Domestic violence: Robeson protesters say system does little to protect victims

March 2, 2011

LUMBERTON – The high school science teacher fled her apartment in the middle of the night last summer carrying little more than the nightgown on her back and the slippers on her feet.

She was going for help.

But more than six months after Charlotte Branch’s ex-boyfriend allegedly held a shotgun to her head and threatened to pull the trigger, the 25-year-old Rowland woman still hadn’t received the help she was searching for.

Branch became a poster child of sorts for domestic violence awareness last month after police say her former boyfriend, 31-year-old Samuel Jacobs, cornered her outside a convenience store and stabbed her 11 times.

On Wednesday, a group of family members, social workers and community advocates marched outside the Robeson County Courthouse in protest of the system they say failed to protect Branch. About a dozen people attended the rally.

“Our mission is to raise awareness about domestic violence, but apparently we also have to educate the judicial system about the problem,” said Frederick Stephens, a University of North Carolina at Pembroke social work professor who helped organize the demonstration.

The protestors carried signs accusing District Court judges and District Attorney Johnson Britt of going easy on perpetrators of domestic violence.

Jacobs had violated his restraining order more than a half dozen times before the stabbing incident Feb. 13, according to court records. After each incident, Jacobs eventually was released on bail.

Britt, whose office is preparing to prosecute Jacobs on an attempted murder charge, said he is sympathetic to Branch’s plight. But there was nothing more his office could have done to protect her, he said.

“In hindsight, could we have done things to better protect her?” Britt said. “I don’t know that we could have. If Samuel Jacobs was intent on getting to Charlotte Branch, there is nothing we could have done short of locking him up.”

Domestic violence cases are far too prevalent in Robeson County and across the state to hold every violent boyfriend or spouse in jail, Britt said.

“In hindsight, it’s easy to say ‘Yes, he should have been locked up, he should have been subjected to a larger bond,’ ” Britt said. “We can all say that in light of what has taken place. At the time, the judge felt the ($3,000) bond was appropriate.”

A common story
Branch’s story isn’t unlike that of others who have suffered the scars of an abusive relationship. Jacobs, six years her senior, charmed Branch at first, her mother said.

Not long after they started dating, though, he grew aggressive and violent. He threatened to kill Branch’s family members if she ever left him, her mother said, and so she stayed.

Branch changed her mind on that hot August night last year when Jacobs allegedly held a gun to her head. She ran from the apartment while he took a shower.

The victim’s mother, Debra Branch, said she had been pleading ever since then for the courts to protect her daughter. In the meantime, the family printed photos of Jacobs and posted them at Branch’s school and the bank where she worked part time.

Friends and family escorted the teacher to and from work and notified police when they saw Jacobs come around. He often did, Debra Branch said.

The mother said she called police in January after Jacobs approached her and her daughter as they were leaving a Lumberton department store.

A hearing for that restraining order violation was postponed when Jacobs’ court-appointed lawyer was unavailable to appear in court, according to records.

A few weeks later, with the case pending, lawmen say Jacobs followed Branch to the Save More store at 4611 Fayetteville Road in Lumberton. When Branch got out of the car, Jacobs showed a gun and tried to force her into his car, authorities said.

She struggled, causing him to drop the gun. He then pulled a knife and cut her several times, according to the police report. Branch managed to elude Jacobs and call for help.

It was a miracle her daughter survived, Debra Branch said.

She’s continuing to recover from the injuries at home, the mother said. She wishes the judicial system would have taken steps to prevent the attack.

That’s why she helped organize the demonstration outside the courthouse Wednesday.

Jacobs is scheduled to appear in court Friday on charges of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and felony violation of a protective order. He is being held in the Robeson County Detention Center with bail set at $750,000.

It’s too little, too late, Debra Branch said.

“There are people who care and who are working to make a difference, but unfortunately, this system has become apathetic, and it has to change” she said. “People are dying.”