When she showed up battered and bloody at a hospital, the 34-year-old said her boyfriend had cracked her over the head with a crowbar. But when it was time to tell police under oath about the beating, Jennifer Silva couldn’t be found and wouldn’t return calls, court records show.
That was late last summer. As a result, state prosecutors on Oct. 15 declined to pursue domestic violence charges against Silva’s boyfriend. Six weeks later, on Nov. 28, Silva’s body was found in a Sailboat Bend home, the victim of a homicide, police said.
The suspect is Thomas Smith, 52, Silva’s boyfriend and the father of her 2-year-old son. police say they have a murder warrant for Smith but have declined to reveal how Silva was killed.
Three times, Smith has had domestic violence charges against him dropped. Twice, in 2018 and 2016, Silva was the accuser. The victim in a 2012 misdemeanor domestic battery case was a different woman, Broward court records show.
Call police. They make an arrest. Victim recants and declines to press charges. This was Silva and Smith’s pattern — a sad, frustrating cycle of abuse that victims and perpetrators of domestic violence play out again and again, experts say.
“It happens a lot,” said Stefanie Newman, prosecutor in charge of the domestic violence unit at the Broward State Attorney’s Office. “If someone is refusing to talk, or telling us it’s all a misunderstanding … if they won’t tell us what happened and we don’t have any witnesses that can testify, we can’t do anything with it.”
The 2012 case was “severe,” the woman had to be hospitalized and wanted to press charges, records show. But a Fort Lauderdale police officer was blamed for “dropping the ball” and failing to give prosecutors photos of the victim or a statement, records obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel show.
In 2016 another violent domestic situation between Smith and Silva fell apart before prosecution. Silva told police Smith strangled her to “near unconsciousness,” yet she declined medical attention, refused to let investigators take photos of her freshly scratched, swollen and welted neck and would not give a statement or sign a complaint, records show.
When prosecutors tried to move forward with domestic strangulation charges, Silva said “the incident was blown out of proportion and she didn’t want to prosecute,” according to a prosecutor’s memo.
If a cop thinks domestic abuse has occurred, the officer is obligated to make an arrest, Newman said. But prosecutors decide what charges, if any, to pursue. That decision is largely based on the likelihood of proving the charges.
If domestic violence victims refuse to cooperate, prosecutors will continue to press charges only if they have testimony from witnesses to the abuse. Just “because someone has a bad record,” as in Smith’s case, isn’t reason enough to prosecute, Newman said.
Victims and perpetrators of domestic violence get locked into a complex relationship of abuse that the average Jane or Joe can’t relate to or understand, said Lori Butts, a Davie-based forensic psychologist. “It’s so sad, yet so common.”
“They feel responsible,” Butts said. “They can blame themselves. And there’s shame, there’s a lot of shame and guilt on the part of the victim and a lot of emotional connected-ness.”
The situation is further complicated if the couple have children together, mingled finances and are emotionally dependent on each other, she said.
“It’s so tough, it is so tough. I can’t tell you how many victims I’ve counseled who don’t even define it as abuse when it’s going on,” Butts said. “The victims themselves downplay the behavior. It takes them awhile to admit that they have been a victim of abuse.”
Silva, originally from Puerto Rico, was a convicted felon with numerous arrests on cocaine, Xanax, flakka and marijuana charges. She did two stints in state prison. She was released in June 2014 after serving nearly three years on convictions for cocaine possession, grand theft and burglary.
A police report from Aug. 30, details Smith’s arrest for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after Silva was hospitalized. She had a big cut on her head, her face and arms were bloody and she “appeared to have been dragged around in the dirt,” the arresting officer wrote.
Silva gave a taped statement to police at the hospital but it wasn’t a sworn statement, according to an Oct. 15 memo from the State Attorney’s Office.
“Statement taken from victim was not under oath and cannot be used for the filing of felony charges,” prosecutor Michelle Bamdas wrote. “In addition, the statement was vague as to the facts.”
Detective Yvette Martinez, of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department repeatedly tried to track down Silva to get a sworn statement but found that her last known address was boarded up. “She is not returning any of my calls,” Martinez said in an email obtained by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Numerous attempts by police to Silva were unsuccessful, the prosecutor wrote. “At this time, there is no reasonable likelihood of conviction on the charge of aggravated battery.”
When Hollywood police were summoned in 2016, the 911 caller said: “I need an officer. It is a domestic violence. This is not the first time with my boyfriend.” Then the caller hung up.
When police got there, Silva had a black eye, a bloody lip, fresh scratches, swelling and welts around her neck, court records show.
Silva told police she and Smith had been in a relationship for two years and had a 6-month-old son. She would not let police photograph her injuries and would not make a statement.
“Due to the serious nature of the defendant’s history and the facts of the case,” prosecutors later subpoenaed Silva to try to get her to cooperate. But when they met with her she stated “I do not want to press charges.”
With no evidence, prosecutors concluded there was “no reasonable likelihood of conviction” and closed out the case, memos from the state attorney’s office show.
It was a different woman who brought domestic violence accusations against Smith in 2012, records show.
“Captain called me and said the officer on the case ‘dropped the ball,” the prosecutor wrote in notes. “While working on this case, the officer’s father passed away and he left abruptly without accurately reporting what occurred and the evidence received.”
With no evidence to support the accusations, prosecutors declined the case, records show.
Police urge anyone with information about Smith’s whereabouts to Fort Lauderdale Police Detective E. Thomas at. Anonymous tips can be submitted to Broward Crime Stoppers at.
Staff writer Megan O’Matz contributed to this report.
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