Violence Free Minnesota discusses intimate partner violence in the wake of Burnsville shooting

Burnsville Shooting Incident
A Hastings police officer embraces a pedestrian outside of a security perimeter following a police-involved shooting in Burnsville on Sunday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

There is a memorial this weekend for Burnsville police officer Paul Elmstrand ahead of the Wednesday funeral service for Elmstrand and two others, officer Matthew Ruge, and firefighter-paramedic Adam Finseth. All three were shot and killed while responding to a domestic call in Burnsville on Sunday.

In a statement earlier this week, Violence Free Minnesota said they were the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th confirmed victims of intimate partner homicide in Minnesota this year.

Investigators said Shannon Gooden shot the men as they were responding to a 911 call alleging sexual abuse. Court records show prior abuse allegations against Gooden from multiple partners.

Joe Shannon, the communications program manager for Violence Free Minnesota spoke with All Things Considered host Tom Crann about the current state of domestic violence in Minnesota.

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The following is a transcription of the audio heard using the player above, lightly edited for clarity.

Can you explain how your organization defines intimate partner homicide and why you’d classify this situation as such?

The officers and the paramedic who were killed, we classify them as bystanders to domestic violence. And we believe that this is crucial to count them to show the full scope of domestic violence in the state and how it touches and impacts communities and people beyond those just in the relationship.

Violence Free Minnesota has a list of risk factors it has identified for intimate partner homicides. Which ones do you think are relevant in this case?

Yeah, so each year we release an annual report on the intimate partner homicides in the state. And we identify five risk factors that we consistently see each year. There are more risk factors that are recognized, but we narrowed it down to the five that we see most often.

Those are a history of violence, primarily against the partner who was killed, but also we look into past histories of violence against previous partners. Access to firearms is the second risk factor, strangulation of the victim, the fourth is if the victim is attempting to leave the relationship or has already left the relationship, leaving the relationship is the most dangerous time for domestic violence victim survivors because it takes away the power and control the abuser has over them.

Finally, the fifth risk factor is threats to kill the victim. We know that Shannon Gooden had a history of violence. As you mentioned, with the protective orders that were both unfortunately dismissed by the courts. He also very clearly had access to firearms and one of his exes had said that he had threatened to kill her.

Those are three of the five risk factors and we know with each one, it just increases the risk and shows how preventable these homicides are.

What would need to be in place for this to have been preventable?

Going back to the protective orders that were dismissed by two different partners, I think it shows that the courts and the legal system really need to do a better job of listening to victim survivors. When they say that ‘he’s going to kill me, he has threatened to kill me,’ they need to be believed.

Another thing that’s important to bring up is the need for early prevention methods. It’s hard to pinpoint where that didn’t happen in this case. However, the starting point, just a starting point, is healthy relationships being taught in schools.

Also, the access to firearms. I know he obtained those and was not legally allowed to possess but we recommend in our report that the Minnesota Department of Health collects data on firearms. We believe that if they were allowed to do that, we would have the starting point of knowing where firearms are located in the state and where they're coming from and where people are obtaining them.

If there is anyone listening who is in a situation that they fear could turn out badly or get worse, what resources are available to them?

We have over 90 member programs at Violence Free Minnesota that assist survivors throughout the state. Those programs cover every single county, and you can reach out to advocates and find programs on our website. There’s also a statewide hotline called the day one hotline, reach out to them if you think you’re experiencing violence or if someone you know.

Also a great resource is just to reach out to people who love and care about you, and vice versa. If you think someone is experiencing violence, reach out to them. Don’t give them a list of things they have to do immediately to get out. Just let them know you're there and continually check up on them and reach out to resources yourself.

If you or someone you know need to talk to an advocate, please call Violence Free Minnesota’s confidential domestic violence hotline like Minnesota DayOne at: (866) 223-1111.