published Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Hamilton County recognizes work for crime victims' rights

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For survivors of criminal tragedy, the initial shock of dealing with sexual assault or the murder of a family member is only the beginning of an ordeal involving frustratingly long trials and trying to heal.

On Tuesday, law enforcement, court employees and county officials gathered to laud those who fight for victims' rights and to raise awareness for their work.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger noted this year is the county's 10th in participating in National Crime Victim's Rights Week.

U.S. Attorney William Killian noted that the courts helped more than 2,000 crime victims last year in Eastern Tennessee.

Jan Ramsey has seen the courtroom from both sides. After her father was murdered in 1996, she joined the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office as victim witness coordinator.

"We literally have hundreds of cases a day," she said. "It's not just one person who's a victim. It's like a rippling effect" with the lives of friends and family also shaken by crime.

Each victim has different needs, from getting counseling to finding a safe house. Many just need to learn how to navigate the courts, she said.

"I've held a lot of hands. I've wiped a lot of tears," she said. "I feel like their mom."

Donna Burns' daughter was killed by her ex-husband in 2008. She was completely unfamiliar with what was going to happen after he was arrested.

"You don't really know the system or what you're supposed to do," she said at the event. "The victim witness coordinators let us know what would happen."

Other speakers at the event, called Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim, included Hamilton County District Attorney General Bill Cox and Chattanooga Police Officer Lorin Johnston, who recounted the April 2, 2011, shooting death of Sgt. Tim Chapin during a botched robbery on Brainerd Road.

Johnston also was shot during the gunfight, but his bulletproof vest stopped the bullet. He has been named this year as one of the nation's Top Cops by the National Association of Police Organizations.

The challenge for officials now is educating the public to victims' plights year-round and letting survivors know what resources are available to them.

"Every week, of course, is victim's week," Cox said.

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