Husband, Cop And Enemy

Domestic violence is a widespread problem that can be even more intense when the abuser is a cop. Last spring, the police chief in Tacoma, Wash., killed his wife, then himself.

As The Early Show National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports, his was hardly an isolated case.

"I still have my voice. There's a lot of women out there who don't anymore," says Hope. She survived the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, a police officer. Cindy Cusano did not. Her husband, Fort Lauderdale Officer Danny Rodriguez, killed her in a murder-suicide in 1999.

John Cusano, father of the victim says, "You're supposed to be protective of your children. But I respected his position, and that was a mistake."

The Florida case attracted nowhere near the publicity of this year's murder-suicide in Tacoma, Wash., that involved chief of police David Brame. He shot his wife Crystal in front of their children. She'd reportedly suffered years of domestic abuse.

When asked if she has any idea of how many Crystal Brames there may be out there, Anne O'Dell, a retired San Diego Police sergeant says, "There are so many women being battered by police officers." The detective notes for too long, police departments have ignored the problem of domestic abuse within the ranks.

She says, "There's still that belief that our own guys would not do that. Our own guys are the good guys. This is a guy who backs me up. This is a guy I trust with my life. Certainly he isn't doing this. SHE must be the problem."

She speaks from experience. In 1990, O'Dell became the domestic violence coordinator for the San Diego Police department.

O'Dell says, "All of a sudden, people started to call me anonymously and say, 'Where can I get help? I can't call the cops because he is a cop.'"

Both Crystal's husband David Brame, and Cindy's husband Danny Rodriguez had allegations of assault against women in their police files. But those warning signs were ignored.

Cusano (Cindy's father) says, "People knew that things were wrong, and unfortunately nothing was done about it. Unfortunately, we're paying for it."

Cindy, like Crystal, had finally gotten the courage to leave, a dangerous time in any domestic violence situation. But advocates say, especially so, when the abuser is an officer: because the charge of abuse can cost him his badge and his gun.

O'Dell explains, "If he loses his gun, he can't be a cop anymore so the danger, sky high for her now."

Renae Griggs from the National Police Family Violence Prevention Project says, "If you fire an officer who's committing domestic violence...they have nothing left to lose. You're pretty much writing her name on a bullet and putting it in that officer's gun!"

Hope just barely escaped her husband. It was 1994. She says, "I ran out the door with my baby and a diaper bag. I had no money, I had no car, I had nowhere to go and I had a police officer after me. It was very difficult.

In the last 10 years, Hope has had to move almost 40 times. Hope's husband has tracked her down several times. She says only one thing will bring her peace.

"A death certificate with his name on it," she says. "I don't think I will be safe until he's no longer here. I really don't. When you're told that he will hunt you down, he will find you and he will kill you on the street, you don't ever forget that."

She says the police "code of silence" protects abusers no matter how obvious the evidence is.

Hope says, "I served the chief of police dinner in my home with two black eyes, and he never asked me how I got them!"

No surprise to Griggs who was also a former cop. She says the instinct is always: protect your partner.

Griggs says, "Anything that you do that would potentially subject you to being ostracized, you're not going to do it. That's not part of the written rule. That's the unwritten rule."

It is unlikely for an officer to report his partner. O'Dell says, "He'd be labeled a snitch."

She adds it goes deeper. There's the loyalty factor. "So we're really ready to believe him when he says, 'She's a bitch. She's making life miserable for me,'" O'Dell says.

Blame the victim; Tacoma Chief Brame had accused Crystal of violence. Even bruises can be blamed on the injured.

Hope says, "I ran into his fists. And it was just, he said, 'It was the strangest thing I'd ever seen. Why would she do this to herself?'"

Something that outrageous is believed. O'Dell says, "It is used so often. I mean that's very common. So I'm not surprised to hear it"

In Tacoma, Crystal Brame's parents grieve over photos of their daughter. In Florida, Cindy's parents John and Marie Cusano remember the last chilling conversation with their daughter.

Marie Cusano says, "I said, 'If he won't leave you alone, call the police.' She said, 'I can't.'"

John Cusano adds, "Hopefully, nobody ever has to go thru what I'm going thru right now."

As the victim of a police officer, your situation is very different than that of other victims of domestic violence. You may be afraid to:

  • Call the police. He is the police.
  • Go to a shelter. He knows where the shelters are located.
  • Have him arrested. Responding officers may invoke the code of silence.
  • Take him to court. It's your word against that of an officer, and he knows the system.
  • Seek a conviction. He will probably lose his job and retaliate against you.
  • Drop the charges. You could lose future credibility and protection.
The following are some of the organizations that help victims of police domestic violence: