A Safety Net for Victims of Abuse : Domestic violence: Private detective starts a service for battered women who need help but don’t have the means to pay for it.
The abuse in her marriage began slowly with intimidation and control, escalating into repeated beatings and a rape at knifepoint.
When she finally broke off the three-year relationship, her husband vowed that she would never know peace. And a few years later, on the day after Nicole Brown Simpson was found brutally slain at her Brentwood home, he kept the chilling promise.
“He called and said he was going to kill me,” said the woman, who asked that she not be identified by name. “And he would have. I’m sure of it.”
That was when she enlisted the help of the Emerald Group, a Westminster-based coalition of private detectives, security experts and law enforcement officials who for about two years have provided free services to abuse victims who cannot afford security, protection, advice, relocation, or who need help to change their identity.
The group helped the woman through the bureaucratic maze of changing her name, Social Security number, driver’s license and other identifying records. She was taught to make her new home secure, to protect herself, and to live as a completely new person.
“I’m still looking over my shoulder, and maybe I always will be,” she said. “But now I have a chance.”
The Emerald Group, made up of about 50 volunteers, was founded by William E. Holland, a private detective who runs a Westminster school for would-be investigators. He began helping battered women about two years ago after two former clients, both female, were killed by their abusive husbands, in part because they could not afford expensive bodyguards, relocation and other services, he said.
“I didn’t do anything wrong in those cases, and of course nobody expects me to work for free,” he said. “But I didn’t want that to happen ever again if I could help it.”
When Holland, 38, started doing the pro bono work in 1993, he said he received only a few calls a month and spent five to 10 hours a week on it. But the slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and friend Ronald Goldman threw issues of domestic violence and spousal abuse into a national spotlight, and now three to five women a week are seeking his help, Holland said.
Holland said he chose the name Emerald because the stone was considered to be a protective totem in ancient times.
The group works closely with women’s shelters and other organizations, including the fledgling Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation, which refer women to the group. “We’ve been deluged with calls” since the killings, he said.
As a result, the group is now taking steps to become a nonprofit corporation, which would enable it to solicit government grants to continue the work.
Holland, a private investigator for 15 years, hasn’t added up the monetary value of the time his volunteers have put in, but said he would usually charge $70 to $100 a hour for the services. Currently, Holland himself spends about half of his 60-plus-hour weeks helping victims, he said.
“If someone can pay us, we’ll gladly accept it,” he said. “But the people we help don’t have anything. They are hiding and running for their lives. They’ve been forced out of their homes and left with a suitcase, if that, and many can’t even put food in their kids’ stomachs. The bottom line is that if we don’t do this, nobody else will.”
The maximum stay at most shelters for battered women is 30 to 45 days, experts said, before the women must leave to begin reconstructing their lives. Although most shelters offer help in finding jobs and provide other assistance, most workers aren’t able to provide the detailed knowledge of computer tracking and other techniques that an abuser could use to find his former victim, once she has left the safe haven of the shelter.
“We have to play devil’s advocate,” Holland said. “For example, as a P. I., I know what it takes to find you. And if I can find you, then some other hired tracker can find you. These women have to go through a major, major identity change.”
Emerald Group member Linda Jimenez, 28, has volunteered on about a dozen cases since she joined the coalition earlier this year. A recent criminal justice graduate from Cal State Long Beach, Jimenez is currently gaining field experience necessary to obtain her private investigator’s license.
“Mostly what I’ve done is to locate and monitor stalkers, sometimes as far away as Texas and Pennsylvania, so we know where they are and the women can get a good night’s sleep,” she said.
Jimenez said she was surprised to discover the pervasiveness of domestic violence.
“I’m seeing firsthand the stories that I’d only read about,” she said. “I see the same patterns [of violence] over and over from these stalkers. It’s like they were all bred on the same island or something.”
Mike Sims, a bodyguard and security adviser by trade, has protected several women against possible harm when they attended court hearings and divorce proceedings.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said of his work with the group. “You’re there to help someone who can’t afford it. And this kind of thing is really needed out there.”
In addition to their other work, Emerald Group volunteers host fund-raising events for women’s shelters and legal aid programs.
A recent benefit dinner in Garden Grove was attended by Nicole Brown Simpson’s parents, Louis and Juditha Brown, who praised the group’s efforts. Also in attendance was Assemblyman Mickey Conroy (R-Orange), who offered his support for stricter laws to combat domestic assaults, which are responsible for 20% to 30% of emergency room visits nationally each year, according to estimates by the U.S. surgeon general’s office.
The office also estimates that each year as many as 1,400 women are killed by a husband or boyfriend in the nation.
Holland said that one of the Emerald Group’s greatest frustrations, especially in its recent expansion beyond Orange and Los Angeles counties, is on the legal front.
“In everything from the court systems to the public records systems to the overall bureaucracy, every city, county and judge handles this stuff differently,” he said. “It makes what we are trying to do more difficult.”
Another frustration, he said, is the relative ease with which the average person can access another’s personal records and files. Holland said he is meeting with representatives of TRW, the credit reporting agency, utility companies and other organizations whose bills and documents are considered public record. He is urging them to be more flexible about keeping records confidential in cases where abused women can show good cause, he said.
“Computers and technology have made it very difficult for someone to hide,” he said. Victims “need to be able to keep things confidential. If the federal government can protect mafiosos, why can’t we protect battered women the same way? If there’s a witness protection program, there should be a victim’s protection program.”
Despite the frustrations, Holland said, the work is extremely rewarding.
“Many of the women are close to suicide when they come to me. They’ve been beaten psychologically as well as physically, " he said. “Then I see the peace of mind that comes over their faces when they’re able to live without the constant paranoia. The best thing about it is to just see them smile again.”
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Profile: William E. Holland
Family: Five children, recently divorced
Education: Associate degree in criminal justice, Rancho Santiago College; enrolled in law classes at Newport University
Experience: 15 years as a private investigator; total of 20 including security and bodyguard
Interesting case: Security and crisis intervention during the riots following the verdicts in the first Rodney G. King beating trial; helped people relocate and businesses evacuate. Provided security for King.
Hollywood calling: “I get called not infrequently [with requests] to kill people, or break a leg or arm, things like that. People watch too much Hollywood. They call me and say, ‘How much do you charge to break a knee?’ or whatever. I like to joke around, so I’ll give ‘em my best Guido impression and say, ‘Well, I don’t do that stuff for under $10,000.’ ”
Source: William Holland; Researched by JOHN POPE / For The Times
Los Angeles Times