The fact that Bresha is considered one of “the lucky ones” points to systemic failures within our justice system.
(TW- Mentions of domestic/physical violence, self-harm and incarceration.)
After almost a year of being dragged through the legal system, there’s finally some good news in the Bresha Meadows case. The 15-year-old entered a “true” plea on Monday in front of a Trumbull, County, Ohio, juvenile judge and accepted a reduced charge of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of her father. Under the plea agreement, Bresha will serve a year and a day in juvenile detention, with credit for time served. After she’s released from juvenile detention at the end of June, she’ll be required to spend an additional six months at a residential mental health facility, followed by two years of probation. Her record will be sealed and expunged when she turns 18.
Bresha and her defense have maintained that she killed her father in self-defense. Jonathan Meadows had a documented history of physical abuse towards Bresha and her family, and in 2011, her mother Brandi Meadows filed a police report and obtained a domestic violence protective order against him.
“In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” Brandi wrote in the report. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”
Bresha’s cousin Ja’Von Meadows-Harris revealed in an interview published on Monday that he was also witness to as well as a victim of Jonathan Meadows’ abuse. He moved in with Bresha’s family as a foster child when he was just six years old. He lived with the Meadows for five years, much of which he says was spent in isolation or trying to avoid her father’s rage. Ja’Von eventually asked to be placed in another home. He claims he told his social worker about what he witnessed in Bresha’s home, but no actions were taken.
In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha became increasingly fearful that her father would kill her and her family. Normally a shining student, her grades plummeted, she began self-harming and ran away from home. Bresha did everything within her power to escape her father’s abuse. When legal routes offered no relief, she made the impossible decision that would keep her family alive.
Bresha’s case demonstrates how our justice system routinely fails victims of domestic violence. After she was arrested for her father’s murder, Bresha was detained in a juvenile detention center, where she was put on suicide watch more than once and diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. In January, she was briefly transferred to a treatment facility for a mental health evaluation, but her lawyer’s request to allow her to remain there until the beginning of her trial was denied. Prosecutor Stanley Elkins was able to convince a judge that Bresha posed a “public safety and flight risk” and should remain in custody.
Not everyone considers Bresha’s plea deal a victory. The #FreeBresha campaign, a group of individuals and organizations who have helped draw worldwide attention to her case, released a scathing statement in response to Monday’s pre-trial ruling. They criticized the deal for increasing Bresha’s time in juvenile detention, saying, “Prosecuting Bresha, including the pointless punitivity of adding time in juvenile detention, should be condemned by all who care about the well-being of children.”
The plea deal also stipulates that Bresha’s family will assume financially responsibility for her time spent in the treatment facility, an action that will burden the family as they struggle to put their lives back together. The #FreeBresha campaign believes her entry into a treatment facility should be voluntary and not mandated as part of her punishment. They accuse prosecutors of punishing Bresha for systemic failures that could have been avoided.
In many respects, Bresha is one of the lucky ones. For one, she survived. Between 2001 and 2011 in the US, an estimated 20,000 children were killed in their own homes by family members. That’s approximately four times the amount of soldiers who were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period. Our country has one of the worst records of child abuse in the industrialized world, losing an average of almost five children every day to child abuse and neglect.
Domestic survivors who fight back like Bresha did are often criminalized, leading to further trauma behind bars. The average prison sentence of men who kill their female partners is 2 to 6 years, but women who kill their partners are sentenced on average to 15 years, despite the fact that most women who kill their partners do so to protect themselves and/or their children. Parricide, the killing of a parent or close relative, is an uncommon crime, accounting for only 2 to 5 percent of all homicides in America. It is especially rare among children, and almost always a response to abuse in the household. When looking at these statistics, it becomes clear that Bresha was pulling from a deck systemically stacked against her.
The fact that Bresha will receive treatment and be returned to her family at the beginning of 2018 is a testament to the power of focused collective action. Our justice system has made it clear that it will not change on its own, it will be up to us to remain engaged and continue standing up for the survivors they try to silence.
You can continue to support Bresha and her family by donating to her GoFundMe.