COMMENTARY: Domestic Violence Multi-Disciplinary Team answers commentary questions

by Jun 5, 2019OPINIONS


The Domestic Violence Multi-Disciplinary Team (DV MDT) is writing in gratitude that a discussion about domestic violence has been taking place in the One Feather. The DV MDT is made up of front-line workers from the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Prosecution, the Legal Assistance Office, the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program, and the Probation Office. There are also management-level folks involved from the Cherokee Indian Police Department, Prosecution, the Cherokee Court, Heart to Heart, and the Family Safety Program.

To address some of the specifics brought up in the recent One Feather commentary “Tribal member voices concern over DV practice of ‘first come, first served’”, we felt it important to reiterate here what the law and policy is currently so that all victims of domestic violence know that help and resources are available to all and that people who are concerned about child maltreatment know how to get help.

Law and policy currently dictate that Family Safety must investigate any credible claim of maltreatment and a reporter of child maltreatment has a right to know that the investigation was done. Further, ex parte (emergency) domestic violence protective orders (DVPOs) cannot be entered by a magistrate unless they believe that an act of domestic violence has occurred and a full hearing where both sides can present all facts must be scheduled within 14 days. Temporary custody cannot be granted in a DVPO without a believable allegation of harm to a child. Finally, any person who claims to be the victim of domestic violence can get an attorney to represent them at no cost, even if both parties claim to be the victim of the same incident. The Legal Assistance provides this service.

Domestic violence is a complicated issue and we knew that all the agency stakeholders needed to work together to make a collective impact for the community. Some of the problems we have been addressing are exactly those brought up in the commentary, including what to do if there are allegations of abuse on both sides, the crossover between criminal DV charges and civil domestic violence protective orders (DVPOs), and how to protect kids from domestic violence.

The DV MDT meets once a month to discuss specific cases and deal with issues of improving the way individual agencies work together to best serve the family and the victim.  It also has quarterly “Managers Meetings,” where system performance and policy discussions occur and legislative, policy, practice changes and resources can be addressed.

This new approach differs from some others because ongoing data collection, sharing, and review is a key component of this process. So, instead of sitting around talking about what we think is happening, we are all looking at real information that shows how well the system is working. We are asking ourselves: How much are we doing? How well are we doing it? and Is anybody better off?

We are still in the early phases of gathering all the data, but here are some of the things we have found so far: from 2015-2018, the Cherokee Court handled an average of 77 domestic violence protective order cases and 104 criminal domestic violence incidents each year, while the EBCI DV/SA Program averaged 107 clients annually. Around half of all DV cases brought to court (both civil and criminal) are dismissed within the first month at the request of the survivor.

We know that this system is not perfect, and that is why we started this project. We know that systems can’t be fixed in silos, but that we can only effect real change if we work together. We believe that using a data-informed approach will help us ensure that we are not just working hard, but that are working smart.  We are determined to make this community a safer place.  We are committed to exploring how to end violence, increase family harmony and childhood wellbeing and support those in crisis.  We welcome and encourage more conversation about how the community can join in the effort.

For more information about domestic violence, go to or For more information about childhood wellbeing go to

– Submitted by: EBCI Domestic Violence Stakeholders – Bonnie Claxton, Legal Assistance Office; Sunshine Parker, Family Safety Program; Marsha Jackson, EBCI DV/SA Program; Kayla Bigmeat, EBCI DV/SA Program; Jamie Arnold, Legal Assistance Office; Shelli Buckner, Office of the Tribal Prosecutor; Cody White, Office of the Tribal Prosecutor; Amy Teesateskie, Office of the Tribal Prosecutor; Mary Lambert, Cherokee Indian Police Department; Neil Ferguson, Cherokee Indian Police Department; Margie Dunn, PHHS Human Services.