Do women’s lives matter? It’s hard to tell from the stats, or from this KCK case

Michael Ryan
·4 min read

Witnesses say Teresa Jones called out for help as she was being bludgeoned in a Kansas City, Kansas, apartment lobby.

A couple of bystanders verbally intervened to halt her beating at the hands of an intimate partner. Police arrived promptly to sweep up the suspect and collect evidence.

But no one else really did help the 50-year-old Jones, who survived that attack. The Wyandotte County criminal justice system certainly didn’t.

In fact, after charging Harold Hooks Jr. with three felonies and three misdemeanors in that November 2019 assault, the justice system then let him slip right through its porous fingers. He was allowed by the district attorney’s office to plead no contest to three counts of misdemeanor domestic battery, as if her beating were a jaywalk in the park, and he was released on a meaningless signature bond pending sentencing.

This, despite the fact that Hooks has been booked into jail over the years on more than a dozen occasions that included warrants for not showing up in court.

Not surprisingly, at least to the lay observer, Hooks didn’t even show up for his sentencing last June — although he was going to get probation.

Tragically, though perhaps not surprisingly, this April 11, Jones was killed at that same apartment complex at 15 North 10th Street, and Hooks was arrested and booked on suspicion of second-degree murder. Maybe they can actually hold onto him this time.

How can this happen? How, in the year 2021, can we still have turnstiles in our jails and courthouses for abusers and potential killers? And when so many women are being slaughtered under our noses?

I realize the state of Kansas wants to reduce the number of people held in jails, especially before trial. But really, can we please make some exceptions for the chronically violent? And when we know how fatal domestic violence can be? Women are killed at a pandemic rate in this country, 55% of those murders being domestic violence killings by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unfortunately, what just happened in Wyandotte County happens all the time, all over the country. Crimes related to domestic violence are routinely pleaded down.

As for Teresa Jones’ alleged killer, “I’m not surprised that he was out of jail,” says Annie Struby, community assessment coordinator for the Rose Brooks Center for domestic violence.

Struby says, “It’s generally pretty rare for someone to get significant jail time, even for a violent assault.”

Ironically and outrageously, the criminal justice system’s repeated failures in domestic violence cases put added strain on victims, Struby says: “Even if she participates, will he get significant jail time? Will she be in even more danger when he does get out because he will retaliate? Does he have friends/family that will be a threat to her safety even if he’s incarcerated? If they have children together, who will help pay the bills if he is incarcerated? It’s a lot to ask of people.”

A lack of resources — a measure of societal indifference — can also mean that cases enter the system and overwhelm it, leading to perpetrators who are arrested but never prosecuted. And that can add to the peril.

An abuser who is arrested for domestic violence but doesn’t have charges pursued is typically angrier and more violent toward the reporting partner than before, another victim advocate told me. Maybe that woman won’t even report again as a result. So the risk goes up and up.”

The risk certainly seems to have skyrocketed for Teresa Jones, who may be the latest of many victims of a largely impotent justice system.

In her Nov. 14, 2019 beatdown, a witness said he saw Hooks slam her head against the glass several times. Among other blows she absorbed, no doubt.

The brutal attack appears to have occurred just hours after his release from jail for another battery on her days before.

Allegedly there was a court services screening of Hooks prior to his release on bond last year in the Nov. 14, 2019 assault. Did they not see what I can readily see on my computer — which is some 17 prior jail bookings where Hooks was cordially invited to appear in court but declined?

Even so, Hooks was headed for probation anyway (another honor he declined), thanks to Wyandotte County District Attorney Mark Dupree’s decision to let him plead to three misdemeanors. The original charges in the Nov. 14, 2019 assault included aggravated kidnapping, a Level 1 felony sitting at the top of the Kansas criminal sentencing grid.

And now another woman is dead, allegedly at the hand of an intimate.

Teresa Ann Jones’ pleas for help, which still echo hauntingly through that apartment lobby, came second to the pleas of her abuser.

When will that cease?