TDCAA is pleased to announce an award of funds from the Office of the Governor to provide targeted individual training, group training, written materials, regional training, and website resources about domestic violence, sexual assault, and fundamentals of victim services for prosecutors and victim assistant coordinators (VACs) who focus on domestic violence and sexual assault victims and criminal prosecution of these cases.
This 24-month grant will allow us to offer a whole host of goodies to our members:
1) two training sessions exclusively for newly elected prosecutors in Texas;
2) training sessions exclusively for newly hired assistant prosecutors at four different seminars;
3) training sessions exclusively for newly hired VACs on fundamentals of victim services in Texas;
4) four regional seminars for prosecutors and VACs on sexual assault cases, domestic violence cases and victim dynamics, and voir dire in domestic cases; and
5) written materials to educate elected prosecutors and VACs on basic victim service mandates and recommendations, protective orders, and a more general overview of victim services and how to best administer them. These will be shipped directly to all elected prosecutors and VACs in Texas and distributed at all other trainings. Our first sessions will be offered on Tuesday afternoon, September 20 at our 2016 Annual Criminal and Civil Law Update in Galveston, so keep an eye out for that brochure, and register online to attend this high-quality, free training.
Recent travels have taken me all over this great state of ours. First stop was McKinney to the Collin County Criminal District Attorney’s office. It is housed in the beautiful Collin County Courthouse, and the office is so nice. After a warm welcome from CDA Greg Willis and his Administrative Manager Della Bryant, I was given a tour of their victim assistance division, which was very impressive. I then spent the day with VACs Audri Graham and Michelle Meli discussing and sharing ideas for their victim services program. Audri is a brand-new VAC, having worked there for only one week the day I visited. It was so exciting to work with Audri and Michelle!
I also visited Aransas County; the DA’s Office there has a new VAC, Kristy Silva. Upon invitation, I traveled to that office to offer victim services assistance in-person. Kristy learned more about how her Odyssey database program can help her track contacts with crime victims and assist her in completing the quarterly VIS report and the VIS, CVC, and VINE processes. She also received tips on assisting and identifying crime victims early in the criminal justice process and got answers to other questions a new VAC would naturally ask. Kristy was such a quick study and will do great in her new position.
After an invitation to go out to Duval County for an in-office victim services visit, my travel day was scheduled for one of our recent days of heavy rain. While driving to Duval County, there were flashing billboard warnings along the highway due to flooding and high water. Luckily, I did not run into any high water across the highway and I was able to proceed on to San Diego, Texas. It was a memorable trip for sure! Upon arriving, I was greeted by the smiling faces of everyone in the Duval County Courthouse and such sincere gratitude for TDCAA coming out to visit.
I also got to see their new waiting area for victims. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 56.02(a)(8), a victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim is entitled to a waiting area, separate or secure from other witnesses, including the offender and relatives of the offender, before testifying in any proceeding concerning the offender. Duval County has done just that. To create this separate waiting area for crime victims, Duval County DA Omar Escobar and VAC Venessa Lopez sought donations from area merchants. (Venessa serves as the VAC for both the District Attorney and County Attorney’s Offices, as well as on TDCAA’s Key Personnel Board.) It was my pleasure to visit and assist Duval County.
I also stopped by the Rockwall County Criminal District Attorney’s Office to visit Mackenzie Lozano, the new VAC for CDA Kenda Culpepper. I enjoyed providing Mackenzie with victim services tips and touring their beautiful new courthouse.
I also visited Susan Fisher, a new VAC for District Attorney Will Ramsay in the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s office in Sulphur Springs. Susan is doing great in her new position and exhibits a sincere compassion for helping crime victims through the criminal justice process.
Lucia Martinez is new to the Parker County DA’s Office and serves as a VAC. She is very eager to learn about victim services. Lucia and I have corresponded by e-mail since my visit to her office in Weatherford for additional victim services assistance.
If you need any help in your office to train new or seasoned victim assistance coordinators, please reach out to me and I will develop either group or individualized victim services training for your office. Email me at [email protected] for inquiries, support, or scheduling an in-office consultation.
National Crime Victims’ Right Week events across Texas
During the week of April 10–16, communities across the United States observed National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW). This year’s theme—“Serving Victims. Building Trust. Restoring Hope”—underscores the importance of early intervention and victim services in establishing trust with victims, which in turn begins to restore their hope for healing and recovery.
Numerous communities across Texas observed NCVRW, and we would like to share photos and stories submitted by several of our members.
Dalia M. Arteaga
38th Judicial District Attorney’s Office
Our event took place in Medina, Uvalde, and Real Counties. We had young kids release balloons in recognition of child abuse awareness. The community came together and we had a huge turnout.
Bell County District Attorney’s Office
The Bell County Crime Victims Coalition (BCCVC, pictured at right) planned a special event in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week in April. Bell County Crime Victims Coalition members and supporters placed pinwheels on the Bell County Justice Complex lawn in recognition of crime victims. BCCVC membership includes individuals from several victim service related agencies and organizations within Bell County and the surrounding areas.
Bexar County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
We held various events we held during NCVRW: the Kick-off Press Conference and the Victims Call-in Hotline at KSAT-TV studios. We also had our Victims’ Tribute, which has a wreath-laying, candle-lighting, and dove release.
Bea. D. Salazar
Cameron County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
The band in the photo, below, consists of federal agents who so willingly assist us each year free of cost. They are comprised of Border Patrol and Customs Agents and the band is called Los Federales. We had over 300 people show up to our event, and it was an amazing collaborative effort with our community. Families made wreaths (as in the photo below) to reflect their family member who lost their life in a violent crime and displayed the wreaths at the event; there was also a balloon release (with biodegradable balloons) as Josh Groban’s song, “You Raise Me Up,” played in the background, in honor and remembrance for those who have been victims of violent crime. Numerous businesses provided pizzas, pulled-pork sandwiches, and ice cream, and H.E.B. grocery store supported our efforts tremendously by accommodating our event on their grounds and providing all of the drinks, snacks, and raffle gifts that were given out to those who attended. We even had a wonderful H.E.B. partner, Brenda Vasquez, assigned to assist us throughout the event, and she was one heck of a blessing to us all.
There are many sad moments in a bereaved family members daily life; this event brings many people together to remember, honor, and celebrate their loved ones’ memories, making it a point that their loved one is never forgotten.
Collin County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
On Wednesday, April 13, the Collin County District Attorney’s office together with the Collin County Crime Victims Council hosted its annual Crime Victims’ Rights Week Luncheon. The luncheon was a special time to honor victims, victim advocates, law enforcement, and others who serve victims throughout their journey. The 250 in attendance—mostly victims, victim advocates, and law enforcement—enjoyed this year’s theme of the importance of building trust and restoring hope in crime victims.
District Attorney Greg Willis asked Second Assistant District Attorney Bill Wirskye to share a victim-centric perspective on the Kaufman County capital murder cases. Mr. Wirskye also spoke of one of his first serious cases involving a female sexual assault victim. She couldn’t have been more unlike him—racially, socioeconomically, and educationally. Despite those differences, he learned more from her and her strength than she ever could have learned from him. It was then that he realized that it was fighting for a victim that gave meaning to prosecution.
Finding meaning by fighting for and supporting victims also resonated with the victim advocates and police officers in attendance. Along those same lines, awards were presented in the categories of courageous victim, outstanding victim advocate, and outstanding investigator of the year. Most importantly, the many victims who attended expressed sincere appreciation. They said that they were made to feel important and supported. And that’s what it’s all about!
Coryell County Criminal District Attorney’s Office
Coryell County National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was a huge success. We kicked off the week early with our Cookies for Cops. We had our local high school culinary arts class bake 25 dozen cookies, and the Crime Victims Office took these cookies and divided them among four different law enforcement agencies. This was our way of saying “thank you” to each agency for all the work they do for the victims in our community.
We also sponsored a poster contest with our local Boys and Girls Clubs and schools. We had several posters turned in to us and put on display at the Gatesville Public Library. Along with the poster contest, four of our local preschools participated in a coloring contest with pictures that pertained to “Speaking out when you are afraid, not keeping secrets, and your body belongs to you.” We had four people from our community come in and judge the contest, and prizes were rewarded to first, second, and third places.
To end our week, we sponsored a 5K Fun Run and Day in the Park. We had close to 50 participants in the Fun Run, and many families come out and spent the afternoon in the park. We provided free food, games, live music, arts and crafts, and information booths for the families. At the conclusion of the event we released balloons in honor and memory of all the victims in our community.
Erath County District Attorney’s Office
We teamed up with CASA, Paluxy River Children’s Advocacy Center, Cross Timbers Family Services (a local crisis center), juvenile probation, Stephenville Police Department, and Tarleton State University (the TSU Plowboys, a team spirit group) for a “Stop the Silence” rally in the downtown plaza. It was a combined rally for Child Abuse Prevention Month, Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and Sexual Assault Awareness.
El Paso County District Attorney’s Office
On Sunday, April 10, the District Attorney’s Office hosted the annual Crime Victims’ Memorial Reading to kick off National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Jaime Esparza is a district attorney committed to advocating for victims’ rights and understands the importance of outreach to victims. In 2009, Esparza, along with staff members from his office and community leaders, inaugurated the Memorial Reading Garden in Yucca Park.
Today, the wall in the Memorial Reading Garden includes over 1,500 names of those have died due to crime and each year, more names are added. During the Crime Victims’ Memorial Reading event hosted annually, the name of the crime victim is read followed by the ringing of a bell.
This event is truly a special one. The District Attorney’s Office, the community, and hundreds of family members come together at this event each year to pay tribute and to support and comfort to those who lost their lives because of crime. The Memorial Reading Garden is a place to dream, a place to be with family and friends, and a place to reflect and remember.