Judge Terrett raises awareness for victims of domestic violence

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, November 19, 2017

Toni Terrett has always wanted to help people.

That’s why, she said, she became a lawyer. It’s why she’s an advocate against domestic violence and serves on the Mountain of Faith Board of Directors.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

A Vicksburg native, Terrett said she became aware of the problems of domestic violence when she began her legal practice, adding the experience influenced her to become an advocate.

“I guess it wasn’t as big on my radar then (before her legal career) as it was when I became a practicing attorney and a judge,” she said. “Once I started with the city of Vicksburg as city court judge, and I started getting training and really seeing the impact of domestic violence on the victim’s families and the community, I just knew there was more that we needed to do, and more the people need to be aware of.”

Terrett holds domestic violence court twice a week, and the court has its domestic violence victims empowerment program to help victims with their situation.

She said there have been cases that have surprised her.

Some, she said, involve serious charges — like “he shot at me.”

“One person was shot by her partner,” Terrett said. “We do protective orders, try to help people out, and a couple of weeks later, they’re back together.

“These are some serious issues, and that kind of bothers me, because we see what happens when people snap and things have become ugly, especially if there’s domestic issues involved. There’s a lot of warning signs that people don’t take heed to.”

One of the comments she hears a lot is “I don’t want him to go to jail; I just want him to leave me alone for a little bit,” or “I don’t want him to go to jail; I just want him to get help.”

“Jail is not the most favorable place, but sometimes that’s what it takes to get their attention and we’ll try and get them the help they need,” Terrett said.

She said it bothers her to think some people allow themselves to remain in domestic abuse situations without taking offers for help, “And by that I mean people who are the victim and the defendant, because it’s a circular thing.

“Some people will take advantage of the court ordered counseling programs such as those offered by Warren/Yazoo (Mental Health), and do what they have to do to get themselves back on track, and others may not take it as seriously.”

Some people, she said, will find all types of excuses not to get help, adding if someone is unable to afford a treatment program, the court will find classes that don’t cost or find some options that may allow them to pay nothing.

“The court is willing to work with them if they show forth the effort to try and make themselves better,” Terrett said.

Part of her advocacy is participating in programs to educate the public and other agencies.

Terrett is a member of the Vicksburg Domestic Violence Empowerment Team, which recently sponsored a domestic violence conference. She said the daylong conference was the result of trying to find a better way to reach segments of the community.

“It seems like it was a success. We had people from other law enforcement agencies outside of Warren County come and take part; people from different social service agencies. We’re already planning for next year, hoping to expand on it and make it a two-day conference if possible,” Terrett said.

She also pushes for more training for police officers, adding part of the city’s violence against women grant requires that at least 12 officers per quarter get training in domestic violence issues.

“And (police) Lt. Penny Jones has been good about teaching them different things,” Terrett said. “We also have some videos we’ve given the training officer to let the officers watch, and if we hear things, we try to pass that information on.”

The team also provides education to the community through church programs, lunches and conferences.

“We’re just trying to remind people that this is a very serious issue that they need to be aware of.”

She said being a judge gives her a better platform to advocate.

“I think having this title, people automatically give you respect and credibility when it comes to speaking about certain issues, and outside the bench the benefit is being allowed to do some other endeavors as far as speaking at different functions.

She said her training in domestic violence has come from many resources over the years.

There are the state-mandated continuing education requirements lawyers must meet, and conferences and webinars sponsored by different legal and judicial organizations.

She said taking domestic violence cases in her private practice made her more alert to the problem, because of the effect it can have on the family and the community.

And while she has a personal involvement as an advocate, “When I’m on the bench, I really have to focus on the facts of the case.”

Terrett said she has had victims tell her they want to drop the case, or attorneys wanting to drop the charges, but treats each case separately.

“Even though there are people involved, I have to look at the facts of each case and that the facts meet what the law says domestic violence is. And to make that determination and go from there as far as rendering a decision,” Terrett said.

“As an attorney, I had clients with domestic violence. I guess as an attorney you’re a one-sided advocate because you’re advocating for that one person you represent, and I think attorneys do their jobs well, but now that I’m a judge, I can see the big picture and see the best ways to advocate, but still make sure all bases are covered.”

Besides Warren Yazoo Mental Health, she said, the court gets help from Haven House.

She said Haven House representatives will come to court for domestic violence cases and talk to victims who need their assistance, “And they’ve helped fill out protective orders.”

She said the hard part of helping domestic violence victims is getting them to understand they have to take a stand.

“Haven House, when it comes to court, will talk with victims and give them pointers before they testify or address the court, and tell them about the warning signs of domestic violence, and a lot of victims really don’t think they need that service,” she said.

Terrett she began working with Mountain of Faith before she became involved as a domestic violence advocate.

She is vice president of the Mountain of Faith Ministries’ Board of Directors, helping the women’s ministry keep its programs going following the death of founder Tina Hayward.

“It was something I just wanted to get involved with and help, and I saw that she was doing a lot of good things in the community,” Terrett said.

She has been involved with planning for the ministry’s annual luncheon, and helping it connect with people and programs that can help it

Terrett is also involved with the United Way of West Central Mississippi as a volunteer, the activities of her five children, teaches mass communication classes at Alcorn State and plays piano for the women’s choir at St. Alban Baptist Church.

And she intends to keep active in the community.

“I’ve always had a heart for people who are in need and just wanted to find ways to help” she said. Jonetta Lynn Dillon

Funeral services for Jonetta Lynn Dillon are to be held on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Jackson Street M. B. Church at noon with the Rev. Trollars Moore officiating.

Interment shall follow in the Cedar Hill Cemetery under the direction W. H. Jefferson Funeral Home.

Jonetta Lynn Dillon passed away on Sunday, Nov. 12, in her residence. She was 62. She was a homemaker and member of the Jackson Street M. B. Church.

She was preceded in death by her father Joe Hall.

She is survived by her mother Gloria Dillon of Vicksburg, her brothers John Henry Dillon, Jr and Donald Jones both of Vicksburg, her five sisters Debra Howard and Yvette Johnson both of Vicksburg, Demarius Dillon of Fairfield, OH and Hope Evans and Valtrese Evans both of Southaven.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John