An amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution created a clause that can safeguard victims of domestic violence, but some cases - like that of Moria Kinsey, who was killed last week - still slip through the cracks.

Law enforcement officers are trained to conduct a domestic violence lethality screen, a questionnaire that assesses a survivor's level of risk at the hands of the offender.

The Violence Against Women Act is designed to improve criminal justice responses to domestic violence. The measure was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. And a Victims Rights amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution created multiple layers of legality.

"There is criminal code, civil code, and then there are violations of your civil rights, which is a big deal," said Pam Moore, who was the first executive director at Help In Crisis, and has also worked with Indigenous victims of domestic abuse.

Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, of Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, developed the Danger Assessment in 1985. It's an instrument that helps determine the level of danger a domestic violence victim has of being killed by her partner.

There are two parts to the tool: a calendar and a 20-item scoring instrument. The calendar helps assess severity and frequency of abuse during the year. The 20-item instrument uses a weighted system to score responses to risk factors. Some of those include past death threats, the partner's employment status, and the partner's access to a gun.

"In her trying to research this early on, she discovered strangulation and access to guns were the two top. If you had one or both of those, that woman was in extreme danger of being killed by her partner," said Moore.

When victims pop up on the lethality screen as being in extreme danger, the responding officer calls a domestic violence hotline and encourages the victim to speak with the counselor. If a victim seeks services from a program, a counselor will conduct Danger Assessment, and the program will provide a range of services that will take the victim's situation into account.

"When a cop tells you they are concerned for your safety, it has more weight than it does if it was your mother or your best friend telling you. The cop has some objectivity that someone else around the victim would not have," said Moore.

If the questionnaire is given to victims at some point by medical staff, law enforcement authorities, or ministers, domestic violence homicides drop by 83 percent.

According to Oklahoma Statute Title 21, Section 142A-3, victims of crimes have certain rights, whether they pertain to domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking or other crimes.

Further down the legality assessment is listed.

"Oklahoma put Jacquelyn Campbell's research into our Constitution. If I am assaulted and they come and they don't assess my legality and I am killed, my children can sue the state of Oklahoma or whoever has jurisdiction for the violation of my civil rights that resulted in harm," said Moore.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and while advocates were planning to shine a spotlight on this segment of crimes, tragedy struck too close to home last week when Dr. Tyler Tait, 34, allegedly killed Moria Kinsey, 37, a nurse.

Tait and Kinsey were reportedly traveling together and may have been attending a funeral. Special agents examined the vehicle they were driving and discovered evidence of a physical altercation inside.

Earlier domestic charges against Tait, a Tahlequah physician who worked for Cherokee Nation Health Services, were dismissed and sent to federal prosecutors in April. The victim in that case, Shelby Burris, is a member of the Muscogee Nation, while Tait is a non-Native.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued a statement pledging more work in the domestic violence arena: "The Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation today filed charges [in the Burris assault case] and requested [Tait] be held without bond. We are also reviewing our internal policies to strengthen our abilities to better address domestic violence complaints."

District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp said a civil rights violation would likely occur only if an act of government, or by government, denied the victim a fundamental right.

"Those are usually Title 1983 actions and would generally apply when the federal government doesn't agree with a state court action," said Thorp.

The Arkansas State Medical Examiner's Office had not released Kinsey's cause of death as of Monday, Oct. 18. According to the Chicot County Sheriff's Office, Tait had his first appearance in court and his bond was set at $250,000.

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