Guns and lies: A day in court with domestic abusers

KING 5 investigator Chris Ingalls reports.

Michael Thomas of Maple Valley did something back in March that hundreds of accused domestic violence abusers do each year in King County courtrooms – he signed a document swearing that he does not own any firearms.

It was a lie, prosecutors say, the kind of lie that abusers likely tell thousands of times in courtrooms across Washington state each year.

After his ex-girlfriend received a protection order against Thomas, state and federal law required Thomas to surrender all weapons to police until the case is resolved. On just about any other day, Thomas could have fooled the criminal justice system.

But on the day Thomas appeared in court earlier this year, authorities were conducting an experiment to find out how many accused abusers flaunt the law requiring them to surrender their guns.

“It showed me how blatant people can be when they don’t believe anyone’s following up on this, and that was the case for many, many years,” said Chris Anderson of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office.

Anderson, who heads the Domestic Violence Unit, was seated in the courtroom when Thomas appeared. 

After questioning victims and studying evidence, Anderson worked with the Seattle police department to investigate three accused abusers who appeared in court on that March day and claimed that they did not have access to guns.

After search warrants were executed, authorities seized 11 guns from the three men – including seven firearms that Thomas had stored in his Maple Valley home.

“I felt so relieved,” said Krystal Velasco, who filed the protection order against Thomas last year. She claimed that he began stalking and beating her when she became pregnant with his child.

“He openly, in court, denied that he possessed any firearms,” Velasco said. She said she worried that the court would not believe her when she insisted that he had guns.

“I don’t know what he’s capable of. He’s made several threats,” said Velasco.

Statistics show that abuse victims are in much greater danger when their abusers have access to firearms. 

Yet a KING 5 investigation earlier this year revealed that courts have not been enforcing the law that requires abusers to surrender their guns to police, or to swear in court that they don’t have any firearms.

Records show that 47 percent of abusers in King County ignore the surrender order. That’s in addition to the unknown percentage of abusers who lie in court and claim they don’t have guns.

Chris Anderson of the Seattle City Attorney’s Office has been instrumental in urging the courts, police and prosecutors to challenge the claims made by abusers – especially in cases where victims insist that their abuser does have a gun.

“I was just worried he’s gonna get away with this again,” said Velasco, who previously filed a domestic violence complaint against Thomas. “I’ve seen many people get off the hook. They’re not gonna do anything.”

Thomas, an ex-police officer and minister, pleaded not guilty to charges of perjury and unlawful possession of a firearm.

In response to urging by Chris Anderson and recommendations by a task force that has been studying the issue, the Seattle City Council approved funding to hire two courtroom monitors. Their job will be to attend domestic violence hearings and to screen abusers who claim that they do not have any guns.

Velasco believes that their work will save lives.

“That’s why there’s tons of people ending up dead, because of the domestic violence situation,” she said.

-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter @CJIngalls.

-- Follow the KING 5 Investigators on Twitter @k5investigators.

© 2017 KING-TV


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