South Burlington Killing Prompts Questions About How Law Enforcement Handles Domestic Violence Cases

Jun 11, 2018

Anako Lumumba was 33 years old when she was allegedly killed by her longtime boyfriend, a case of domestic violence taken to its most extreme consequence — and perhaps one that could have been prevented.

Burlington Free Press reporters Jess Aloe and Liz Murray uncovered news about the circumstances of Lumumba's death that are raising questions about how law enforcement handles domestic violence complaints. 

Aloe and Murray's reporting on this story revealed that just 48 hours before she was killed, Lumumba did reach out to police to report that she felt threatened. The reporters also found that when police spoke to Lumumba, they failed to do a "lethality assessment" — a series of 11 questions that was not required protocol, but is considered a best practice, Aloe explained.

"The idea [of a lethality assessment] is that if you can make a person really aware that they are at risk of being killed, that that can illuminate the danger that they're in," Aloe said. "A lot of abuse victims normalize their situation — it becomes their reality, it becomes their normal. And these questions are designed to help them understand that this is not normal, this is not the situation you're supposed to be living in.

"The second part of the lethality assessment is that when you answer 'yes' to these questions — and we know from the police reports that she would have answered yes to many of these questions — you are connected to resources, to a 24-hour hotline and that they can discuss safety planning, they can discuss advocates to help you through the restraining order process."

Lumumba was killed with a gun, and Vermont's gun laws also became a focus of the Free Press reporting on her death.

"We looked at the 'extreme risk protection order,' and whether that could have helped in the last two instances the week before she died where she called police," Murray said. "Since it's such a new law — it was just signed April 11 — there hasn't been much use of it, and it seems like agencies are still kind of learning how to use it. ...

"Sarah George, the Chittenden County state's attorney, told us that it still requires a sworn statement in order to get this type of order. And in a domestic violence case, that sworn statement most often will have to come from a victim because [in] a lot of these cases, there's really no other witnesseses. So it does still put a lot of burden on a person accusing another person of domestic violence."

Find Aloe and Murray's complete reporting on the Burlington Free Press website. You can listen to VPR's interview with both reporters above.