In-Depth: NYS law helping to free abuse survivors who killed their abusers |

In-Depth: NYS law helping to free abuse survivors who killed their abusers

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: May 10, 2021 06:30 PM
Created: May 10, 2021 05:35 PM

Editor's Note: This story contains language some readers may find offensive.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — One in four women and one in 10 men report being the victim of domestic violence and in some of those cases victims have been forced to fight back.  A new law in New York State is now helping those who killed their abusers get a reduction in the amount of time they are required to spend behind bars.  

“I thought that he was going to be my protector you know he was just so awesome and everybody thought he was awesome,” Kim Dadou-Brown of Rochester recalled.

She says her boyfriend turned from protector to abuser within the first few months of their relationship.

“He slapped me and it was like everything shattered,” she recalled.

From there, things only got worse.

“He beat the hell out of me… I mean I was tore up [from him dragging me], my knees were all tore up I had marks all over me,” Dadou-Brown said.

Dadou-Brown says she filed five police reports over the course of the nearly 5-year relationship.

“They would arrest him and three hours later he was standing over me in my bedroom waking me up,” she told News10NBC.

The cycle continued until the night of Dec. 17, 1991. The two got into an argument in the car and Kim says he began choking her. She reached for a gun she knew he had stashed under the passenger seat where she was sitting, pulled it out and fired multiple times. She says he let her go and she was able to open the car door and run away.

“He screamed 'Bitch get back here!' so I thought, 'Oh my God, he is going to kill me,'” she recalled of the night.

Her boyfriend had been shot but drove off, he crashed into a home a few blocks away, got out of the car and tried knocking on doors for help before he collapsed in the snow and died.

Dadou-Brown was arrested. She was advised by her attorney at trial in 1992 not to take the stand.

“Because of that, they did not allow any of the domestic violence evidence in, the DA said that I did not fit the depiction of a battered woman because I had a car, I had money in the bank, I had a good job,” she recalled.

She was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 8 1/3rd to 25 years in state prison.  

“My mom used to say you either sink or swim and I used to say I'm a swimmer and I'm not afraid of water... and I swam, for 17 years I treaded water,” Dadou-Brown said.

While behind bars, she says, she didn’t want other women to go through what she had so, she worked with the Correctional Association of New York to write the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA)—a bill that would allow sentence reductions for domestic abuse survivors who fought back.

When she was paroled after 17 years in prison, she went to Albany to push lawmakers to pass the DVSJA.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of women there to support this bill that I helped write from inside prison,” she remembered.  

It took 10 more annual trips to Albany to get the bill passed but in May of 2019, it was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In a statement at the time, the Governor’s office said: “Current law allows judges to administer indeterminate sentences for domestic violence survivors who have committed a crime only in relation to their abuser under certain circumstances. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act will build upon this law by adding offenses committed due to coercion by an abuser, as well as offenses committed against or at the behest of an abuser who does not share a household or family with the survivor—preventing further victimization of individuals who have endured domestic and sexual violence at the hands of their abusers.”

Essentially, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley says, “it gives the courts the ability to take into consideration all of the trauma that a domestic violence victim has suffered, putting that into context evaluating the situation...did that domestic violence contribute to the defendant's actions and if they did… did they have the ability to sentence accordingly.”    

The DVSJA also permits a small population of currently incarcerated survivors to apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization.

Tanisha Davis, a Rochester woman who was convicted of killing her abusive boyfriend in July of 2013 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, was eligible under the DVSJA for a hearing. The original judge re-sentenced her to time-served.

“We brought Miss Tanisha Davis home just over a month ago and she is doing it, she's doing her best,” Dadou-Brown said.

So far, two Monroe County women have been released under the DVSJA but there are others who are eligible.

“We always say we need to seek justice but in seeking justice we need to seek the truth so we need to know exactly what's going on. I can tell you over the course of my years here there have been many cases where domestic violence victims have become defendants by stabbing or killing their perpetrator during the course of these kinds of events,” Doorley said.

A survivor has to have documented evidence, police reports, hospital records, witnesses to the original abuse for a sentence reduction to be considered.

Kim Dadou-Brown and Tanisha Davis are part of a documentary, which will debut at the Brooklyn Film Festival this summer.

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse:

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