Judge Wayne Gorman says domestic violence stems from an attempt at power and control and must be denounced
A Corner Brook man who choked and head-butted his partner — causing her to believe she was going to die — is in jail, with the judge stressing that the danger of the crimes go well beyond physical harm.
Furthermore, provincial court Judge Wayne Gorman took issue with the idea that intimate-partner violence is related to anger or jealousy issues or a loss of control of emotions, saying it’s an attempt by an abuser to maintain power and control over a partner they feel entitled to possess.
Gorman called Travis Watkins, 28, a danger to the public and rejected his submission for a four- to six-month conditional sentence for assaulting his former partner and breaching two court orders. Gorman went beyond the nine-month jail sentence requested by the Crown, sentencing Watkins to 10 months in prison, to be followed by a year of probation.
“I conclude that Mr. Watkins constitutes a danger to the public. In addition, I am not satisfied, based upon these present offences and Mr. Watkins’ criminal record, that he will comply with the conditions of a conditional sentence order.”
The complainant told the court she couldn’t breathe or speak when Watkins choked her and, more than a year later, she is left haunted by his crime.
“I now believe I know what it feels like to almost die,” the woman wrote in a victim impact statement, describing feeling at times depressed, suicidal, numb, unworthy, anxious and confused as a result of Watkins’ attack on her, which has also caused her attachment issues in other relationships. She said she is in therapy and “trying to be happy as I can again.”
“The judiciary must send a clear message that men who choke or strangle their present or former intimate partners will be sentenced to significant periods of incarceration."
Provincial court Judge Wayne Gorman
The night of Aug. 21, 2019, Watkins and the woman were at his home when they began arguing. Watkins asked the woman to leave and she called a family member to come and pick her up. At one point she poured a container of water over Watkins’ head.
Watkins grabbed the woman by the throat and pushed her against a wall, keeping his grip for about 30 seconds. He let go, but did the same thing twice more as she attempted to leave, the last time using two hands as well as head-butting her. The woman’s relative called the police.
In a text message conversation from the police vehicle after his arrest, Watkins told the woman, “I didn’t try to hurt you. I tried to keep you in line.”
Police charged Watkins with assault and breaching a court order to be of good behaviour, and released him on an undertaking that required him to have no communication with the woman. Minutes after his release he tried to call the woman. She didn’t answer and contacted police, who charged Watkins with breaching the undertaking.
“When an accused person calls a complainant after being released on an undertaking prohibiting communication, the accused is sending a message to the complainant: the undertaking is not going to prevent me from contacting or communicating with you,” Gorman said.
In sentencing Watkins, the judge said he had considered a pre-sentence report that indicated the accused had a traumatic childhood and was amenable to counselling. The judge also considered Watkins’ criminal record, which includes convictions for, among other things, escaping custody while being transported between prison and court in 2012 and a home invasion in which he and three others beat a 21-year-old man.
When Gorman asked Watkins if he had anything to say, he apologized for his crimes and indicated his actions were “not the best.”
Watkins’ crimes and the effect they’ve had on the woman are serious and deserving of jail time, the judge determined.
“The judiciary must send a clear message that men who choke or strangle their present or former intimate partners will be sentenced to significant periods of incarceration,” Gorman wrote in his sentencing decision.
“Mr. Watkins did not choke (the woman) because of addiction or because he cannot control his anger. He choked her to illustrate his physical dominance of her and to control her, i.e., to keep her in line.
“Overall, what occurred here was an extremely serious assault committed against a much physically smaller female. The nature of the assault and Mr. Watkins’ attempt to contact his victim within minutes of his release from custody must be denounced in the clearest of terms.”
In addition to sentencing Watkins to jail time and probation, Gorman banned Watkins from possessing a weapon for a decade after his release and ordered him to submit a sample of his DNA to a national police database.
Tara Bradbury reports on the courts and the justice system in St. John's.