The number of domestic violence deaths in Colorado reached an all-time high in 2022 — the second year in a row the state hit a new peak, according to a new analysis by the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
Attorney General Phil Weiser and Bridget Dyson, a domestic violence survivor who serves on the Colorado Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, which produced the report with Weiser’s office, recently shared the findings with Colorado Matters host Chandra Thomas Whitfield.
The report found that 94 people were killed in domestic violence-related incidents in Colorado in 2022. Among those, 39 were killed by their current or former intimate partners. Another 22 were collateral victims, including six children. Two peace officers also lost their lives while responding to domestic violence calls.
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The total number of domestic violence deaths in Colorado was almost one and a half times higher than the average number of deaths since data collection started in 2017, according to the report.
“I do have to acknowledge that we're not 100 percent sure that we're apples to apples from 2017 to today because it's possible that we've gotten better at recognizing domestic violence fatalities,” said Weiser, who chairs the board. “So, the 94 that we captured in 2022 could have been because we're seeing deaths for what they are. Part of the challenge is there's such a stigma. There's shame and sometimes people could die in a domestic violence situation and we might not know it and that's something that we want to work on; more awareness.”
'It's a scar you carry on the inside'
Dyson shared her nightmarish domestic violence experience. In December 2016, Brighton Police found her lying in a pool of blood between two vehicles in the parking lot of the Sterling Park Apartments. She was so severely injured that officers initially believed she had been brutally bludgeoned with a weapon. Further forensic evidence showed otherwise.
“He ran over my head (with my car) and then he ran over it again; brains everywhere,” recalled Dyson. “Literally, he stuffed me under my son's car and took off.”
Dyson was transported to a hospital and was immediately put into a medically-induced coma, launching her extended recovery journey which included her skull cap having to be rebuilt with the use of her right leg. She credits God, or “the man upstairs,” as she puts it, for helping her pull through.
“I should not be here,” she said. ”I have titanium drilled in my head. I've had four surgeries. I have titanium in my knee. I have 17 scars. I was in an induced coma for almost six months, and coming out of that coma, you look at yourself and you're just like, ‘Where did all this time go? Who is this person?’ And you have to start all over again.”
Dyson’s ex-husband was eventually convicted of first-degree attempted murder after deliberation as an act of domestic violence and is currently serving a 35-year sentence. She has since dedicated her life to supporting other survivors, which includes her service on the board.
“For all intents and purposes, I look normal, but for any victim who's gone through domestic violence, it's a scar you carry on the inside,” she said.
The report's findings underscore the importance of Colorado's red flag law, Weiser says
According to the board’s analysis, 97 percent of the domestic violence victims were women and 95 percent of the perpetrators were male in 2022, highlighting the gendered nature of these crimes.
The analysis also found that nearly a quarter of domestic violence-related fatalities in 2022 were minors, which included communities losing six children ages 16 and under.
Also, in fatal domestic violence cases in which the domestic violence perpetrator died, 70 percent of the perpetrators died by suicide. Perpetrators were also killed by law enforcement, victims, and bystanders.
Consistent with the board’s previous analysis, firearms were the leading cause of death. Eighty-six percent of the domestic violence deaths were the result of firearm injuries. All of the domestic violence perpetrator deaths involved guns, while 73 percent of the domestic violence victim fatalities and 86 percent of the collateral deaths were due to gunshot wounds.
Weiser said it underscores the critical importance of law enforcement intervention and enforcement of Colorado’s Red Flag Law, which allows law enforcement, family members and a select list of others, to petition the court for an extreme risk protection order, or ERPO, to temporarily take away the guns of anyone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
“What this means is when someone is looking like they could be a perpetrator of domestic violence looking like they could be a threat, it's essential that we remove the firearm,” he said. “We know that can save lives, by removing firearms. We have a law that calls for relinquishment of firearms by perpetrators of domestic violence. That law unfortunately isn't always working as it's intended. One of the conclusions of our report is, how do we ensure it works better than it's working now?”
Previous Colorado Public Radio reporting has found that domestic violence survivors have been "disillusioned" with the red flag process.
As for Dyson, she says she’s thriving now and she hopes sharing her story and the board’s work, including releasing this report, inspires those experiencing domestic violence to take on the gut-wrenching process of leaving their abuser.
“It is part of the healing I want to give back,” she said. “I want to let other victims know; say something, it doesn't have to be that bad. Get out.”
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