Tiniko Thompson, who is facing life in prison for fatally shooting her boyfriend, Miami police officer Carl Patrick, has been getting a lot of attention lately. Her story represents everything that's wrong with how our criminal justice system treats the victims of domestic violence, particularly women of color. But the local media seems intent on missing that point, describing it as a "soap opera" and stopping just short of calling Thompson a lying, gold-digging ho.
First, the facts: Thompson says she was physically and emotionally abused by Patrick. She has photos of her bruises, cuts, and scars to prove it. Since Patrick is dead, we’re not able to hear his side of the story. But it’s worth noting false allegations of domestic violence are statistically very rare.
Thompson has testified in the trial, which is currently underway, that she woke up on the morning of May 7, 2014, to find Patrick upset because she’d run up a large credit card bill. When she argued with him, he punched her in the face, then grabbed his gun and tried to force it into her mouth. The two of them struggled as she begged him not to kill her and attempted to take the gun away. Finally, she grabbed it, pulled the trigger, and shot him to death.
But that's why Florida has Stand Your Ground laws, right? Actually, no. Arguing that you acted in self-defense is apparently reserved for racist white dudes. In April of this year, Broward Circuit Court Judge Geoffrey Cohen rejected her claim.
Thompson recognizes the irony. The transcript of her initial statement to police includes a moment when she's left alone in the interrogation room, the tape still running.
“Second-degree murder. I’m in prison for it,” she says to herself. “I’m going to jail for second-degree murder for defending my life? I don’t get it. Zimmerman kills a kid for nothing, and he walks free. I defend my life. Oh, my god. I fought for my life.”
Sadly, the criminalization of women who attempt to defend themselves against their abusers is nothing new. (Remember Marisa Alexander?) The New York State Department of Corrections has found that 67 percent of women who are imprisoned for killing someone close to them were abused by the victim of their crime.
Whether or not they end up facing charges often depends on the color of their skin. The UCLA Women’s Law Journal notes that black women are nearly twice as likely to be convicted for killing their abusers than white women are. White women are often considered victims and referred to treatment programs and counseling services, while women of color are frequently treated as violent criminals and locked up in prison.
And yet, it’s black women who statistically face the most danger. The Violence Policy Research Center’s analysis of homicide data found that black women are three times more likely to be killed by a current or former partner than women of other races.
Thompson is painfully aware that, as a black woman, her side of the story is unlikely to be believed. In fact, she says Patrick routinely reminded her of that.
“Somebody put the gun in your face, what you gonna do?” she asked officers, according to the transcript of her taped confession. “What would anybody do? You’re gonna try to fight. Or I coulda just stood there and he woulda killed me. Then what would have happened? Would he have been locked up? No. Because he [is] an officer, they probably woulda cut him some slack. That’s how he talked to me. That’s what he said to me. ‘You, you a black person. If anything, they’ll just do [nothing]. No, do you think these white people care? You be gone and nobody wouldn’t even care.’ All this stuff he did to me that’s bottled up in me.”
Thompson, who is 48 years old, doesn’t fit the profile of a cold-blooded killer. Up until her arrest, she had no criminal record beyond two traffic tickets. She had worked for the City of Miami Police Department for nine years as a public service aide, which is how she met Patrick. She has three adult daughters from a previous relationship.
Prosecutors have had to go out of their way to portray her as untrustworthy. They’ve been highlighting the fact that she maxed out Patrick’s credit card prior to his death and that she’d lied to him about being pregnant because he desperately wanted kids. The local media has fixated on those details, with WFOR-TV (Channel 4) going as far as to call it a "soap opera.”
There are a couple of problems with this. For one, abuse is abuse. Credit card debt and a fake pregnancy don’t negate it. Thompson knows that, and you can sense her frustration when officers keep asking her whether or not she’d ever been pregnant with Patrick’s child.
“I have every right to stand up for myself and not let this man [hurt me] regardless to whether a baby was born or not,” she says in her statement. “That has nothing to do with the fact of what he did to me Wednesday morning. A baby, faking a pregnancy, or trying to adopt a child has nothing to do with what that man did to me. That has nothing to do with it.”
Furthermore, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see that Patrick’s anger might have intensified when he found out about the credit card debt or that Thompson might have felt compelled to lie to him about her pregnancy because she was afraid to tell him the truth. But that would require actually extending some empathy toward Thompson rather than treating her like a character in a telenovela.
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Her case raises important questions about the link between police culture and domestic violence, but the local press seems more interested in dragging up information that might undermine her credibility as a victim. The Sun-Sentinel in particular has felt the need to repeatedly point out that, after shooting Patrick, Thompson didn’t immediately call the police. Let’s think about that one for a second. You’re dating a police officer who beats you up. He tells you that nothing would happen to him if he killed you because he’s a cop. Then you end up shooting him in self-defense. What are you going to do... call the cops?
“I felt that my life would have been in danger,” Thompson testified. “Most of the time, when a cop knows that another officer has been shot, they take that matter very seriously, and chances are the person may not even get to see the jail. I work at a police department. I know what the officers say and how they respond to that happening.” But none of the reporters covering the trial seem interested in looking into these allegations or investigating how the culture at the Miami PD might have enabled her abuse. (Nationally, researchers have found that abusive behavior is disturbingly common among cops, in part because many police departments fail to discipline officers who are arrested for domestic violence.)
Instead, the Sun-Sentinel notes that Thompson drove off in Patrick’s BMW, which fits pretty nicely into the narrative prosecutors seem to be trying to push: She was only with him for his money and killed him out of greed. The only problem is that it doesn’t add up. Thompson doesn’t appear to have taken anything of value from the couple’s Pembroke Pines home when she left, and she even wrote a note saying, “He leaves everything to [his longtime friend] Andrea.”
There’s no murder mystery here (sorry, Miami Herald.) Tiniko Thompson has already told us she killed her boyfriend. She’s also told us why: he threatened her life, and she acted in self-defense. The real question we should be asking is why no one seems to want to believe her.