Spartanburg Initiative to Combat Domestic Violence Results in 108-month Federal Prison Sentence for Offender
Initiative is only the fourth program in the nation to implement innovative strategy, first to attempt it countywide
Spartanburg, South Carolina ---- After previously entering a guilty plea for the illegal possession of a firearm in January 2017, James Lee Sarratt, Jr., age 50, of Spartanburg, was sentenced today to 108 months in federal prison.
Sarratt, a previously convicted felon who is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition, was arrested on federal firearms charges on October 31, 2016, and has remained in custody, detained without bond, since his federal arrest.
The facts presented at the guilty plea hearing and sentencing hearing established that on the morning of September 30, 2016, members of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) responded to a domestic disturbance involving a firearm at a residence in Spartanburg. When deputies arrived at the residence, witnesses alerted SCSO that Sarratt had a firearm. Sarratt did not have a firearm on him when deputies approached him but Sarratt later admitted he put the firearm in a truck at the residence. Inside the bedroom of the residence, a male was on the floor with a gunshot wound to his abdomen.
One witness told SCSO that during an argument in the bedroom, with the child present, Sarratt retrieved his .40 caliber pistol from under the mattress. Ultimately one witness attempted to grab Sarratt’s arm. The gun went off and the witness fell to the ground, shot in the abdomen. Sarratt then left the residence to place his firearm in his truck.
A search warrant obtained for the property yielded a black Hi-Point JCP, .40 caliber pistol loaded with seven (7) rounds of Winchester .40 caliber ammunition in a pick-up truck and a box containing fourteen (14) rounds of Winchester .40 caliber ammunition in the bedroom.
Sarratt’s case was investigated by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The case is assigned to 7th Circuit Assistant Solicitor and Special United States Attorney Jennifer Wells and First Assistant United States Attorney Lance Crick.
Sarratt’s plea was the first one to emanate out of “Home Front”, a focused deterrence-based initiative to combat domestic violence led by 7th Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette. The initiative, launched last month has the support and partnership of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Modelled after a program started in High Point, NC, members of the Home Front task force began earlier this fall, meeting with representatives from every police department in Spartanburg county as well as the Sheriff’s Office. The Spartanburg County State Probation office and victim’s advocate stalwart, SAFE Homes, also serve as critical partners in this effort.
Under the guidance of Solicitor Barnette and High Point (NC) Chief Marty Sumner, Home Front has quickly gone from concept to reality. High Point’s model and research suggests that early intervention is key in stopping the cycle of violence. The Home Front strategy identifies and focuses on offenders at the earliest stages of offending, before their violent conduct is entrenched and escalating.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, domestic violence is a community crime problem that costs the United States over $5.8 billion every year. It is a major drain on law enforcement resources as domestic violence generates a high volume of calls and repeated calls to the same location. Domestic violence homicides make up 40–50 percent of all murders of women in the United States. Women who have experienced a history of domestic violence report more health problems than other women and they have a greater risk for substance abuse, unemployment, alcoholism, and suicide attempts.
Research shows that the repeat domestic violence offender tends to have a significant criminal history that includes a wide range of both domestic violence and non-domestic violence offenses. Most of these offenders are readily identified as they are known to the criminal justice system. The Home Front initiative exposes the repeat domestic violence offender to sanctions because of his pattern of criminal behavior.
According to the 2015 Violence Policy Center When Men Murder Women report, South Carolina led the nation in rates of women murdered by men. Sixty-six percent (66%) of the victims were killed with a firearm and ninety-six percent (96%) of women murdered were killed by someone they knew.
In Spartanburg County during the 2015 calendar year, SAFE Homes serviced 6726 victims of domestic violence. In the same time frame, the Spartanburg Police Department charged 907 domestic violence cases and the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office charged 1068 domestic violence cases. There were fourteen (14) domestic related deaths in Spartanburg County in 2015.
Solicitor Barnette has had enough. “Domestic violence is violence, period. It continues to plague our community--so costly and harmful to families and children, persisting year after year. It is time for these offenders to get our best shot—our best efforts. That is Home Front.”
United States Attorney Beth Drake agrees. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms welcome the opportunity to partner with Solicitor Barnette and state law enforcement, and to use federal gun laws to pull violent offenders who are abusing their families and loved ones out of the community. The goal is simple – stop the abuse, or swift and sure, the full force of a coordinated law enforcement effort will come to bear to stop you from abusing. Home Front takes the burden of addressing abusers from the victims and shifts it to us – a very engaged group of local, state, and federal law enforcement.”
U.S. Attorney Drake further stated, “South Carolina has been in the top ten states for men who kill women for the last 20 years, and ranked in the top 5 for six years in a row in 2015. Domestic violence calls pose a potentially lethal risk to both the intimate partner and the responding law enforcement. As a State, we have to do more. Solicitor Barnette is leading the way here in South Carolina in finding a way to turn the tide on domestic violence.”
The Home Front task force began a thorough, eight-step implementation process in the fall. The steps included training officers, synchronizing the coding of calls among the law enforcement agencies to harmonize communication--to create a back stop of sorts so that no domestic calls or offenders slip through the cracks among the sixteen municipal law enforcement entities in Spartanburg County. Very early in the implementation process, the task force began creating a comprehensive list of domestic violence offenders from the previous twelve months of arrests in Spartanburg County for domestic-related incidents. Offenders were categorized from most dangerous (Class A), repeat offender (Class B), first time DV arrest (Class C), and any non-arrest domestic violence interface with law enforcement (Class D). For the most serious or repeat offenders, pending cases are fast-tracked to ATF and the US Attorney’s Office for immediate federal prosecution or prioritized for expedited state prosecution. This process includes creating an enhanced system of tracking for offenders who are notified at any level or category. Custom notification letters, hand-delivered by law enforcement to offenders within 48 hours of the initial law enforcement contact, serve to alert offenders that they are on the Home Front radar going forward as well as detailing presumptive sentences for future acts of violence or prohibited behavior.
Solicitor Barnette is optimistic about the collaboration and is confident the focus and dedication of this task force will not waiver. “Securing our communities and ensuring that victims and children can feel safe in their own homes—breaking this horrific cycle of violence, that is our charge.”