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The Limitations of a Domestic Violence Injunction: The Rebuttal

Judges cannot foresee the future and an injunction cannot by itself prevent tragedy.

The Limitations of a Domestic Violence Injunction: The Rebuttal

On June 6, the Tampa Bay Times reported this story regarding the matter of Agbebaku vs. Agbebaku. You can take a look at the article and more importantly the comments to the story. This is my rebuttal to what, in my opinion, is the belief that is somehow a result of the domestic violence injunction not being entered.

Let me start off by saying that my heart goes out to Ingrid Agbebaku’s family, the minor children, and even to Eugene Agbebaku’s family. There is no doubt in my mind that Eugene suffered from some serious mental issues and needed serious assistance in overcoming whatever demons he was living with. Additionally, under no circumstance would I suggest anything but sorrow for Ingrid Agbebaku as she was only 33 when she was murdered and she had young children. When Eugene Agbebaku broke into her house in the first week of June at 3:45 a.m., the result probably destroyed three generations of family members.

However, what I take exception to is that the judiciary in this case acted wrongly by denying Ingrid’s Petition for Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence filed on March 19, 2012. Second, even if the injunction had been entered, the carbon copy piece of paper it was written on would not have stopped the bullets at 3:45 a.m. 

THE LEGAL STANDARD THE JUDGE MUST APPLY

Before we dive into the actual facts of the Agbebaku injunction proceeding, it is critical to understand what Ingrid’s burden of proof was when she filed her Petition for Protection and what she needed to prove at trial. 

The domestic violence statute is located in Chapter 741, Florida Statutes. Section 741.30, Florida Statutes, states clearly that one can obtain a domestic violence injunction when the person “is either the victim of domestic violence as defined in s. 741.28 or has reasonable cause to believe he or she is in imminent danger of becoming the victim of any act of domestic violence, has standing in the circuit court to file a sworn petition for an injunction for protection against domestic violence.”

The Court can enter a temporary injunction immediately without notice to the other party if the facts demonstrate that there is an act of violence or imminent danger of becoming the victim of domestic violence. Entering a temporary injunction without notice and an opportunity to be heard denies the respondent the right to respond.

That is why, unless extended by the court for good cause, the return hearing must be held within 15 days and before the temporary injunction expires. Not to overly simplify, but the temporary injunction issued without notice expires under operation of law in 15 days. 

THE AGBEBAKU PETITION FOR INJUNCTION

The Tampa Bay Times, in its opening paragraph, states that a Pasco County Judge entered a temporary injunction and then “a judge” dissolved that injunction for lack of evidence. I have obtained a copy of Ingrid’s Petition for Injunction and I have also obtained a copy of the audio tape from the actual trial, which is generally known as a return hearing.

First, Ingrid’s Petition for Injunction is, in my mind, questionable as to whether it supported a temporary injunction without notice. I could see judges ruling differently on the petition itself. The Tampa Bay Times is correct that the Petition alleges that Eugene was a sex addict, tried to commit suicide, was Baker Acted, threatened to leave the country, and destroyed personal property in the home.

Let’s be clear, committing suicide is not always an act of violence towards the other party and especially in this case. Being a sex addict is not an act of violence. Being Baker Acted for mental instability is not a crime. Leaving the country and suggesting that Eugene’s children should not know him is not an act of violence either. These facts are highly, highly disturbing, but the Statute written by the Legislature that the judges are required to enforce require acts of violence, not incredibly disturbing acts of mental instability. 

Ingrid did allege that Eugene broke into the home, cut the security system, destroyed a television, and took almost all of the belongings out of the home.  Destruction of property can be used as a basis for obtaining a temporary injunction and perhaps this is why the duty judge entered the temporary injunction.

From a practical perspective, the judges get a stack of domestic violence petitions on their desk at various points in the day. They read through injunctions to determine if there are any allegations of violence and/or legitimate fear of imminent danger, and then will enter a temporary injunction and set a return hearing, deny the temporary injunction and set a return hearing, or deny the petition in its entirety. 

Second, a temporary injunction is designed to be temporary. The victim still has an affirmative obligation at the return hearing to prove their case. 

THE AGBEBAKU TRIAL

The Agbebaku trial lasted from 9:26 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. on May 7, 2012, because of one extension. Both parties were represented by attorneys. What the Tampa Bay Times article did not report was that the evidence at trial presented only three allegations from the Petition for Injunction. First, Ingrid testified in passing that Eugene had been arrested for soliciting prostitution. Second, Ingrid testified that Eugene had been Baker Acted on Feb. 25, 2012. Most importantly, Ingrid testified in great detail about Eugene’s attempted suicide on Feb. 25, 2012. 

According to the testimony, Eugene drank a whole bottle of Nyquil, took a huge quantity of aspirin, and took a huge quantity of sleeping pills. He then locked himself in the garage for the night. She was uncertain at the trial whether the vehicle was actually running. What was clear from the testimony was that Eugene’s attempt at suicide, while incredibly scary, did not place any other member of the family in danger.

Ingrid then testified that when she found Eugene, she helped him into the house, fed him soup, and called the ambulance. She testified on cross-examination that Eugene did not threaten her, hit her, or touch her inappropriately. She further testified that after Eugene was released from the hospital, she is the one that took him to a friend’s house and stayed with him, alone, until the friend arrived. The two actually had several phone conversations between the suicide attempt and when Ingrid filed her Petition.

What was notably missing from her testimony was anything regarding damage to property or anything related to cutting the security system.

I think any judge worth his or her robe would recognize that Eugene had severe mental instability. However, the evidence at the trial, which is the only time evidence matters, did not show that Eugene’s mental instability had manifested itself into any acts of violence and that Ingrid had not shown any actions consistent with being in imminent fear. A judge worth his or her robe would be required to deny the injunction based on the statute the judge is sworn to follow. 

THE INJUNCTION IN AND OF ITSELF WOULD NOT HAVE STOPPED INGRID’S MURDER

Let us assume that Ingrid did prove her case. At the conclusion of the hearing she would have been handed a carbon-copy of a court order that defines what Eugene could and could not do. A domestic violence injunction is a civil proceeding and only the violation of an injunction can lead to criminal sanctions.

In other words, if an injunction is entered, and Eugene was seen following Ingrid, going onto the property, or was contacting Ingrid (the most common violation), Ingrid could call the police, the police would then be dispatched, and then the police could arrest Eugene. 

What the Order cannot do is stop a bullet or transport the police to Ingrid’s house immediately. On that tragic morning, if Ingrid had seen Eugene at her house at 3:45 a.m. with a gun (or even without), my suspicion is that she would have called 911 and the officers would have responded just as quickly regardless of whether she had a court order or not.

My heart goes out to Ingrid and especially her family. Listening to her testify, I thought she had an intelligent and confident approach to how she spoke. I imagine if I knew her personally, I would have the same belief. This is not an article about anything Ingrid did wrong or should have done.  

My point is that before we carelessly infer or directly state that such a tragic event could have been prevented if a domestic violence injunction was entered, we need to understand most judges want to reach the right result. This is absolutely true in domestic violence cases. However, the courts would cease to exist if judges could blatantly ignore the statutes they are sworn to follow. Additionally, in this case, even an injunction would not have stopped Eugene.   

The moral of the story is that even victims who obtain an injunction must take additional steps to physically protect themselves. They need new or better alarm systems, changed locks or even guard dogs, for example. Additional things victims can do is hire a company to determine what areas of the home are most likely vulnerable in keeping someone from breaking in. There are also domestic violence shelters and ways to keep your address confidential. Sometimes, unfortunately, even the most carefully thought-out safety plans will not help when someone is set on getting to you.

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