Officers of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department will attend a mandatory training focusing on the legal and medical components of strangulation in domestic violence and sexual assault cases in May.

The news comes after Mississippi Today’s story about the case of April Tucker, a Lauderdale County woman who was beaten and strangled by her estranged husband Matthew Tucker in December. Law enforcement also believe he killed their 14-year-old son Bryce Tucker, her mother Beverly Fulton and his own grandmother. 

Sheriff’s deputies responded to an incident in October at the Tuckers’ home. April told officers Matthew had strangled and threatened to kill her while holding a knife to her neck. The officers’ incident report documented cuts and bruises on her neck.

Advocates for victims describe strangulation as the “pinnacle” of abuse, and one study has shown it can be a predictor of future violence and lethality.

That day, Matthew was charged with simple domestic violence, a misdemeanor.

The state’s domestic violence law mandates strangulation — and even an attempt to strangle — be considered an aggravating factor, or a felony. But in many cases across Mississippi, abusers aren’t charged with felonies, according to some law enforcement and advocates for domestic violence victims. They say strangulation is considered difficult to prosecute in court.

The issue is a complicated one, said Ward Calhoun, chief deputy of the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department.

“This (training opportunity) came along as a good opportunity because it is a topic that is misunderstood to some degree by everybody,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun said the training is not related to the Tucker case, and the department prioritizes domestic violence-related training regardless.

“It’s good, specialized training about an area that we quite frankly don’t know much about,” he said, noting some of newer officers may have not received much training around the issue at the law enforcement academy.

April’s family members Andrea Goodwin and David Bonner also paid for deputies to attend a webinar earlier this month hosted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Goodwin said she and her husband have set aside money to help law enforcement get training around domestic violence.

“For our family, a big part of honoring the lives of April, Bryce and Beverly is to do everything we can to prevent more domestic violence deaths,” Goodwin, a longtime friend and coworker of April’s, said. “(They) put themselves in harm’s way every time they respond to a domestic violence call. The least we can do is make sure the funds are there for them to have the best training possible.”

Shalotta Sharp, special projects coordinator for the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault and a nurse, is hosting the May training in partnership with the Attorney General’s Office. 

“My role is to explain the medical component of strangulation, exactly what happens to the body and dispel the myths about strangulation,” she said, including informing people about delayed medical issues that can arise. 

In her 10 years doing this training, she said many have the common misconception that strangulation presents itself like it does on television.

“People think strangulation is all about the airway, and it actually has more to do with circulation than airway,” she explained.

The training will be hosted at Meridian Community College and will be open to area medical personnel and members of the judicial system, including investigators in the district attorney’s office. There will be four four-hour sessions over the course of two days.

Click here to read Mississippi Today’s “Underreported, Underpunished” series about how the criminal justice system fails domestic violence victims in Mississippi.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.