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Petaluma Cases Show Domestic Violence Problems Not Going Away

Kim Conover, the Petaluma woman killed on Sunday by her husband, had sought out a restraining order, but then changed her mind and told the Family Law judge she didn't want it anymore. Her situation is, sadly, not unusual.

Over the past three years, all murders that have occurred in Petaluma have been domestic violence-related, pointing to a serious problem in the community, say advocates.

In 2010, , a 37-year old Thai immigrant was shot in the face by her husband after he learned she was having an affair. Her husband is now on trial, although he says he shot the petite Buapha is self-defense.

Last July, Marin County Sheriff’s Deputy , along with the gunman, after he went to the Liberty Lane home of a friend whose boyfriend was stalking her after she told him the relationship was over.

On Sunday, 43-year-old Kim Conover became the latest victim, evidence that domestic violence exists in every community, no matter how otherwise peaceful or affluent, according to domestic violence experts.

“Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury for women in the United States and it crosses all cultural and economic lines,” said Jacque Reid, a navigator at the Family Justice Center in Santa Rosa, a one-stop shop run by Sonoma County where victims can apply for a restraining order, find shelter and if they are not citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. obtain legal and procedural advice from a bilingual caseworker.

“Sometimes when you live in a community where the neighbors aren’t as close, no one knows about what’s going because they are less likely to hear it,” Reid said.

Facing an abusive husband, Kim Conover tried to get a restraining order from the local courts, but then suddenly reversed course and asked that her request be dropped, according to court records.

At a March 27 hearing at the Sonoma County Superior Court Family Law division, Conover said that she no longer needed a restraining order. Then, after another altercation with her estranged husband, she changed her mind and sought an emergency restraining order from the Petaluma Police, which was denied by a Sonoma County judge. (Patch is trying to find out why)

Less than a week later Conover was dead, killed by her husband who then turned the gun on himself.

Reached by phone, Jeffrey Zimmerman, Kim Conover’s divorce attorney confirmed that she had pulled her restraining order application, but said he could not divulge as to why due to attorney-client privileges.

But Jennifer Lake, a director of operations at the YWCA of Sonoma County, which receives 2,500 hotline calls each year and houses 210 women and children fleeing domestic violence, says this happens all too often. 

“There could be many reasons for it: threats to herself, the family or their children, threats of fleeing with the children and not seeing them or promises to leave her alone or feeling it would get better,” Lake said.

If Conover had succeeded in getting a restraining order, her husband's weapons would have been removed from his home as well as prevented him from purchasing new ones, potentially averting the tragedy.

"It's true that a restraining order is just a piece of paper, but it’s one tool among many and it’s important because it’s one step toward empowering victims," Lake said.

Experts say that the height of danger for a victim is when they finally leave their abuser, as Conover did several months ago moving to her parents home in West Petaluma. This is the time when an abuser often feels threatened and goes into panic mode, she said.

“We have to educate the community about the dynamics of domestic violence and what a healthy relationship looks like…but to this day people who have not experienced it don’t believe it’s happening in their backyard. The issue is minimized.”

Gloria Sandoval, CEO of Contra Costa's STAND For Families Free of Domestic Violence, said domestic violence often occurs when an individual  feels powerless in his or her own life and decides to exert control over a  partner or child.  

Those in positions of power are not immune; in perhaps the most  widely publicized Bay Area domestic violence case in years, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pleaded guilty last month to misdemeanor false  imprisonment for a New Year's Eve incident in which he allegedly grabbed his  wife's arm during an argument.  

Mikarimi was sentenced to three years' probation on March 19 and  has been suspended from office by Mayor Ed Lee. He is challenging the  suspension.      

Although some cases involve a much lesser degree of violence than  others, the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence notes that  domestic violence tends to escalate over time.           

A US Department of Justice survey found that nearly one in four  women are beaten or raped by a partner during adulthood, while another found  that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced a rape or attempted rape,  according to the partnership.             

At the Sonoma County Family Justice Center, located in Santa Rosa and which opened last fall, victims of domestic violence are matched up with a “navigator” who guides them through available resources, whether or not they want to press charges. But funding has been extremely tight and cuts have left just four trained domestic violence advocates who serve the entire county.

“What these murders say to me that there needs to be more focus on advocacy services for victims of domestic violence,” Lake said. “If they get the support they need, they can continue on the journey of getting restraining orders, otherwise they are left to their own devices.”

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department has a web page with information and other resources on domestic violence.

Those seeking services or counseling can also contact the  California Partnership to End Domestic Violence during normal business hours  at (800) 524-4765. 

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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