Houston County Circuit Clerk Carla Woodall

Houston County Circuit Clerk Carla Woodall works inside the department's office.

Roughly 40 percent of the petitions for protection from abuse filed in Houston County over the past year were dismissed upon request of the victim.

Houston County Circuit Clerk Carla Woodall said 223 petitions for protection from abuse were filed in Houston County from March 2014 to March of this year. She said 90 of the 223 petitions were later dismissed upon request by the victim.

Earlier this month, 45-year-old Christopher Joyner, who had already violated a protection order from abuse, broke into his wife’s home and fatally shot her along with a friend before turning the gun on himself, taking his own life.

Mary Alice Hill Joyner had filed for a protection from abuse order from her husband in February, which was granted the same day. Houston County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Christopher Joyner on March 7 for violating the protection order, and just over a week later the fatal shooting happened.

Though Mary Joyner had not asked for her protection ordered to be dismissed, many other victims do and some of them end up coming back and asking for additional protection orders.

Woodall said anyone who would like to get a petition for protection from abuse can go to the circuit clerk’s office at room 130 in the Houston County Courthouse.

Woodall said there are several requirements that must be met in order for the petition for protection from abuse to be approved and ordered by the court. She said the petitioner must have be a current or former spouse, or currently or formerly be in a dating relationship or have had a child in common with the defendant.

“The definition of a dating relationship is frequent intimate association, primarily characterized by the expectation of affectionate or sexual involvement within the last six months,” Woodall said. “A dating relationship does not include a casual or business relationship.”

Woodall said the defendant of a petition for protection from abuse can also be a current or former household member, but they still have to have had a romantic or sexual relationship.

People looking to get a protection order from abuse also need to bring a valid photo ID with them, with an address and either date of birth and/or Social Security Number for the defendant to be served with the petition.

“The petition is actually a five page document, and in the petition it asks for anything you are asking the court to do, for example to keep someone away from your home or where you work,” Woodall said. “We process the petition into the computer and then we issue a summons for the sheriff’s department to serve the defendant with a copy of the petition. Once the petition is served, and sheriff’s department notifies us of it, it’s then set for a court date.”

District Court Judge Benjamin Lewis holds protection from abuse hearings once a week on Thursdays, which is when he hears from the people involved and issues an order for the request.

“Under extreme situations there is the ability for the court to issue an immediate temporary protection from abuse order pending a final hearing,” Woodall said. “For example, if a victim is shot and there are signs of abuse, that would certainly warrant an immediate temporary order.”

Woodall said there is no fee for making a petition for protection from abuse with the court. But if the court grants the request the defendant is assessed a $214 court costs fee.

Woodall said they often see people come in and get a petition filed then a week later ask for it to be dismissed.

“I can recall a woman who just came from the ER with a bandage on her head and dried blood in her hair and on her clothes that came in. Obviously there was physical abuse so I contacted the judge and he immediately issued a protection order,” Woodall said. “In the petition order you have to outline the abuse and she said he had beaten her with a baseball bat. Approximately one week later she came back in the office and asked for it to be dismissed because it was all a misunderstanding.”

Woodall encouraged the people seeking protection to follow through with the request, and actually try and get help.

“Unfortunately a protection order is not a bullet proof vest,” Woodall said. “I’d encourage women to stand strong and follow through with seeking protection from whatever source, the courts, law enforcement, or charity organizations like the House of Ruth.”

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