Underestimating the danger

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S.  

Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S.

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Every nine seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten in the U.S. 

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At one Maryland apartment complex, there is very little evidence of the tragic intersection of three lives, the calls for help that came too late, the children now scarred for life.

One in four women are victims of physical violence at the hands those who claim to love them. Jalisa Harris, Tareeka Jones and Kevin Reynolds left this world in the most violent of ways. Their families and communities are still suffering.

Prince George's County, where nearly one million people live, leads the state of Maryland in this kind of tragedy. But these tragedies are not someone else's problem.

"I just looked at the TV and I said, ‘God, just don't let that be my baby,’" said LaShawn Harris, the mother of Jalisa Walls Harris, who was killed in March.

The early signs that went unnoticed.

Everyone listened when 22-year-old Jalisa lifted her voice to sing. 

"My girlfriend asked if she could sing ‘His Eye was on the Sparrow,’” LaShawn said. “She was four years old and it just blew her mind."

From that point on, Jalisa unleashed her range in church, in contests and in verse. She wanted to be a star and to use her talents to help others, particularly, her half-sister Tareeka Jones. 

One of LaShawn’s last conversations with her daughter Jalisa and Tareeka revolved around domestic violence.

"I told you about our girlfriend who was letting her boyfriend beat her up, and you said that you would talk to her,” LaShawn said, remembering what Jalisa had said to her.

RELATED: Warning signs of an abusive partner

“And, I was like, ‘Yeah, tell her to come over. I would definitely talk to her because no woman deserves to be hit on,’” LaShawn said. “I don't care what, I said, ‘You should never let yourself be beat up, never.’”

At that moment, LaShawn said Jalisa turned to her sister and said, “See, I told you, Tareeka. My mother wouldn't be going for that.”

LaShawn asked Tareeka if it was her. Tareeka denied it.

"I would have just hugged her. And I keep looking at that chair because that's where she was sitting,” LaShawn said, thinking back to that day. “And, I would have kissed her and told her that ‘I love you, you don't deserve this.’"

Tareeka Jones was in trouble.

The 26-year-old was a devoted mother of three young girls. She loved cooking meals and telling the world about her sweet babies on social media, a place where she did not showcase the father of her youngest daughter and her former boyfriend, 30-year-old Kevin Reynolds. 

"From my understanding, they just had a strange relationship – an on-and-off relationship,” said Prince George's County Police Homicide Detective Maurice Talley.

Tareeka called police for help twice in a single night in February. Kevin was supposed to drop off their daughter, but the simple exchange quickly turned violent.

Dr. Tricia Bent Goodley tells you how to spot the signs of domestic abuse and what to do if you suspect that someone is in an abusive relationship.

Tareeka’s witness statement to police: 

"At like 6 p.m., Kevin was supposed to drop our daughter off to me, and when he got here I went on the opposite side of the car to get my daughter. He rushed at me and grabbed me and threw me to the ground. He continued to pick me up and toss me. After I finally could get to my feet, I ran to my neighbor’s house and he took my phone and threw it because I said I was calling the police."

More than an hour later, she called the police again. While the 911 operator tried to get locator information from Tareeka, Kevin can be heard in the background, yelling.

“This s*** hurts,” he screamed. “I got a f****** kid with you!”

Tareeka tried again to give the address of her apartment, but she stopped mid-sentence.

“You gonna try and pull out a m*****f****** gun on somebody?” she said.

There was chaos in the parking lot. Tareeka and Kevin were standing out there, as was the father of Tareeka's other two daughters.

Another police statement from Tareeka:

"He must have thought that I called my other baby father, so he went to a truck and got a gun. As I seen him running towards me, I ran towards my car to call the police. His mother came in the car to grab my phone saying that's her son, ‘Don't call the police.’"

And in that 911 recording, Tareeka can be heard yelling at Kevin’s mother.

"Let another m*****f****** n**** pull a gun out on somebody when your kids out here,” she said. “It doesn't f****** matter. It doesn't matter. It don't matter 'cause he gon get locked up and you can, too!"

Kevin was arrested and charged with first-degree assault.

But Tareeka was at a crossroad. She had three girls to care for and the man who helped her do that was in jail. Three weeks later, Tareeka and Kevin were together again for a bond hearing.

The court proceedings that changed three lives forever.

Public Defender: "Mr. Reynolds is currently being held on no bond. We're asking that you set a bond, your Honor, um, to a $5,000 bond with a 10 percent option, um, and pre-trial release. Mr. Reynolds supports a 2-year-old and an 8-year-old. He's the sole provider of both of them. I was able to speak with Ms. Jones. It's my understanding that she's not afraid of Mr. Reynolds, that she wants him to be home to be able to continue to support, um, children they have in common."

Prosecutor: "I'm not going to oppose the bond being reduced. I have had occasion to speak to Ms. Jones. I don't know if the court wants to allow them to have contact or no contact whatsoever. She indicates that she is not in fear of him and that she, in fact, wants him home."

Judge Joseph Wright: "The facts read as a fairly violent episode. If I look at the record, destruction, where he served, it appears 60 days. Conviction for assault, which is what this case is actually charged as, first-degree assault. He has another conviction for assault. He has a weapons conviction as well. He got off probation two days ago."

Public Defender: "Ms. Jones disputes some of the allegations in the statement of charges, your Honor. I think, probably, she would need to speak to an attorney before she made further statements. I believe that a $5,000 bond is appropriate in this matter."

Judge Joseph Wright: "I disagree, based for all the reasons that I've said, public safety. I'll set a bond. It'll be $20,000.” 

That was it. Kevin was out of jail. And the young mother of three had no idea what had been set in motion.

The words that were spoken when it was already too late: “Guard your heart.” 

Sometimes Tareeka and her half-sister would go weeks or months without seeing each other. But after the latest incident with Kevin, Tareeka reached out to Jalisa.

"Jalisa came downstairs one day, all excited and said, ‘Mom! Mom, guess who hit me up on Facebook?’” LaShawn said. “And, I was like, ‘Who?’ And she said it was Tareeka.”

She had told Jalisa that she missed her, and Jalisa said she missed her too. But LaShawn was skeptical.
The sisters were supposed to hang out on a Monday night, just five days after Kevin got out of jail.

"I just said, ‘Just be careful, just be careful, guard your heart,’" LaShawn remembered.

Prince George's States Attorney Angela Alsobrooks says she's been working to strengthen the laws, bringing the faith community and educating families to stop domestic abuse.

Just after 10 p.m. on March 7, Kevin knocked on the door of Tareeka's Cheverly apartment. He had a gun. He walked in and fired shots hitting Tareeka and Jalisa, police said. They died on the floor under a kitchen table.

Kevin fled, leaving Tareeka's three girls, one of them his own daughter, in the next room.

Tareeka's grandmother lived at that apartment too. She wasn't prepared for what she was going to see.

“She was coming back, from my understanding, from work and this is what she came home to," Detective Talley said.

"She was saying, ‘Ree, what have you done to yourself?!’” a neighbor said. “And, Ree was under the table, and the other girl was on the other side of the table and they both slump, like in a knot."

The next day, Kevin's body was found 100 miles away in Hanover County, Virginia, slumped in his getaway car with a gunshot to the head. 

In just a matter of hours, three people were dead.

RELATED: Family mourns woman killed in apartment shooting 

Domestic violence changed more lives than those that were lost.

LaShawn said she never thought domestic violence would have impacted her children.

"I try to raise my kids to steer clear of that,” she said. “But that in itself wasn't enough."

A domestic violence fatality review team in Prince George's County found all the signs:

  • A relationship with escalating tension and violence that Tareeka was ready to end
  • Lengthy contact with the justice system
  • Family members who witnessed and knew about the abuse
  • A recanted statement about the February gun incident
  • Tareeka needed Kevin to help pay the bills

"We do our level best, every day, to keep people safe. This is what we are here to do,” said State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. “In a case like this, where we failed to do that, it is our worst nightmare."

It was an unforeseen turn of events because Tareeka changed her story.

"What we knew is what she said. ‘I'm not fearful. I'm okay with him coming home. This didn't happen the way the charging statement says it happened and I'm the person to know,’" Alsobrooks said.

Alsobrooks admitted her office made a mistake. 

"If there are certain convictions and certain history, it doesn't matter what the victim says or what his or her desire is, we have to make an objective decision that doesn't always include the victim," she said.

She said the victims get this wrong too many times and as a result, too many lives are lost.

WUSA9 wasn't allowed to speak to Judge Joseph Wright about what happened in his courtroom. 

Dr. Tricia Bent Goodley is in charge of the team that reviews domestic violence cases in Prince George's County.

"In many of these cases, that perpetrator made a decision that this is what's going to happen. And, it's just a matter of when they execute it,” Goodley said. “It really does require us to talk about what it means to love someone. What it means to respect someone. And, when you don't see that, you need to pay attention to it."

Healing starts with knowing what's broken in the first place.

Many women get caught in the downward spiral of domestic abuse.

"If I knew how to love, if I knew how to give love, I could have recognized what was lacking in the relationship," April Chambers said.

"I thought he just adored me,” said Shynell Palmer. “Where it was actually an obsession."

Three women share their stories in hopes of saving someone who may be caught in the cycle of domestic violence.

"I just wish that more people would speak up," Mignon Brown-Anderson said.

But LaShawn is still a mother. And after losing her daughter to domestic violence, she had a different message for her children.

"Don't put yourself in that situation because not only will it affect you and that person, families get destroyed behind this,” she said. “Look at us."

Prince George's County opened a Family Justice Center that provides coordinated services for victims of abuse and their children. It's been seven years in the making, but police said Tareeka never reached out for these resources in Prince George’s County.

Silence is violence, too.

It's time to break the silence around domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

All of these local organizations are waiting for you to reach out to them:

Family Justice Center, Prince George’s County

D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Doorways in Virginia

Family Justice Center, Montgomery County

D.C. Victim Hotline

Wendt Center for Loss and Grief

National Domestic Violence Hotline

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

The Moyer Foundation and Grief Camps

Editor's Note: An earlier version of the video featured in this story has been corrected. The photo of the man suspected in the case was incorrect. We apologize for this error.

 

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