Murder-suicide

Minneapolis police investigate an apparent murder-suicide at a home on the 2700 block of Oakland Avenue South on Sunday. Two boys were fatally shot outside the house. Officers later found a man and a woman dead inside. (Matt Sepic/MPR News file)

Minneapolis police investigated several deaths over the holiday weekend that all appear to be caused by former intimate partners.

Hennepin County prosecutors Monday charged Randall Jermaine Watkins, 41, with second-degree intentional murder in the Thanksgiving Day death of Raven Gant, 27. Investigators say Gant was shot with her 2-year-old daughter nearby. Court documents say she was trying to get away from Watkins after he allegedly beat her.

Days later, David Schladetzky, his ex-wife Kjersten Schladetzky and their two sons, 11 and 8, were all found dead of gunshot wounds. Police believe the deaths to be related to a domestic incident, but have not released identities or exact causes of death.

Nineteen people in Minnesota have died at the hands of an intimate partner so far this year. That’s according to advocates who say the final number may be a bit higher because there are a few other killings they expect police to determine also fit into the category.

Domestic violence isn’t confined to large cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul. Three years ago this month the Faribault community was rocked by two murder-suicides. One involved a young girl who died at the hands of her adoptive father, the other claimed the life of Barbara Larson, a well-known resident, and her ex-husband, Richard Larson, who shot his ex-wife then himself at the Faribault Chamber of Commerce.

Between November 2016 and November 2019, Rice County law enforcement dealt with hundreds of cases of alleged domestic violence involving 308 perpetrators. Of that number, 131 were convicted. Of the 131, 33 were felonies.

According to data provided by Rice County’s advocacy center, the HOPE Center, 64 percent of the local cases were complete as of last month ,with 71 percent of completed cases resulting in a conviction.

Liz Richards is executive director of Violence Free Minnesota, a coalition of groups working to end abuse in relationships.

“We know it’s not just the physical violence that happens, but there are all kinds of other things that happen: intimidations, threats, controlling behaviors,” Richards said.

According to a 30-year report completed in 2018 by Violence Free Minnesota, in 49% of cases involving adult women killed by a current or former intimate partner, the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence, with 36% documented and 13% undocumented but known to friends and/or family.

Court documents suggest that the couple involved in the multiple homicide on Sunday had an amicable divorce. They agreed to joint custody of their two boys.

“Domestic violence goes beyond they physical violence we often think of. It extends to stalking, coercion, continuing the control in household finances, access to vehicles, children etc. Often a perpetrator will try to control their partner’s social life, often isolating victims and cutting them off from support and reducing the likelihood they will reach out for help. They will often threaten suicide or homicide if the victim expresses that they want to leave the relationship- which is often the most dangerous time for the victim since the perpetrator feels like they are losing control,” said Erica Staab-Absher, executive director of the HOPE Center.

Kristine Lizdas, legal policy director at the Battered Women’s Justice Project, said law enforcement and advocates, including HOPE Center, use a danger assessment tool which includes questions such as: Has the physical violence increased in severity over the last year? Does the person threatening violence own a gun? Does he control most or all of your daily activities?

Lizdas said the time after a couple separates is known to be bad, especially if the court is involved. When the woman moves out to a shelter can also trigger violence, as could a divorce. That’s because domestic violence comes out of an effort to control the other person, and being separated is often seen as a threat to that effort to control.

“Separation indicates a challenge to coercive control, and violence and danger and risk can be amplified during that time,” Lizdas said.

Lizdas’ organization has been working with family courts and other players to make sure they realize that certain court actions, like restraining orders, aren’t the only ones that people need to be concerned about.

Advocates say there’s more work to be done at a federal level, too. Funding for the Violence Against Women Act, a federal policy that dates back to 1994, has not been reauthorized yet.

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic and Faribault Daily News Managing Editor Suzanne Rook contributed to this story. ©2019 Minnesota Public Radio. All rights reserved.

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