” Lane Judson said of the criticism.
He and his wife, Patty, hope the center that bears their daughter’s name might save someone in a potentially lethal relationship in which the partner carries a gun.
Adams doesn’t track numbers on how many clients were battered by cops. But some do seek sanctuary there, she said.
There are two reactions to officers’ presence.
“There are some people who go to the family justice center and see those detective cars out there and freak out,” said Ann Eft, director of the Pierce County Commission Against Domestic Violence. “And there are many people who go there and see those cars and say, ‘Oh, thank God, they’re armed.’”
Police are less visible at the San Diego Family Justice Center on which the Tacoma facility was modeled. Officers park out of sight in the basement, wear plain clothes and are separated from victims by several floors in the four-level center, director Gael Strack said.
She praises the Tacoma operation for “taking a tragedy and turning it into something that’s going to help many victims of domestic violence.”
If police cars in the alley are a barrier to people seeking in help in Tacoma, “it’s something that we should look at,” said City Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, a member of the center’s board of directors.
“I don’t want someone to feel like they’re unwelcome or in danger,” she added. “We’ve got to get them to relocate the cars.”
Adams said that will be difficult. The center is cramped. There’s virtually no parking, and officers need quick access to their vehicles.
There are many “portals” to help for victims of domestic violence in the county, Eft pointed out. Someone who doesn’t feel comfortable going to the Judson center might seek help at the YWCA or the Korean Women’s Association.
‘in a better place’
The larger issue, many say, is making the public more aware that domestic violence is a serious crime and that help is available for its wounded.
The card that deputy Tate gave Amanda Blair might have saved her life, she said.
Others would agree.
“We’ve actually had clients come in who were running from the abuser, and we’ve been able to get them into a shelter out of state or out of town,” said advocate Brenda Clay, who helped Blair.
“Sometimes they expect you to wave a magic wand and all their problems are done. It doesn’t work that way,” Clay added. Advocates gently push, but they don’t shove.
When Blair arrived with her three children, she felt as if she’d entered a protective cocoon, she said.
“I’m lucky because he was put in jail the same day” as the attack, Blair said of her fiancé. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and received nine months in jail.
Clay helped her recognize the escalating pattern of abuse that existed in the relationship, and steered her away from going back, Blair said.
She got $500 from the center to help her move. With newfound self-respect, she returned to school. She wants to be a paralegal and work on behalf of domestic violence victims. And she hopes to begin speaking on behalf of the center.
The pain and loss of the Judson family put Amanda Blair and her children “in a better place,” she said.
“I never even knew that place existed until this happened,” Blair said. “I think it’s just so amazing. We are not alone.”
Tacoma made several promises to the family of Crystal Judson to settle a $75 million lawsuit in the fall of 2005. The lawsuit stemmed from Judson’s death in May 2003 after she was shot by her estranged husband, Police Chief David Brame. Along with a monetary settlement, the city agreed to pursue changes in policies and procedures. City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli detailed Tacoma’s compliance in a recent memo to the City Council. Here’s an accounting of the major pieces.
The promise: Payment of $12 million to the Judson family
How: The City Council approved payment on Sept. 13, 2005. The city paid $1 million; $11 million came from insurance.
The promise: Change the name of the Tacoma-Pierce County Family Justice Center to the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center. Put the full name of the center on interior and exterior signs, logos, letterhead, stationery and seals.
The promise: The mayor and the city manager will sign a letter of regret containing specific language to the family.
How: Mayor Bill Baarsma and City Manager Eric Anderson signed a letter on Nov. 8, 2005, “expressing deep regret” to Crystal’s family for her death. The letter said the city was “committed to actions, policies and changes which are aimed at preventing similar tragedies from occurring again.”
The promise: Designate April 26 of each year as Domestic Violence Awareness Day in Tacoma
How: The City Council approved a resolution to that effect on Dec. 16, 2005.
The promise: Support Washington State Senate Bill 6161 and comparable federal legislation
How: Mayor Baarsma testified in support of the bill, which was passed in 2004 and signed into law by then-Gov. Gary Locke. The law requires law enforcement agencies to enact training and policies regarding domestic violence by officers.
The promise: The City of Tacoma will continue to make reasonable efforts regarding review and improvement of its code of ethics.
How: The City Council established an ethics board in June 2006 and appointed members to the panel in February.
The promise: Install a permanent plaque reading: “The Family Justice Center is dedicated to the memory of Crystal Judson and other victims of domestic violence. Crystal Judson was fatally shot on April 26, 2003, by her estranged husband, the Chief of Police of Tacoma”
How: An 8-inch-by-10-inch plaque installed in the center’s lobby reads: “Crystal Judson Family Justice Center – Dedicated to the memory of Crystal Judson – May all who walk through these doors find strength, courage, and hope.”
The promise: The Tacoma Police Department will continue to make reasonable efforts at accreditation by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
How: The association no longer accredits police departments, but Tacoma police leaders are working with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. A project to review and revise department functions is under way, city officials say, and full accreditation is expected by the end of 2009.
The Promise: The city will continue to make reasonable efforts to implement the recommendations in a sweeping 2001 performance audit of the department by Carroll Buracker & Associates.
How’s that? Chief Don Ramsdell is implementing a strategic plan that “exceeds” the Buracker recommendations, the city says. Progress toward implementing the recommendations was noted in memos dated in March and August 2005, according to Pauli’s summary of the settlement terms. A News Tribune request for copies of some of those summaries is pending.
The Promise: The city will make reasonable efforts to “determine, establish and implement policies” on psychological screening of police recruits and fitness-for-duty evaluations of officers.
How: Police now use a character-based hiring process that includes testing and psychological exams. A comprehensive policy on fitness-for-duty evaluations is being written and should be completed in June, according to Pauli’s memo.
The Promise: The city will return all personal photographs, videotapes and other personal items from the case.
How’s that? The City Attorney’s Office is still working with the Judsons’ attorneys on this issue.
The promise: Dedicate a page to Crystal Judson on the justice center’s Web site
How’s that? The Web site is under construction, justice center director Susan Adams said. Plans call for a page dedicated to Crystal.
The Promise: The city will make reasonable efforts to implement a citizens police oversight committee.
How’s that? City Council members approved an ordinance formally establishing the police Citizen Review Panel on Feb. 20. Five residents have been appointed to the committee. City Manager Anderson says the “policy advisory board” will improve police accountability and build trust in the department. Police union contracts prevent the committee from assessing and ruling on individual complaints against officers, Anderson said. Critics complain that’s not true oversight and point out the city never did establish an independent auditor’s office recommended by the Human Rights Commission.
The Promise: The city will continue to make reasonable efforts to implement the recommendations of the WASPC Citizens Advisory Panel.
How’s that? The city says “all applicable recommendations” have been fulfilled and points to an April 4, 2005, memo from Police Chief Don Ramsdell to then-City Manager Jim Walton detailing the city’s compliance. Ginny Eberhardt, a citizen activist who co-chaired the advisory panel, complained “the city made it sound like everything was hunky-dory” and then diluted the intentions of the group.
What to do if you’re being abused
• Develop a safety plan on how to get away, where you’ll go and who will help you.
• Get a cell phone. Keep it charged and with you. Free 911 emergency phones are available at the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center.
• Keep a stash of money in a secret place you can get to in an emergency.
• Open a savings account in your own name.
• Hide Social Security cards, birth certificates, checks and bank cards in your secret place.
• Keep an extra set of car keys in your secret location.
• Set a code word or a signal to use to alert friends and family to call police.
• Document your injuries with photographs and a journal. 718 Court E, Tacoma
How to help a friend who’s being abused
• Be a good listener, ask questions delicately and don’t judge.
• Be careful. Abusers can go after a victim’s allies, too.
• Watch what you say and do. An abuser might be listening in on phone calls or other conversations and checking the victim’s mail and e-mail. Take care not to say anything that might enrage the abuser.
• Offer unconditional support. Let your friend know that you will help whenever you’re asked.
• Learn the signs of domestic violence and ways to cope with it.
• Gather a list of shelters, agencies and professionals who can help when the victim is ready to seek outside counsel or get away from the abuser.
• Encourage victims to document injuries.
• Urge the victim to seek medical attention if he or she has been injured, and to be honest with the medical staff about the injuries.Sources: City of Tacoma, Crystal Judson Family Justice Center
ABOUT THE CRYSTAL JUDSON FAMILY JUSTICE CENTER
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday
24-hour help line: 253-798-4166
• Safety planning
• Civil and criminal legal information
• Help filing a protection order
• Access to support groups and counseling
• Access to the Department of Social and Health Services
• Help for men and women whose partners are in the armed services
• Sexual assault information
• Referrals and information on emergency housing
• Advocates who speak different languages
• Immigration information
Is there a charge?
No. Services are free.
Do I need an appointment?
No, but they are recommended. Call 253-798-4166.
May I bring my children?
Yes. The center has areas and activities for kids.
May I bring a friend or a family member?
Yes, but that person might be asked to wait in another room while you speak to an advocate.
YWCA of Tacoma-Pierce County
24-hour crisis line: 252-383-2593
Korean Women’s Association
YWCA Domestic Violence Services
South King County
DAWN 24-hour crisis line: 425-656-7867
YWCA – ALIVE Program
24-hour crisis line: 1-800-500-5513
Crisis line: 360-754-6300
Statewide 24-hour domestic violence hot line