Associated Press – MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The face of a Memphis domestic violence campaign says Memphis police didn’t take her situation seriously until she began appearing in a public service announcement.
Whitney Wood tells The Commercial Appeal police finally filed an aggravated assault charge against her ex-husband in November, nearly three years after she told officers he threw her into a wall and strangled her into unconsciousness in January 2013.
Prosecutors and police attribute the failure to charge Wood’s ex-husband earlier to a miscommunication.
Ex-husband Shawn Graves referred questions to his attorney, William Nowlin, who said more information would come out in court.
The ‘Memphis Says No More,’ a campaign backed by a range of victim-rights advocates and local government officials to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault. The 35-second announcement featuring Wood currently airs on the Memphis Public Library’s public access station. But as officials are looking to expand the campaign, and possibly air the announcement on commercial stations, Wood is publicly criticizing the city’s efforts.
“People know that it’s not OK to hit women. Right?” she said. “People know that it’s not OK to rape women. But what they also know is it’s not likely that they’re ever going to face any consequences for it.”
Wood’s own story starts on Jan. 18, 2013, when she called 911 reporting her then-husband, Shawn Graves, had been “knocking stuff over in the house” and had “shoved her into the wall repeatedly.”
“Victim stated when she tried to leave the suspect held her down and choked her,” a police report says. A later report stated “the last time she was strangled she lost consciousness briefly.”
In the months following her February 2015 divorce from Graves, she called police at least twice, reporting he was harassing and intimidating her. Once she was at a police station filing a report when Graves sent a lengthy text message to her, which she showed an officer.
Graves was charged in June with a single count of misdemeanor harassment for which he received diversion in November.
Wood was upset with the outcome, and prosecutors set a meeting at the Family Safety Center of Memphis and Shelby County, a shelter where police, prosecutors and counselors can meet with victims. The team meeting with Wood began focusing on reports of past incidents, leading to the filing of a second harassment charge and the aggravated assault charge.
Wood believes the change came because of her involvement with the “No More” campaign, but District Attorney General Amy Weirich said politics “absolutely” did not play a role. Wierich said the new charges reflect the success of the Family Safety Center.
MPD spokesman Louis Brownlee said in an email charges weren’t initially filed because of a miscommunication between the investigator and the victim.
Wood says she believes the “Memphis Says No More” campaign can do good, but officials need to invest resources in investigation and in ensuring police take domestic violence cases seriously.
In the meantime, she said, “It’s basically a PR stunt for the city.”
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