GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Federal prosecutors are cracking down on longtime domestic violence abusers by using firearms laws to hold them accountable.
For nearly a decade, 36-year-old Dominic Alexander of Grand Rapids has faced case after case of violent, disturbing domestic violence allegations.
Up until Tuesday, Alexander had been sentenced to little time behind bars.
“There were two or three convictions in the past for domestic violence and many more that had to be dismissed because the witnesses weren’t able to come forward,” Mark Totten, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, told News 8 on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t seem there had been sufficient accountability,” Totten continued.
Totten called Alexander a “serial domestic abuser.” Alexander has been accused of beating and choking multiple domestic partners, including his pregnant girlfriend.
“(He) wrapped his arms around the neck of his pregnant girlfriend, pinned her to the wall, lifted her up by that choking hand, let her down and then continued to choke her,” Totten said. “He served just 15 days for that 2013 offense.”
Prosecutors wrote in court documents it’s “remarkable that none of his victims died.”
“This case looks like 100 others we do in our office, except in one really important respect: He had a conspicuous background of committing domestic violence against various domestic partners,” Totten told News 8.
Totten explained there’s no domestic violence statute at the federal level. Those cases are prosecuted in state and local courts, but it can be difficult to secure convictions with domestic violence cases.
“It can be hard to get the witnesses you need,” Totten explained. “The people you need to talk are the victims themselves. For reasons that are often understandable, they don’t want to talk to law enforcement.”
Totten said firearms offenses are easier to prosecute, and a federal statute exists for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. So if a domestic violence prosecution fails at the local level, federal prosecutors can step in and prosecute them with illegal firearm possession if that is applicable.
It’s an effort to catch longtime abusers.
“If there are cases where somebody has not received the accountability they’ve deserved, or where perhaps they’ve not been able to build the domestic violence case because they can’t get the right people to testify, if we have a gun charge on them we can come in and build that case at the federal level,” Totten explained.
The strategy came to fruition against Alexander Tuesday. Alexander had previously been convicted of illegally having a pistol plus 117 rounds of ammunition.
In a Sept. 5 motion, prosecutors asked for a longer sentence than normal, citing light punishments in his prior run-ins with the law. Alexander was sentenced to two to 10 years in prison for the 2018 stabbing on an unarmed man but was paroled within 10 months of his sentencing, prosecutors wrote.
Alexander had received a suspended sentence in a 2020 domestic violence conviction, prosecutors said.
Because of those relatively light past sentences, prosecutors argued Alexander should receive 41 to 51 months in prison for the recent gun conviction.
“The public requires extra protection from him,” prosecutors wrote.
U.S. District Court Judge Hala Jarbou ended up sentencing Alexander to 46 months in federal prison Tuesday morning.
“We wanted to make sure there was accountability,” Totten told News 8. “That’s why we did everything we did in this case.”
Totten said 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in Michigan are victims of domestic violence by their intimate partner. Victims are five times more likely to be killed by their abusers when guns are involved, Totten said.
“The sheer number of victims is quite stunning,” Totten said.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, there is help out there. To contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-800-799-SAFE or text START to 88788. Call 911 if you are in danger.