(Sun Times Wire) There are few better equipped than Officer Gino Garcia to talk to victims when calls come into the Chicago Police Department Domestic Violence Unit.
The officer’s mother, Brenda Sexton, herself a police officer, was beaten to death by her boyfriend, on Aug. 14, 2000. His mother was 31. Garcia was just six, and he and his siblings discovered her battered body.
Garcia grew up dreaming of following in his mother’s footsteps, achieving that dream when he joined the police force in 2016.
He recently met another goal — he applied and was accepted to a unit where he can help other women escape his mother’s fate.
“I was informed the Domestic Violence Unit was looking to add another officer, so I put in my resume and shared why I thought I was a fit for the job,” Garcia said earlier this week, chatting at CPD’s Bronzeville headquarters, to highlight Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“I told our Domestic Violence coordinator that I wasn’t looking just to do roll call. I wanted to be out in the community, hands on,” said Garcia, 27, who started his new role on Aug. 28.
It was the culmination of a journey for the Mount Greenwood resident, who keeps a framed photo of his mom in her uniform blues on his desk. Garcia had been a patrol officer the past 3 1⁄2 years — in the same Chicago Lawn Police District where his mother had also been assigned to patrol.
“She was the whole reason for my joining the force — to follow in her footsteps,” said Garcia.
More than 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the U.S. will experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner — an average of 24 people per minute, with more than 12 million Americans impacted annually, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Women ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 generally experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence, and studies find a high incidence of domestic violence among law enforcement families, with as high as 40 percent of such families impacted.
Sexton, who joined the force in 1997, was a mother of five. She had a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, Sam Lupo, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to 20 to 60 years in prison. He had beat her to death with a baseball bat. In news reports of the trial, Sexton’s family said the boyfriend was insanely jealous, and feared she would leave him.
“That night, my mother and her boyfriend got into a horrible altercation. I don’t remember what it was about,” Garcia recalled. “My mother ended up taking us kids to a haunted trail, and we stopped at my cousin’s house a few blocks away, to try to let things calm down.”
When they returned home, the fight was reignited, Garcia recounts.
“Her boyfriend yelled at us to get our asses to bed. I got scared, and cried myself to sleep,” he said. “I woke the next morning to my brother saying, ‘Our mom’s dead.’ I didn’t believe him. He said, ‘Go and look.’ I went up to her room, and she was there, unresponsive.”
According to one study by the national hotline, women who called for help all shared a strong reluctance to turn to law enforcement. One in 4 women reported they wouldn’t call police in the future. More than half said calling police would make things worse. More than two-thirds said they were afraid police wouldn’t believe them or do anything to intervene.
The pandemic, which triggered stay-at-home orders, unemployment and economic stress has only exacerbated the risk to domestic violence victims. Murder-suicide rates — where a male partner kills a female and then himself — have spiked over the same time last year, statistics show.
“There’s a lot to learn, as far as police general orders on domestic violence, what shelters and programs are out there, what resources to provide victims who need help,” Garcia said.
“But I’ve gotten where I wanted to be, where I can help other victims,” said Garcia. “I want to get out there, do hands-on outreach, see who is at high risk, and help get them out of the situations they’re in — rather than just locking somebody up whose going to be out two days later.”
And he is sure his mother is smiling down on him: “I know in my heart I have made her proud, representing not only who I am, but the officer that she would be today as well.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, you can call the national hotline, at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233); or the Illinois statewide hotline, at 877-863-6338.
Article Org: chicago.suntimes.com