Rachelle Pinkerton stood in front of dozens of local police officers on Friday and shared her story of survival after a long-running abusive relationship with her ex-husband.
At Denton County Friends of the Family's "Friends of the Badge" luncheon, she spoke of the courage it takes to escape a relationship with an abusive partner. And after mentioning one particularly vicious assault in 2010, Pinkerton said her life would have taken a different trajectory had it not been for the kindness of the officer who responded to her disturbance call that night.
"She understood the dynamics of what I was going through when no one else had," said Pinkerton, a 29-year-old resident of The Colony.
Public officials and police officers from Lake Dallas, Corinth, Denton, Little Elm, Aubrey, Highland Village and the Denton County Sheriff's Office were honored at the banquet in Denton for their cooperation with Friends of Family, a local nonprofit that advocates for victims of domestic violence.
Pinkerton, now a survivor mentor at Friends of the Family, became one of the thousands of clients the nonprofit takes on each year. In addition to offering an emergency shelter for victims, the agency also connects them with legal services and police investigators.
In 2016, the agency took on 330 victims at its emergency shelter, which is in a confidential location. The same year, the agency had more than 2,300 total clients and handled more than 3,000 calls to its 24-hour crisis line.
The nonprofit works as a liaison for the victims, making sure they file police reports and complete the appropriate court documents. Friends of the Family also regularly works with the officers who respond to domestic violence calls. In many cases, arresting an abusive partner is only one part of a much longer process.
Among those honored at the banquet was the Little Elm Police Department, which event organizers called a "safe haven" for their clients. Lt. Brad Wilcox and Lt. Jimmy Lewis accepted the plaque on behalf of the Little Elm department.
"We like to be recognized by anyone, and we're happy to work with anyone," Wilcox said. "But it's not about the recognition. It's more about the work that's done. And we're just glad to be a part of something to try and help change the situation."
The Denton Police Department's Family Services Division was presented with the Infinity and Beyond award for its efforts to prioritize high-risk domestic violence cases. And Denton County Sheriff's Sgt. Cari Coker, who oversees the office's Mental Health Unit, received the Mental Health Partner award.
Other award recipients included University of North Texas police Sgt. Ramona Rosborough, 431st District Court Judge Jonathan Bailey, County Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell, and Caitlin Milmo, an attorney with the Denton County district attorney's family law division.
Milmo, who represents victims seeking protective orders against their spouses, said she works with Friends of the Family on a daily basis. She called the award "humbling."
"I think that [the agency] is very good about giving us feedback on a regular basis that they appreciate the work that we do for their victims," she said.
Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson, Sheriff Tracy Murphree and 393rd District Court Judge Doug Robison were also in attendance.
After WFAA-TV sports anchor Dale Hansen delivered the keynote speech — mentioning his own brief encounter with domestic violence as a young boy — Pinkerton said she was happy to share her story with so many officers. While she hasn't been able to find the officer who helped her in 2010, she wanted her case to serve as an example of the difference they can make.
"[The responding officer] took the time to help me understand what my options were and made me feel like I had someone in my corner for the very first time," Pinkerton said.
JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-6882.
FEATURED PHOTO: Lt. Chris Summitt, left, accepts the Infinity and Beyond award on behalf of the Denton Police Department's Family Services Division, presented by Denton County Friends of the Family Executive Director Toni Johnson-Simpson on Friday during the "Friends of the Badge" Awards Luncheon to honor local police at SpringHill Suites by Marriott in Denton. Friends of the Family supports victims of domestic violence and abuse and works with many surrounding law enforcement agencies.
In the know
Denton County Friends of the Family gave out information guides for victims of domestic violence during the banquet. Here are a few important phone numbers for domestic violence resources:
Denton County Friends of the Family: 1-800-572-4031 or 940-387-5131
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Family Law Hotline: 1-800-777-3247
Legal Aid of Northwest Texas: 1-888-529-5277
Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault: 1-800-991-5153
Denton County Children's Advocacy Center: 972-317-2818 or 940-686-4039
Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-252-5400