Program disarming domestic abusers sees success in Hillsborough County

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The story of a Polk County woman who took her husband’s guns and was arrested for it quickly went viral recently. But the situation may have been different if the case had happened in Hillsborough County.

Courtney Taylor Irby, who goes by Taylor, went to her estranged husband’s apartment and took his guns after pleading with a judge that she was scared he’d kill her.

Joseph Irby had been charged with domestic violence-aggravated battery for allegedly trying to ram Taylor’s car with his own after a verbal argument following a divorce proceeding.

Taylor didn’t wait to see if Joseph would comply with the judge’s order, taking his guns directly to Lakeland police, for which she was charged with grand theft of firearms and armed burglary.

State attorney Andrew Warren of Hillsborough’s 13th judicial circuit called Taylor’s arrest a “disgrace.”

Warren started a program in 2017 called “Disarming Domestic Abusers,” and he’s found success by enforcing existing gun laws.

“We do it through a three-step process,” Warren explained. “When law enforcement responds to a domestic violence incident, they’re asking questions to assess the likelihood the abuser has access to a gun. They then convey that information to our office, and we use that as leverage during the criminal justice process – for example, as a condition of release pre-trial, or as a condition of entering probation or a plea agreement.”

Federal and Florida law prohibits anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses – or any felony – from possessing a gun.

But Irby’s situation highlights the dangerous situation in which domestic violence survivors often find themselves – a judge’s order doesn’t protect them unless the alleged abuser turns in his or her guns willingly.

“There’s no effective mechanism to take guns away from people who have forfeited their right to have one,” said Warren. “So if someone’s gonna hide a gun they have, or loan it to someone to get back, it’s really hard to enforce that.”

That’s why his program tries to glean that information from an alleged abuser’s first interaction with law enforcement – so the guns can be used as leverage throughout the criminal justice process.

“Survivors are left in a real pickle,” said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring, a domestic violence shelter in Hillsborough County. “What do they do to keep themselves safe? To keep their kids safe? Because an injunction is just a piece of paper. An injunction is not going to stop a bullet.”

Murphy said Irby’s case is a perfect example of how the most courageous move for a domestic violence survivor is often the most dangerous.

“Clearly when you’re leaving a relationship like she’s trying to do – she’s filed for divorce, she’s trying to leave – that’s when you’re putting yourself in the greatest risk,” said Murphy. “When you’re thinking about leaving – because he tends to pick up on that – when you’re actually leaving, and for a while, up to one to two years after you’ve left, you’re at a really high risk of being killed by your abusive partner. So it’s incredibly courageous what she did in trying to get out of this abusive relationship.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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