A McDonough woman, facing years of reconstructive surgery to repair acid-disfiguring injuries to her face and skin, is increasingly frustrated as Henry County authorities weigh whether to charge her ex-boyfriend, whom she accuses of dousing her with the chemical.
Christy Tucker Sims suffered third-degree burns on her face, neck, arms and chest when she was doused with an industrial-strength drain cleaner in April.
Her now ex-boyfriend maintains it was an accident, that he slipped while using a drain cleaner to unclog her shower.
The case illustrates how domestic violence often can be hard to sort out. There’s usually no witnesses beyond the victim and perpetrator. The lack of witnesses places an extra burden on law enforcement. Experts say its not unusual for victims to change their stories. Typically the victim accuses the abuser of a crime and then recants. In this case, it’s the reverse, making it even tougher for the police.
Henry District Attorney Jim Wright said Wednesday he’d like to see the case dealt with by year’s end.
“We hope to get (the police) report in and have a decision made concerning the grand jury and have all that process completed by the end of the year.”
Sims told Henry police, shortly after arriving at the Grady Burn Unit, that she thought it was an accident. But she said recently she doesn’t recall that initial conversation with police because she was heavily medicated. She would spend two months in a medically-induced coma and had to learn to walk again at a rehab center when she emerged. In fact, she says, the day she was released from the rehab center in July she went first to file a police report to have her former boyfriend charged with assault, unaware she had already given a statement to police.
A magistrate did not issue an arrest warrant for the ex-boyfriend saying there wasn’t ample evidence of intent. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is withholding the identity of Sims’ ex-boyfriend, as he has not been charged with a crime. He did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.
Sims’ situation is an example of some of the difficulties law enforcement faces when investigating such complaints, which have increased in recent years. Last year, Georgia law enforcement responded to 72,870 complaints of domestic violence, up 2 percent from the previous year. Often there are no independent witnesses, making it tough for police to be able to sort out the facts.
“It’s an extremely difficult case,” said Ken Hodges, a partner at the Midtown Atlanta law firm of Rafuse Hill & Hodges. As a former prosecutor and district attorney, Hodges has dealt with similar domestic violence cases. He is not involved in this case.
“The key in any case like this is the credibility of the witnesses,” Hodges said. “The only evidence is what one side or the other said.” It becomes a case of “he said, she said.”
Odis Williams, an attorney representing Sims and her family, said he believes “there were some things that were missed in the initial investigation that (Henry police) now revisiting.” Williams did not elaborate.
Sims is on medical leave from her job as a substance abuse counselor for a nonprofit where she has worked with domestic violence abusers. She is trained to spot the warning signs: possessiveness and controlling behavior.
The 43-year-old divorced mother of two said there was no indication of imminent trouble before the incident.
It is not unusual for victims of domestic violence to change their story, according to experts who deal with domestic abuse cases.
“It’s not uncommon for the victim to be in denial at first about what’s happen to them. They’re in complete shock. You want to convince yourself it’s an accident,” said Allison Smith, director of public policy at the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
To complicate matters, Smith said victims sometimes face additional hurdles in the justice system.
“We still see a tendency on the part of the criminal justice system to minimize the violence when it happens between two intimate partners. They see it as too complicated to sort out,” she said. “Historically, abuse between partners is considered a private matter. It’s only in the last 30 years that we as a society have come to recognize it as a crime.”