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Domestic violence cases up 31 percent, county prosecutor says

By Audra Gamble/The Holland Sentinel • Apr 11, 2019 at 10:00 AM

WEST OLIVE — From 2017 to 2018, the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office processed 31 percent more domestic violence cases.

Prosecutor Ron Frantz, at an Ottawa County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, said the dramatic increase in domestic violence cases is a major concern for the county.

“The two biggest issues we have in Ottawa County are seeing criminal sexual conduct cases on the rise and domestic violence,” Frantz said. “We’re working as hard as we can to come up with a solution, but it’s a problem across Ottawa County.

“We’ve been doing this for a long time as an organization and the Center for Women in Transition has been active for 15 years, but it’s a very tough issue,” he added. “It’s very stubborn and the numbers are not going in the right direction right now. We’re going to keep at it.”

Along with the 601 domestic violence cases in the county last year, there was an increase from 61 to 71 criminal sexual conduct cases, a 16 percent uptick. Unfortunately, Frantz said, some of those cases involved young victims.

“The Children’s Advocacy Center does investigations of young criminal sexual conduct victims and their caseload is going through the roof,” Frantz said. “They had over 500 forensic interviews in 2018, and we’re starting to see that in actual charges.”

Overall, the county’s felony caseload increased 0.3 percent, while misdemeanor and juvenile cases decreased around 6 percent.

Among the felony cases, there were notable increases in weapons offenses, drunken driving charges and arson. Drug cases decreased by just over 15 percent and property crimes cases decreased 34 percent, from 200 in 2017 to 132 in 2018.

The prosecutor’s office charged three individuals with the death of another person in 2018. Zeeland resident Angel Hull and Grand Haven resident Cameron Toppen were charged with allegedly killing or negligently causing the death of infants in their care. Those cases, along with the failed alleged murder-suicide of Sherri McNeal by her husband, Mike McNeal, will continue through the court system this year.

The Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office added several new staff members in 2018, including two assistant prosecutors with Ottawa County roots. The staff favorite, though, is Griffin, a black Labrador canine advocate for children who need to testify in court.

“The dogs offer a tremendous benefit,” Frantz said. “We wouldn’t mind having another one.”

The prosecutor’s office’s annual Katty Shack fundraiser 5K race will take place Saturday, April 27. Proceeds from the race go to the crime victims rights fund for the county.

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