BY REIS THEBAULT AND BRITTANY SHAMMAS, THE WASHINGTON POST
It was Alyssa Broderick’s worst fear: Her stepfather was out of jail and she knew she wasn’t safe.
Then 16, Alyssa told a court that Stephen Broderick had sexually assaulted her, and she pleaded with a judge to keep him away from her and her family. Broderick was out on bond while facing felony charges in the case, which would grow to include allegations of strangulation and years of abuse.
“I’m afraid that to him, a protective order will be just a piece of paper,” Alyssa wrote in a June application seeking such an order. “I’m worried that he’ll come after my family and try to take my brother. I’m afraid he might hurt me or my mom for coming forward.”
The protective order was granted. But nearly 10 months later, Alyssa’s fears came true, police say.
On Sunday morning in northwest Austin, law enforcement officials say Broderick shot and killed Alyssa; her mother and his estranged wife, Amanda Broderick, 35; and Alyssa’s boyfriend, Willie Simmons III, 18. Broderick, a former Travis County sheriff’s detective, then fled the scene and led authorities on a 20-hour manhunt that ended in his arrest Monday.
It shook the city and came after a series of high-profile mass shootings across the country. But advocates say the episode is a horrific example of a long-standing problem that hardly ever makes headlines: America’s criminal justice system too often fails to protect victims of domestic and family violence from their abusers — even when the warning signs are obvious.
Experts say this continues to hamper the nation’s response to a public health crisis that affects 1 in 3 women, along with many men and children.
“All the time, the potential danger — the lethality — is minimized, is overlooked and people are hurt, people die,” said Kelly White, CEO of the SAFE Alliance, an Austin nonprofit that serves abuse survivors. “It is a worst-case scenario to have a woman and two children be killed, that’s the worst-case scenario and it’s not new.”
Some officials argued that Broderick alone — and not the system — is to blame. White disagrees. At step after step in his case, she said, the system wasn’t watching close enough.
A Washington Post review of more than 130 pages of court records reveals that, despite his November indictment on 10 counts of sexual assault of a child and two counts of strangulation of a family member, and despite Amanda and Alyssa’s documented fears, Broderick had little supervision while out on bond.
After the sexual assault charges, Amanda moved out of town with Alyssa and the 9-year-old son she and Broderick shared. Alyssa left the school where she was a promising student and basketball player. A court-sanctioned visitation agreement required them to maintain some contact to allow Broderick time with his son.
It was during a Sunday morning custody exchange — which domestic violence experts consider one of the riskiest times for survivors — that Broderick allegedly opened fire.