Recent arrest reports obtained by the Cleveland Daily Banner have provided a snapshot of an uptick in domestic violence and assault incidents in the city, as well as Bradley County, indicating that escalating tensions caused by job losses and self-quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be a potentially deadly recipe for violence.
According to the police reports, between April 2 and April 5, there were 15 arrests in Cleveland and Bradley County for offenses such as domestic violence, domestic assault and aggravated assault. Additionally, the CPD’s April 6 incident report contained a long list of assault arrests, including eight simple domestic violence arrests, one simple assault arrest and one aggravated assault arrest.
None of the incidents have led to any fatalities; at least, until Wednesday when an incident began with a dispute and ended with the firing of a gun.
On Wednesday morning, the Cleveland Police Department released a statement regarding a domestic violence incident that ended in a shooting, resulting in the death of one man and a first-degree murder charge against another.
According to the CPD, the shooting suspect, Matthew Thomas, 39, was arrested by the Bradley County Sheriff's Office for the death of Chris Wingard, 30, who died of multiple gunshot wounds at 1650 Clemmer St. N.E. shortly before 1 a.m.
Thomas, who was identified by a witness at the residence, was located by BCSO deputies after he crashed his vehicle at Georgetown Road on Exit 25, just off Interstate 75.
The CPD said an investigation revealed that a domestic dispute between Wingard and Thomas had resulted in the deadly shooting.
With the rate of new coronavirus cases expected to peak by mid-April, local residents will need to continue hunkering down in their homes, increasing the chances for violence to break out.
Sheriff Steve Lawson
offers his perspective
Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson said his office has noticed an increase in domestic assault arrests.
“Under present circumstances, we believe that this could be due to the fact that most of the public have been held up in their homes — potentially in abusive households,” Lawson told the Banner in an interview that occurred prior to Wednesday's shooting.
The sheriff added, “During these difficult times, I strongly encourage everyone to do everything they can to stay busy and maintain a level head. It is important to channel the dormant energy that we all have from a slower pace of life into positive outlets; go on walks, finish home-improvement projects, build relationships, implement healthy habits, etc.”
Lawson said those who are experiencing domestic violence or know someone who is, “should seek help from appropriate avenues and report as necessary.”
“It is my hope that everyone in our community uses this time to become better in every way and that we all emerge from these unprecedented times as stronger, more gracious people,” he said.
CPD Sgt. Evie West
has seen an increase
Sgt. Evie West, public information officer for the Cleveland Police Department, said police have expected an increase in the number of domestic-violence cases due to rising tensions caused by job losses, as well as the loss of normality in daily life.
“People are on edge,” West told the Banner, also in an interview prior to the Wednesday shooting. “They are frustrated and filled with fear and hopelessness.”
The anxiety can be overwhelming when there are no ways to relieve the frustration.
Like Lawson on the county side of law enforcement, West urged residents to take walks or seek help from social workers.
“Find a way to relieve the stress,” West said. “We may not know when, but this time will end.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee
The threat of increasing violence at home was addressed last week by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who said the tensions could also lead to child abuse.
“I want to remind everyone: each of us are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse,” he said. “We encourage neighbors and friends and family and parents to be vigilant during this time of seclusion and social distancing to call the child-abuse hotline if they suspect child abuse or neglect.”
Lee said child protective services investigators are still visiting homes to make face-to-face visits to ensure children are safe.
“I urge all Tennesseans to be vigilant, to be engaged and to be certain that during this time of crisis, we don't add additional process … that we don't have additional damage and that children are safe and protected,” he said.
violence is rising
Although a drop in domestic-related offenses in Tennessee was reported by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in 2018, the current health and economic climate caused by the pandemic could reverse the trend.
According to a TDG report released last year, 73,568 offenses were reported as domestic-related in 2018, reflecting a decrease of 5.8% from 2017 to 2018.
Of the reported domestic violence offenses, 49,455 were reported as simple assault.
Females were three times more likely to be victimized than males, accounting for 71.1% of all reported domestic violence victims.
Domestic violence was reported as a factor in 98 murders in 2018, according to the TBI.
“The issue of domestic violence is by no means a novel problem in American society,” TBI Director David Rausch said. “The persistence of domestic violence and the large number of related incidents reported to law enforcement necessitate continued awareness about this issue.”
FRA official reports
hotline calls increasing
Angie Benefield, director of family violence programs at the Family Resource Agency, said calls to their hotline last month increased from the same month the previous year, with 33 calls received in March 2019, and 55 calls received last month.
While the increase in calls seeking help may not be connected to the current stay-at-home order signed by the Tennessee governor, there is a possibility that family members and loved ones sheltering under one roof for weeks at a time may be reacting to stressors that spark domestic violence incidents.
“We are getting calls about physical abuse, as well as stalking,” Benefield said. “The times are stressful.”
Benefield said the stay-at-home order may result in victims having difficulty getting away from physical and verbal abusers, especially if women’s shelters are full.
“If they’re not able to get away, the abuse may increase,” she said.
However, victims may contact the organization via its hotline at 423-476-3886.
Benefield said that although her organization’s shelter is currently full, counselors at the facility will work to find room at a shelter in another county.
According to reports by The Associated Press, the following factors are traditionally present during stay-at-home orders:
• Mental health: “Approximately 20% of U.S. adults have a mental health condition. More than 4 million endure serious mental illness. COVID-19 has the potential to make things much worse; isolation exacerbates depression and anxiety. Those with mental health issues who are self-isolating may find it difficult to get proper medication and therapy. As a result, some may turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. Not only does this hurt the individual, it greatly increases the risk of violence in the home."
• Domestic violence: “Intimate partner violence, pervasive in the U.S., touches one in four women and one in nine men. Studies suggest that a crisis only increases its incidence and severity. Often, the increases last well beyond the crisis. In China, there’s evidence that intimate partner violence went up when COVID-19 forced people to stay at home.”
“Then there’s an added risk factor: guns. COVID-19 brought with it a jump in the number of gun purchases. Studies show gun ownership is a key factor in deadly domestic violence; the risk of homicide goes up 500%. On average, 600 women are shot to death by a partner each year, and gun-related domestic killings rose more than a quarter between 2010-2017, a significant increase after four decades of decline.”
• Child abuse: “In the U.S., up to four million children receive services for child abuse every year. Every day, five children die from abuse and neglect. Social isolation, economic fallout, closing schools and the stress resulting from families constantly in close quarters puts them at even higher risk. And with more guns in homes, the number of children killed by firearms will likely go up. It’s already the second-leading cause of death for them."
“There are also millions of low-income children that face school closures. Many of them are without home computers, so unlike most of their classmates, they can’t do the online assignments. Other children, enrolled in Individualized Education Programs, are also often left behind, both in online and home-school scenarios.”
• Pregnant women: “When emergencies occur, the needs of pregnant women suffer. Call it the 'tyranny of the urgent,' and it is not a uniquely American problem. During the COVID-19 outbreak in China, and the earlier Ebola pandemic in Africa, maternity care sometimes ceased altogether. In other cases, pregnant women were moved out to make room for pandemic patients.”
“In the U.S., as hospital resources are diverted, women who miscarry in early pregnancy may face delays, even for emergency procedures, with black and Native American women particularly at risk.”
“The U.S. already has the highest maternal mortality rate of any high-income country in the world," according to the AP.
For more information about reporting abuse, visit: