“Empire” actor Bryshere Gray

“Empire” actor Bryshere Gray is accused of choking and threatening his wife—the most sensational case of domestic violence in the West Valley, which is on the rise in 2020.

As it has been for the last three decades, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

While there is increased attention on physical and psychological harm done by partners or family members, that does not mean it is under control.

Indeed, the closures and stay-home measures of the pandemic may be contributing to a sharp rise in domestic violence, both in the county and West Valley.

According to Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel, “there has been dramatic increase in submittals of domestic violence-related homicides and attempted homicides to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.”

From January through June, MCAO received 32 reports from local law enforcement agencies for domestic violence-related homicides or attempted homicide. That was double the number of reports of the first half of 2019.

“This spike is alarming,” Adel said. “The impact that this pandemic has had on victims of domestic violence is real. These numbers show that people need help.”

Adel’s office is prosecuting one of the most dramatic instances of alleged domestic violence—though it did not result in a death.

Bryshere Ronald Gray, an actor and rapper best known for playing Hakeem Lyon in the long-running TV show “Empire,” will be in Maricopa County Superior Court for a preliminary hearing Thursday, Oct. 15.

On July 12, according to Deputy County Attorney Benjamin H. Cunningham, Gray choked and threatened his wife and held her against her will—until she was able to escape a Goodyear home and run for help.

That night, Goodyear police officers responded to a call at a Circle K at 15535 W. McDowell Road to assist a woman in distress. “The woman had flagged down a citizen for help moments earlier at another nearby gas station stating that she had been assaulted at her Goodyear home for the last several hours by her husband,” said Lt. Jason Costello of the Goodyear Police Department the day after the incident.

“The victim had numerous visible injuries on her body and also stated that she was strangled at one point by Gray and temporarily lost consciousness.”

Costello said police went to a home on South 176th near Estrella Foothills High School, where Lane refused to leave the home for hours until surrendering.

While this celebrity-involved case was certainly the most sensational instance of domestic violence in the West Valley this year, it was hardly the only one.

According to Donna Rossi, a Buckeye police spokeswoman, from January through August, Buckeye police responded to 610 domestic violence calls—a 15% increase over 532 DV calls for the same time period in 2019.

In the first half of 2020, Goodyear police responded to 572 domestic violence calls—up 26% from the 452 during the same time period in 2019.

“We will be doing educational/awareness posts on our social media for Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” said Lisa Berry, a Goodyear police spokeswoman.

Recently, Goodyear police posted a DV message on Facebook:

“Do you know someone who you think may be a victim of domestic violence? Convey belief, listen without judgement and validate their experience. Building community around survivors is critical, especially right now during COVID-19.  

“If you are concerned for the safety of someone in your neighborhood or circle, now is a great time to connect with them. National 24-hour DV Hotline: 800-799-7233 (SAFE), TDD: 800-787-3224, Video Phone: 855-812-1001.”

The Goodyear police also provides the number to the West Valley’s domestic violence shelter, New Life Center, 623-932-4404.

Similarly, the Buckeye Police Department is raising awareness on social media, said Rossi.

Adel’s county office gives a definition of the criminal behavior:

“Domestic violence is a pattern of controlling behaviors where one person uses their power to control the other. While frequency and severity can vary dramatically in each situation, one consistent component is abusers will try to maintain power and control over their partner. It is not isolated to any one gender, race, or economic situation. Domestic violence can be hard to identify because it can take many forms, including verbal, physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse.”

As the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence notes, “Domestic violence is not physical violence alone. Domestic violence is any behavior the purpose of which is to gain power and control over a spouse, partner, girl/boyfriend or intimate family member. Abuse is a learned behavior; it is not caused by anger, mental problems, drugs or alcohol, or other common excuses.

One in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

According to the  National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

• On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.

1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking.

1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. 

1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.

1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. 

1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime, to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.

On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.

The Maricopa County DV hotline is 480-890-3039.

For more information, visit ncadv.org, acesdv.org or maricopacountyattorney.org/298/Domestic-Violence. 

As Adel said, “Information is a powerful tool and my office is committed to not only prosecuting abusers but providing critical education and resources for victims of domestic violence and those who want to help.