According to a Covington Police Department report, Henry Arnold became just the latest in an increasingly large group of people charged in connection with domestic violence in Newton County. Thursday night, Arnold allegedly punched his girlfriend in the head before choking and kicking her. After the beating, Arnold reportedly snatched the injured woman's keys and stole her car.
The case is not an uncommon one in the area.
"Close to half of all new arrests in Newton County are related to family violence," said Leslie Smith, director of the Victim Witness Assistance Program.
Newton County Sheriff's Lt. Mark Mitchell said there were 668 reports of family violence in 2007, which is up from 589 reports in 2006.
"It is prevalent all over," Mitchell said. "Newton County is not immune to it."
Though the NCSO has no specific programs to deal with domestic violence, Mitchell said deputies had the power to mediate, separate and arrest when necessary.
"By law as officers we have the responsibility to make the case even if the victim does not want us to," Mitchell said. "If we see evidence of abuse, we can make an arrest under the Family Violence Act of the State of Georgia."
If further assistance is needed, the deputies are trained to put the victims in contact with support groups or the Newton County District Attorney's Office.
"If an arrest is made, the case is automatically turned over to us," Smith said. "If there is not enough evidence for an arrest, the case can still be turned over to us, and we see if it is necessary to issue a Family Violence Protective Order. Most people know that as a temporary restraining order. We can also issue those in cases where an arrest is made."
If an arrest is made, the case is turned over to Crimes Against Women and Children Prosecutor Melanie McCrorey. Because of the sensitive nature of domestic abuse cases, McCrorey faces some unique challenges.
"The cases are a lot harder to prosecute," McCrorey said. "A lot of times the victim will recant their statements and not want to testify in the case. So we try to prosecute them as quickly as possible."
She attributes some of this to what she calls the cycle of violence.
"They revert back to the honeymoon phase where he promises her he will change and maybe even takes steps to change like going to counseling, but then things just get worse after the case is dropped," McCrorey said.
All parties involved agree that the number of cases reported to the NCSO and the Covington Police Department is just a fraction of the actual abuse taking place in the county.
Those victims who do not feel they can go directly to law enforcement for help often turn to the Project ReNeWal Domestic Violence Intervention Program.
The program is designed to help victims of domestic violence in Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties in variety of ways.
"We provide whatever services they need," said Vickie Stevenson, executive director of Project ReNeWal. "That could be anything from individual counseling to support groups. We can help them get restraining orders and get into touch with the right people in the DA's office."
Victims of domestic abuse can call the Project ReNeWal crisis hotline at (770) 860-1666. After a short interview, Project ReNeWal will arrange for the person to be brought to a safe house in Rockdale County. The victim can then be entered into a 30-day program designed to help the person live an independent and violence-free life.
"Sometimes people need help getting employed and we can help with that," Stevenson said. "They can receive counseling and parenting classes as well. We have a cook provided by General Mills who teaches them how to cook healthy meals for their children."
Stevenson said the shelter is not what most people might envision.
"People hear the word shelter and they think of some big room with 20 people living on cots, but it is not like that," she said. "It really is more like an apartment complex with each family receiving their own room."
In 2007, Project ReNeWal assisted 1,805 people in Newton County by providing 14,856 instances of assistance. Eighty-two of those victims were men.
"It is really bad in Newton County," Stevenson said. "And I think we are only getting a third of them."
The number of victims in Newton County is almost double that of Rockdale and Walton counties. Stevenson said 949 victims in Rockdale County were provided 14,051 services while 999 people in Walton County were provided 5,239 services.
"Rockdale County is normally higher than Newton, but not this past year," Stevenson said.
In the coming months, Stevenson said Project ReNeWal staff will be training some NSCO deputies on more effective ways of handling domestic violence cases which could lead to more arrests and fewer repeat offenders.
But with only six full-time and seven part-time employees, Project ReNeWal is constantly looking for volunteers and donations to keep the non-profit organization going.
"People need to realize this affects every aspect of the community," Stevenson said. "The people that are getting abused are the people you see everyday. It could be the woman serving you food or the person standing next to you."
For more information about Project ReNeWal, please call (770) 860-9770.