GREGG COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - The Gregg County district attorney’s office says they’ve caught up on a large amount of family and domestic violence cases in the past few months — a focus area of District Attorney Tom Watson.
“Obviously, domestic violence is a major problem, not just in Gregg County but all over,” said Watson. “What we see in this line of work is that domestic violence is a crime that continues to get worse and worse; it may start off small but over time, if it continues, it may wind up leading to homicides.”
Tom Watson became the Gregg County district attorney in January. But, before he even took office, he wanted people to know he was focused on domestic and family violence cases.
“The previous administration had their own way of handling those cases — I saw some issues with that way of handling prior to me taking office,” said Watson. “It was very important to me, even during my campaign, to address that we were serious about this issue.”
The Gregg County DA’s office has a grant which funds their dedicated domestic and family violence department.
“I think it’s important to have a dedicated person or group that has some special training with it,” said Kimberly Smith-Morris, the family violence prosecutor for the Gregg County DA’s office. “I’ve gone to two trainings since starting in March and it does help to understand the whole cycle of violence and be able to give it the attention it needs.”
Watson and his team said they want to ensure the cases get the attention they need as early as possible.
“A lot of times you’ll find out she’s not the first person abused, so it’s important to address the behavior and the crime before it gets to a felony level,” said Smith-Morris. “Typically, your first family violence assault is a Class A misdemeanor and that would be the time to address it — to hit hard and if there is a substance abuse problem factoring in, to address it then because the next one will be a felony.”
Watson said while he’s the DA, it will be rare for a domestic violence case to be dismissed in Gregg County.
“It’s very important to this office,” said Watson. “We’re going to be aggressive and zealous on prosecuting those cases because we don’t want it to lead to a death, ultimately.”
Watson said his team is working closely with law enforcement agencies to answer any questions they have with domestic violence cases and help in any way they can.
He also said he hopes victims who come forward understand his office isn’t just looking to punish but also to rehabilitate — both the victim and the abuser.