Connie Walker: A quick warning before we start the show. This series contains descriptions of adult subject matter, including details of violence and trauma. Please take care while listening.
Connie: Just before midnight on Saturday April 13, 2013, police got a call about a domestic violence incident in Dixon Agency. 45 minutes later, Officer Largent arrived. He got out of his vehicle, and noticed two tribal police officers had detained a man.
Connie: He saw a woman sitting on the front steps. Well, a teenager really. She was only 17. She told him her name was Jermain Austin Charlo. She said she and her boyfriend had an argument, that he followed her out of the camper, held her down across the hood of the van and hit her in the face. Earlier, she'd told the 911 operator that her boyfriend had hit her in the head four times, threw her on the ground and then spat on her.
Connie: Officer Largent turned to Michael, who told him that he had hit Jermain, but he said it was only three times. Once with an open hand, and twice with his fist. The officer turned back to Jermain and asked her to hold up a quarter while he photographed her injuries.
Connie: Jermain held her hair back so the officer could see the left side of her face. It was red, and starting to swell. The flash was bright against the dark night, but you can see that her left cheekbone and the area near her temple are red.
Connie: She's looking down at the ground while the officer takes her photo. Her eyes have a faraway look in them. She doesn't look like she's crying or upset, but you can see that her eyeliner is smudged. The officer gave Jermain some pamphlets about domestic violence and a notice about victim's rights. He noted in his report that Jermain is 17—a minor—and that her mother is requesting charges against her boyfriend Michael.
Connie: According to the police report, the officer handcuffed Michael and said that as he was putting him into the police car, he was swarmed by Michael's parents. He told them to step away while he secured Michael in the backseat. At 1:10 a.m., he took Michael to jail. When they arrived at the police station, he took photos of Michael's hands. You can see how red and swollen his knuckles are on his right hand.
Connie: You might think that this incident should have been the end of this relationship. The violence Jermain experienced that night, Michael's arrest, this officer's intervention, could have been the help that Jermain needed to get out. But what I've learned about intimate partner violence is that the reality is much more complex.
Connie: This wasn't the only time that Jermain called for help, and this wasn't the only time that we failed her. Long before she ever disappeared, Jermain was in desperate need of support. Why didn't she ever get it?
Connie: From Gimlet Media and Spotify, this is Stolen: The Search for Jermain. I'm Connie Walker.
Connie: After learning about Michael's assault on Jermain, I wanted to get a sense of what this time was like for her, so I looked on her social media. What I found on Facebook was a life very different than the one I read about in that police report.
Connie: Scrolling through her photos, Jermain looks like the bubbly, artistic and funny teenager that her family has told me about. Her look changes about every month to a different hairstyle, or hair color, and it seems obvious from all the posts and photos that Jermain loves her boyfriend Michael.
Connie: I know I'm only seeing the punctuation points in Jermain's life, the highs that she shares on social media and the lows documented in that police report. There's a lot I don't know about what was going on in her life, but from Facebook it seems like she's in a happy relationship. Her aunt Dani doesn't remember when she learned that Jermain had been abused, but she knew enough early on to be wary of Jermain and Michael's relationship.
Dani Matt: I wasn't, you know, excited for her to be with him, especially after that. But you try to be supportive through it and not stir the pot or, you know, cause any more drama than what's already there for her.
Connie: Even though Michael admitted that he assaulted Jermain on the night he was arrested, after he got out of jail, Michael got a lawyer and tried to fight the charge. His lawyer filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the Montana Partner or Family Member Assault Statute discriminated against Michael as a heterosexual male. He said that same-sex couples weren't subject to the same harsh penalties, and therefore Michael shouldn't be either. His motion wasn't successful though, and ultimately, a few weeks after he was arrested, Michael pleaded guilty.
Connie: He said: "On April 14, 2013, in Sanders County, I caused bodily injury to my girlfriend." For this charge, Michael had to appear in court. He spent a day in jail. He was charged with a misdemeanor and lost his right to carry firearms for a year. Along with a fine, Michael was mandated to attend 40 hours of a domestic violence treatment program. This is a pretty standard requirement after being convicted of Partner or Family Member Assault. These programs are one of the only interventions that is focused on the men who commit violence against their partners. And it sounds promising. 40 hours to talk with a therapist about your anger seems like it could make a difference.
Connie: I spoke with a counselor who worked for the MAN program—or Men Advocating Nonviolence program—where Michael went for therapy. His name is Brad Boylan. He's been doing this kind of counseling for over 25 years.
Brad Boylan: We just kind of go through our curriculum, and it's kind of a humanistic approach, I guess I would call it.
Connie: Brad says that he didn't remember Michael, but that counseling always starts in the same way: a group of men sitting in a circle.
Brad Boylan: They come in, they check in, introduce themselves, generally give a brief description of why they're there, certainly what their conviction was. But then they'll often go into trying to explain what happened. And the program kind of initiates them right then and there, because I'm not generally a very therapeutic therapist, I'm kind of direct, and I just say shit to the guys. And so if they come in and they're really whiny, cry-sacky victims, I will throw a box of tissues at them and tell them to take responsibility. In a caring, compassionate way.
Connie: What is their reaction to that?
Brad Boylan: I usually try to use humor, actually. And so they usually can receive it as, like, "Oh God, is he joking?" And, you know, people laugh, but they also kind of get the message like, "Okay, I need to own my shit here."
Connie: Like other forms of therapy, these programs can vary widely in their approach. In general, the goal is to help men take responsibility, to give them tools to change, and help them understand the patterns in their behavior that can lead to violence.
Brad Boylan: To have healthier relationships is ultimately the goal, whether it's not just with their partners, but with their children, with their employers in their lives.
Connie: Brad said that the men in his counseling tend to fall into one of three groups, and that the effectiveness of the counseling often depends on which group the men are in. The first group got arrested, but are trying to make sure that it doesn't happen again. The second group has a history of violence and can vacillate on their willingness to get better. Those two groups, Brad says, tend to engage pretty heavily in the counseling.
Brad Boylan: And some of those guys will actually end up meeting with me individually as a therapist, and even engaging in couples counseling with their partners down the road.
Connie: But the last group, Brad says, doesn't believe they need any help. And he says they're the ones that keep coming back over and over.
Brad Boylan: They're really just not interested in change, and so they're the challenging ones, potentially the more dangerous ones.
Connie: I don't know which of those groups Michael would be in, but I wanted to share with Brad something that Jermain's family showed me. It's a comment Michael made on Facebook in reference to him being arrested by police. I don't know for sure if Michael's referring to his conviction in 2013, but I was curious what Brad thought of his comment, and what it showed about Michael's willingness to work on his anger.
Connie: He said, "I had my house broken into, and was assaulted with a damn ax and a pair of scissors, and I defended myself without using a weapon. But when the cop showed up, he just arrested me on the spot without even letting me give a damn statement. So I got three nights in jail, 90 hours of anger management, and lost my gun rights for a year and got a buttload of court fees. So I don't have any respect for anyone." And then the message is clipped, so I can't read what happened, what he said after that.
Brad Boylan: It sounds like the perspective of a lot of the guys that would be feeling like they're the victim.
Connie: On one of the documents from Michael's conviction in 2013, it says "Partner or family member assault-second." We weren't sure what that meant, so we asked the Sanders County clerk and he said that Michael had another conviction. He had already been convicted of assaulting a partner or family member before 2013, but that conviction is sealed, so I can't access it. I don't know who Michael assaulted or even when it happened.
Connie: But the Defrance family moved to Dixon Agency in 2010, and I read on Facebook that Michael said he lost his gun rights in 2011. Losing your gun rights is a common penalty when convicted of domestic assault. And Michael would have been a minor in 2011. Maybe that's why his first conviction was sealed. The reason it matters is that being convicted of PFMA twice is a much bigger deal. The more convictions you have, the more serious the consequences are supposed to be. A third conviction of partner or family member assault is a felony, and an abuser can spend up to 5 years in prison.
Connie: Of course, the goal of these domestic violence intervention programs is to try to make sure that it doesn't happen again. But do they work?
Brad Boylan: You know, that's the $10,000 question, right? Is this useful? Is it effective? And I, of course, have my own bias on that and believe that it is, but it's only effective for the individuals who want it to be effective.
Connie: There's research that found in general this kind of group therapy aimed at reducing men's violence against their partners is not that effective. One study found that women whose partners went through a program like this were only five percent less likely to be re-assaulted. I don't know how Michael responded to this therapy, but Dani remembers that it was a stressful time for Jermain.
Dani Matt: I remember when she said he had to do it And she's trying to help him make sure he gets to the appointment and oh, he's got to take work off and he's going to—you know, he'd get upset that they had to, you know, do this. And it was, you know, her fault kind of that he had to do them. So I don't know. I guess those days where you have to be extra good when you're in those kind of relationships. And those were the days where it's like, you know, she's trying to make him a nice dinner. You know, you do those things to try and make sure nothing bad can happen that day because you know something bad's gonna happen. And she would go through a lot of those days. It's high anxiety, high stress, and days where it's like, how do I make it not be ugly today?
Connie: From what I've seen on her social media, Jermain doesn't mention these high-stress days, or any trouble in their relationship. But what we do see is this: seven months after the assault, while Michael is still in therapy, Jermain posted a photo. It's a selfie in the bathroom mirror. She's in a t-shirt and boxer shorts. Michael's standing right behind her, his hands wrapped around her ribcage, holding up the bottom of her shirt to reveal a teeny tiny baby bump on Jermain's slender frame. Her caption is "We are dorks, but I love my boxers and him." Jermain is pregnant with their first child.
Connie: Vicki and Dani remember her pregnancy as a really happy time, including her announcements, which her family said were in typical Jermain fashion.
Dani Matt: Yeah, she was cute, pregnant. Both times, she was so cute pregnant. Because she, like, lifted up her shirt where you could see her midriff. And I think Michael was in the picture with her.
Connie: Was it when they were in, like, a bathroom?
Dani Matt: And she's holding a can of Prego sauce.
Connie: Oh, I didn't see that!
Dani Matt: And she has it, and it says "Prego" on it. And so she has her shirt halfway up there, so you could see the belly. And her and Michael are there and a little spaghetti can that says "Prego."
Connie: That's hilarious!
Dani Matt: So it was great.
Connie: Months later, Jermain posted photos of her ultrasound. "It's a boy!" she writes. There's updates every few weeks of her pregnant belly, of the hats she's crocheting, how she needs to get to sleep but she's crocheting and knitting her baby clothes. For Christmas, Jermain asks for a pregnancy book to quote, "Double up and make sure I will be a good mom."
Connie: That June, when Jermain is about eight months' pregnant, she's photographed with the Defrance family at a graduation ceremony for Michael's dad, Shaun Defrance. "My beautiful fam," his dad writes. In that Facebook photo, Michael's dad also said that Jermain had graduated from high school. Vicki says that was a really big deal for Jermain.
Vicki Morigeau: She graduated from high school.
Vicki Morigeau: She did do that.
Vicki Morigeau: And very proud of herself. And I think that was something that she wanted to show me and her grandpa and them, you know, like, "I made it." And I think—and it took a lot for her, struggling through just the relationship she had. But she finished, yeah. And that was some for her to be proud of.
Connie: I get a sense of what Vicki meant by Jermain struggling through her relationship, when just a couple of weeks after that graduation photo was taken, the police were once again called on Michael, but this time by Jermain's Aunt Valenda Morigeau. She said Michael had assaulted her at her home.
Connie: We found the case report, where Valenda and Michael told two different versions of what happened. Valenda said she was in the shower when she heard Jermain yelling for her. She got out wearing only a towel and found Jermain—who was eight-and-a-half months' pregnant—crying in her living room.
Connie: Jermain told her that she and Michael were arguing. That it started when Jermain made fun of his driving. Valenda said Michael was outside beating on the door. When she opened it, she said Michael wanted their cell phone back. So it sounds like Jermain and Michael were sharing a cell phone at the time.
Connie: Valenda said Michael reached in, grabbed her, and pulled her outside. She was still only wearing a towel. She said Michael threw her to the ground and fell on top of her.
Connie: In Michael's version, he said that it was Valenda who grabbed him by the shirt and tackled him. He said she wrapped her legs around him, which made them both fall to the ground. The officer recorded abrasions on Valenda's body, including a six-inch long scratch down the back of her neck.
Connie: Michael told police that Valenda went inside and came out with a gun, so he walked back to the truck and drove away. Valenda denied getting a gun. Michael was arrested for assault, but we can't find any other records, so we don't know if he was ever charged or convicted.
Connie: Exactly two weeks later, Jermain's first child is born. A son named Thomas. I found a picture of her and baby Thomas online. A photographer from the local paper was just walking by and happened to see Jermain sitting outside, holding her son. It's a stunning photograph. She's sitting on wooden slats beneath a huge, blue Montana sky, cradling Thomas in her thin arms. She's looking down at him, and her hair has fallen in her face. Jermain's only 19, so young, and she looks absolutely in love with her child. I know now, this peaceful photo didn't mirror Jermain's reality.
Jocelyn Stevens: Sometimes she would call, sometimes not. She would just message me. But when she called, she always had a shaky voice.
Connie: Jocelyn and Jermain were still close, but living in different towns on the reservation. Jocelyn remembers getting calls from Jermain when she needed help.
Jocelyn Stevens: Like, you could just hear the fear in her voice. It was shaking. "Hey, man. Can you come and get me, please? Like, I would love for you to come and get me right now.
Connie: Jermain would say that she and Michael had been fighting.
Jocelyn Stevens: Sometimes I'd hear him in the background, like, yelling. I want to say he's yelling around—but I could never—I never made out what he would say to her. Because of course, you know, I'm talking to Jermain, I'm trying to focus on her. I dont give a damn about him. I'm focusing on her, trying to figure out what happened, and what do I need to do to get out of that, what's happening. I don't think I've ever heard her cry. I just heard her scared. And just, of course, as soon as I heard that, I'm out the door, my keys are in hand, whether I got my shoes on or not, I'm out the door and I'm grabbing her.
Connie: Jocelyn says she isn't sure how many times she got phone calls or messages like this from Jermain. But she said it was more than a few times. And every time, she'd get in her car and head to Dixon Agency.
Jocelyn Stevens: By the time I got down there, she was kind of going off on—"Oh, yeah, I'm so sorry. We were kissing and making up. He didn't mean it." And I'm like, "I'm here to get you away from this. You seriously need to come with me or something, because I don't like what I'm hearing." But she'd stay. She'd never want to leave. She was always, "Yeah, I probably shouldn't leave. Yeah, I probably should probably just stay here." Like, "Come on, dude. I rushed out here to get you."
Connie: What was going through your mind. Like, how were you feeling?
Jocelyn Stevens: I felt—I told you. I told you from the start this guy was no good. And I don't know. I just kind of felt like, you know, I was talking through one ear and it'd go out the other ear. Kind of felt ignored, I guess. Yeah, I guess in a way I was mad about it. Because I mean, I wanted her to open her eyes. She was too nice.
Connie: I guess it's not surprising, given what I know about their history, that I didn't meet a lot of people in Jermain's life who had much insight into Michael. No one I talked to particularly liked him, or even seemed to know him very well. Except for one person.
Sam Matt: I did get along with Michael, you know, at the time. Still, I mean, I knew they always had their problems but, like, I actually hung out with her and Michael both.
Connie: This is Jermain's uncle, Sam Matt, Vicki's only son. Jermain and Sam were close. He says they were more like friends, and that she often asked him to hang out with her and Michael.
Sam Matt: I think maybe she just wanted me there because I, like, kept him, like, in a good mood, you know, where he wasn't trying to fight around or something, is what I'm guessing. But it wouldn't get half as bad, I guess, is she told me one time when I was around. So ...
Connie: But what did you think of Michael? What was he like? How would you describe him?
Sam Matt: Somebody who was old but wanted to be young at the same time. He always came off like he felt like he was trapped. He might not have said it, but then, like, having the kids at a young age like that and that kind of stuff. I know he wanted more, you know, to like do other than just be down here. I'm not making no excuses for him, but, you know, he tended to be, like, a little on the angry side.
Connie: One time, Sam remembers staying over at Jermain's house, and being woken up in the middle night when Jermain and Michael were fighting.
Sam Matt: And I had her son Thomas was sleeping next to me. And I woke up, because I heard a thud, and then Thomas started crying. And I went to go pick him up to bring him in the back, and then, like, they came out and they were kind of like wrestling around. Not, like, swinging or anything, just kind of had a hold of each other. And they were, like, just wrestling around. And then after they seen us they stopped.
Connie: Sam wasn't the only family member who witnessed violence between Jermain and Michael.
Vicki Morigeau: The only time I ever seen them fight, I don't know what he did and she was still pretty young and we were all home. I don't know if she just told him leave her alone or what the deal was, but all of a sudden, the door flies open and here comes Michael and he's hollering for Jermain. And, you know, we didn't even hear him pull up. But when Jermaine found out he was there, man, she flew at him. And she was—and one of the boys was gonna stop her. And Jennifer said, "No, he's in my house. He broke—" or, you know, "Came into my house without anybody even letting them in. He just walked in the house." She said, "Let her go." And she did. She cleaned him up pretty good.
Connie: Do you know what the fight was about?
Vicki Morigeau: I have no idea to this day what it was about. And I didn't ask. I thought that was between her and Michael, and I was like good, you're standing up for yourself.
Connie: This is the only time I've heard a story where Jermain seemed to instigate the violence. But Michael claimed in that Facebook post that when he was arrested, he was defending himself. That he was attacked with weapons. He wrote another time that quote, "It was me calling her in for being abusive to my kids and I." And "I've proven in court that it was all just a lie multiple times."
Connie: We've looked and we couldn't find any criminal records for Jermain. We reached out to Michael to ask him about this—and a lot of other things—but he never responded to us. So what we do know is what her family and friends have told us, what they both have written on Facebook and what we found in court documents. And from that, it seems like Jermain was the one who often needed help, and at least a few times, she was the one who called the police.
Connie: On November 28, 2014, Jermain told a police officer that she and Michael had an argument and that Michael had taken her phone, dropped it in water and it was broken. You can be charged with partner or family member assault if you're found to be tampering with someone's phone in order to stop them from calling for help. We don't know what happened that night, and Michael wasn't charged after this call, but Vicki remembers other times that Michael got upset about Jermain's phone.
Vicki Morigeau: He didn't like her being on the phone. At all. Because then she was not paying attention to him. I mean, I know that.
Connie: He did that before? He took her phone?
Vicki Morigeau: Oh, he used to complain about it all the time. He broke laptops. He's broken phones. Because he didn't like her on it. It's controlling.
Connie: Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of controlling behavior used to maintain power in a relationship by one partner over the other. If this is what Michael was doing, it fits into a larger trend in a lot of violent relationships. Abusive people often try to control their partner in many ways—control who they talk to, where they go. And they often attempt to isolate their partners, to limit the places they can go to for support. According to Vicki, that's what Michael did too.
Vicki Morigeau: He was—he hated that she had friends, because he really didn't have any.
Connie: And when you say that he didn't like that Jermain had friends, why do you say that?
Vicki Morigeau: He was always accusing her if we went someplace. Even if she was with me. "Oh, you were talking to so-and-so." Even if she talks to somebody, you know? It was like, "Who is that?" Or if it was somebody he didn't like, "Oh, they're nothing but druggies, or they're this or they're that," you know?
Connie: Jermain started college and was studying art, but Vicki says she struggled because she didn't have child care, and eventually had to drop out. In December, 2015, when she's 20 years old, another happy moment in Jermain's life is documented on Facebook. She's lying in a hospital bed, Michael is standing next to her holding Thomas. Jermain has just given birth to their second son, Jacob. Coming up after the break:
Jocelyn Stevens: She actually took pictures and put it up on Facebook, telling everyone what kind of a guy he is.
Will Mesteth: All I'd known of Jermain was that Jermain seemed to be a victim of domestic violence.
Connie: This is Will Mesteth. He's a tribal cop on the Flathead Reservation. He's also a tribal member, and grew up here. I'm so glad to talk to Will because I've been wondering about the role of police officers in addressing domestic violence. Out of everyone in the system, police probably have the most interaction with victims, and therefore the best opportunity to intervene. But do they have the tools?
Connie: Do you know how many times you went to Jermain's house for domestic violence?
Will Mesteth: I think I've been attached to, like, three calls there. I can think of one time specifically.
Connie: When you saw Jermain that time, was she hurt or was she upset?
Will Mesteth: No, she was not really upset. You know, I think if she had a normal relationship, probably would be upset. But I mean, she definitely is used to it. I think maybe relieved that he was not there any longer and wasn't gonna be back for maybe a little while while we were there, you know? You know, any time I've been there, she's had her kids, you know, really, really docile, really sweet, soft spoken. Kind of sad, almost, you know? Being there, knowing that, you know, that her husband or boyfriend, whatever he was, baby daddy was gonna come back and we're gonna do this all again, you know? She was—she was really, you know, really mild, really just, you know, funny, though. She had, like, a kind of funny personality where she tried to make light of her situation and ...
Connie: Like, she would make light of her situation to try to ease the tension?
Will Mesteth: Maybe. Or just being uncomfortable that she was, you know, calling again, or maybe it was just—I mean, you've been to Dixon Agency, you know, it's not like a prosperous place. It's not a place that you would dream to be at, I don't think. All her family was there, so she was probably comfortable with that. But it just seemed like a bad spot, you know? She was with a dude that didn't respect her.
Connie: Will was there to respond to Jermain's calls for help, but even he recognized that responding alone wasn't going to end the violence, and that it would probably keep happening. And as a tribal police officer, he was in an even more difficult position to help Jermain because Michael's not a tribal member. So any warrant for his arrest would have likely been handled by the county police.
Will Mesteth: I've never arrested anybody in her house. Like I said, that guy's parents, if I remember right, lived, like, just right across the road from her.
Will Mesteth: So, yeah, there's—he was always gone. But I know there was just from talking with her, there was a history of him being super controlling with her.
Connie: People often ask why women stay in violent relationships. But what I've learned in researching and reporting story is that's a really problematic question. And by asking it, what we're doing is putting the onus on the survivors of intimate partner violence—who are most of the time women. The questions we need to be asking are why are abusers violent? And what resources are there to help women? Jermain's aunt Dani helps me understand that it's not as simple as just breaking up and leaving.
Dani Matt: My niece's experience is the same thing that I went through at one point and that her mother had gone through at one point. It becomes so normal, and how do we make that to where it's not normal? And how do we help people know that there's resources? Because I don't know how anybody would have helped me know.
Connie: Jermain's aunt, mother and grandmother are all survivors of domestic violence. But that doesn't mean that it made it any easier for them to help Jermain. Dani says she had been in that abusive relationship for so long that, in some ways, it made it harder.
Dani Matt: I feel bad because I went through it and I should—I guess I feel like I should have known how to help her, but I just—you know, and I didn't know how to help myself back then.
Connie: When Dani left her violent relationship, she told me that it took her a long time to get back on her feet. That she struggled with PTSD, all while raising three kids and working. This violence isn't something unique to Jermain's family. More than half of Indigenous women experience domestic violence, and those statistics are probably on the low end, since a lot of domestic violence is unreported.
Will Mesteth: Yeah, we get tons of calls here.
Connie: Oh, do you?
Will Mesteth: Yeah. Tons of calls. On a daily basis we'll go through, you know, in a 24-hour time period, maybe 20, 30 calls.
Connie: They're not all domestic violence calls, but the tribal police force has two to five officers on patrol at any given time to cover the entire reservation—almost 2,000 square miles. And Will told us domestic violence calls can be particularly challenging.
Will Mesteth: It's a very tricky situation to go into, because you don't know what kind of mindset you're going to get from a victim, because there's also love there and passion. And so when you're going to deal with somebody that's angry at somebody that they love and they're very passionate about, it becomes where we're—you know, now we're the problem, you know? Like, he might have just beat you up and you got scared and called because you didn't think it was going to stop. But now that we're there and we're, like, we're grabbing this guy and he's upset and it becomes like where we're wrestling, now she forgets all that and we're the bad guys, you know? So for, like, a new guy, when I was new, I had no idea what to do, you know? It was like, I'm trying to grab this guy. She's fighting me. I don't know if I'm supposed to arrest her.
Connie: Every time police respond to a domestic violence call, they meet someone like Jermain or Dani, who often see those interactions very differently.
Dani Matt: When a cop comes, they look at you like, we were just here two weeks ago, you know, why are you still with him? Instead of like, how can we help you? It's like, it feels like they're just coming in, you know, with that look on their face, like, oh, here we are again, or we're gonna be here again in a couple of weeks, you know? And almost like it was a nuisance to have to to go to the same place over and over again.
Connie: I wonder if Jermain felt that shame when she called police. Was she embarrassed that she needed their help again? Did she feel judged? Is that why she tried to make light of her situation to Will? Will says that another thing that often happens after an abuser is arrested is that a woman will recant her story.
Will Mesteth: Next day they call down here and like, oh, nothing happened. Like, that cop's report is a lie. I've seen my own mom do that to one of the officers here before I started here. She was in a situation where, you know, her and old man were, you know, drunk and fighting. And, you know, she calls the cops because she got scared. Very next day, she calls and says the cop is lying, you know? Like, when they called him there.
Connie: I found a field guide for police officers in Montana who respond to domestic violence calls. It details all of the reasons why victims sometimes change their mind. They say financial concerns, child custody or visitation issues can come into play. Or women can have contact with the suspect since the arrest, and are worried about other threats of violence.
Connie: In one of the police reports, we get a small insight into what it was like for Jermain when she called for help, and why some of those calls may not have resulted in charges.
Connie: When the county police officer followed up with Jermain several days after one of the incidents with Michael, she told him that she and Michael were working things out, that she no longer wanted to pursue charges. The officer said it became clear that Michael was in the room while they were talking on the phone, but he noted that quote, "There seemed to be no signs of distress or pressure coming from Defrance." That may have been true, but I wonder how he could tell that over the phone?
Connie: Either way that's not the way it's supposed to work. Victims do not press charges against their abusers. That's the job of police and prosecutors, but it can sometimes be harder for them to pursue charges without a victim's willing cooperation.
Connie: A no-contact order between the victim and the abuser is supposed to help address some of those concerns, but they're usually only put in place usually for about 72 hours. Dani knows they're not always helpful. That a lot of times, no-contact orders are breached.
Dani Matt: A lot of times the no-contact orders are breached, you know, as soon as they get out of jail because the woman is like "Huh. If I don't, you know, I'm gonna be in trouble." Because they're victims at that point. So, you know, that lack of understanding what your rights are as a victim, and they give you those things, but it's so much overwhelming information all at once.
Connie: Hearing from Jermain's family and friends about the violence she experienced, reading various police reports, hearing from Will that he was there multiple times is frustrating. I can't help but feel that every phone call to police that Jermain made was a missed opportunity. Like so many women who experience intimate partner violence, Jermain was isolated, living in poverty, and dealing with the effects of being physically and emotionally abused for years. She needed more than an officer responding to an emergency, who knows what he's doing is not enough.
Connie: Research shows that when women reach out for help, they call the police. But what helps women the most are social services. What experts are learning is that they need a coordinated response. For example, In Maryland, officers responding to a domestic violence call ask every victim the same set of 11 questions. They're trying to assess how much danger she is in. Based on her answers, she could be connected with social services immediately. Research shows that is the best time to intervene, that even a phone call to talk about a safety plan can help reduce the risk of violent harm.
Connie: The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes don't have a coordinated response like the one in Maryland. But they do have two tribal domestic violence advocates, who serve a population of over 5,000 members. Marlene LaFromboise is one of them.
Marlene LaFromboise: I've been here for 16 years and Trish has been here for 15. Every time a person does come in, we really just want to make them feel comfortable. This is a safe place to be.
Connie: Marlene said they are busy. They provide women with a safe space, emergency supplies. They can help her make a safety plan, get a protection order, or facilitate housing and legal services. But there are only two women for all of the tribal members on the reservation. And after years of doing this work, Marlene wishes there would be more consequences for abusers—even after the first offense.
Marlene LaFromboise: If I was the abuser I would be like, "Oh, okay. I got away with it. You know, I'm gonna do it again." If every case was taken more serious, I just think things would change.
Connie: Jermain could have gone to these tribal advocates for help, but because Michael isn't a tribal member, they wouldn't have been able to help her with a protection order. There's another organization on the reservation for non-tribal members, and according to her family, that's where Jermain eventually went for help.
Connie: They wouldn't talk to me, I assume because of confidentiality, so I have no idea what kind of services—if any—she received. But given what happened next, I have to wonder if that was the intervention that helped Jermain make a change.
Connie: In April of 2017, Jermain got a job as a tree planter for the tribe. Before that, she had been a stay-at-home mom. The newfound independence seemed to bolster her confidence, because on May 15 Jermain spoke out on Facebook. She wrote, "People think it's fun to be in an abusive relationship. Well, it's not. Michael Defrance has hurt me to the point where now he's threatening me to be with him, to make things right, or I lose my kids."
Connie: She said, "My kids are my all and my heart. This morning, because I refused a kiss and just wanted a ride to work, he decided to leave. I gave him his things. Yes, I did push him out the door so I could lock it. But he had no reasons to put his hands on me."
Connie: Jocelyn said that soon after that, Jermain and Michael broke up.
Jocelyn Stevens: Right after the last time that he abused her, she actually took pictures of it and put it up on Facebook, telling everyone what kind of guy he is.
Connie: This is a year before Jermain went missing. She was on her own, single for the first time since she was 14 years old. Jocelyn remembers being happy for her friend and excited about her future. But just talking about Jermain, even the happy times is difficult for Jocelyn.
Connie: You miss her.
Jocelyn Stevens: With all of my heart. I hate saying it, but yeah, I'm missing a sister, and it just hurts. It fucking hurts. I wish she was just a message and a phone call away.
Connie: So we're just pulling onto a dirt road.
Guy Baker: I've been up in these mountains lots on many, many dirt roads. So ...
Connie: I'm in the car with Guy Baker again. It's a sunny afternoon, and we're back on the reservation heading up one of the mountain roads. He's trying to show me a particular spot where he conducted a search after Jermain went missing.
Guy Baker: I'm gonna go a little farther up here.
Connie: I'm expecting to see a bear around the corner.
Guy Baker: Yeah.
Connie: This area is called Evaro. If you're coming from Missoula, it's one of the first places you come to on the reservation. We turned off the main highway and are now on a logging road up in the mountains. It's really bumpy, so we're driving slowly. On both sides of the narrow road is thick brush.
Connie: This is the fork in the road.
Guy Baker: Yeah. It doesn't look right, though. I don't remember coming to a fork before.
Connie: Every turn on this logging looks exactly the same. It's beautiful here, but eerily quiet. There are no houses, no other cars, no one else around.
Guy Baker: Wouldn't it be funny if we are all up here and we get lost? [laughs] I think this'll probably be it, but like I said, there's, like, three or four different roads and they get a little worse, they get a little worse.
Connie: Guy says he's been up on these roads many times while working on Jermain's case. But Jermain was last seen at a bar in downtown Missoula. What led him to think that these roads might lead to Jermain?
Guy Baker: In this Evaro area, there's only one cell tower. Cell phones are usually very good information, and oftentimes you can kind of tell a person's route, approximate route.
Connie: Well, that's what I was wondering about. Like, so when she was in Missoula, could you tell where she was in Missoula based on her cell phone?
Guy Baker: Yes.
Connie: So, like, she would be able to be pinpointed to The Badlander, even if you hadn't found the surveillance footage?
Guy Baker: Yeah, I know her phone. We have the analysis from her phone the night she disappeared.
Connie: So Guy knows where Jermain's phone went.
Connie: So that seems pretty significant.
Guy Baker: Yeah.
Connie: And does that, like, pinpoint your searches?
Guy Baker: It influenced our searches early on, yeah. Still does.
Connie: But even if Guy knows where Jermain's phone went, there must be something he doesn't know about it. Because he's told me a few times now that the fact there's only one cell tower in this area near Evaro is a problem for his investigation.
Connie: So how would you know if a phone was out of service area? Or, like, was turned off?
Guy Baker: No, I have—I know what her phone and other phones were doing around the time she disappeared. So that influences the investigation, obviously.
Connie: So Guy's tracing other phones, not just Jermain's. Whatever Guy found, it sounds like it led him here to Evaro, because he tells me that anytime he's on these roads, he thinks of Jermain.
Guy Baker: You know, you drive, we come up yet another dirt road in another area of the forest, and you wonder, you know, is this what Jermain saw? Was she looking out the window? Was she, you know, down looking up, seeing the tops of trees and the sky? It just—a million things go through your mind as you follow these leads. And, you know, you always kind of think, you know, if this is the one that pans out, what was the end like for her?
Connie: The end? Why does he think that Jermain could have ended up here in these mountains on the night she disappeared?
Guy Baker: But think about this. If this all went down at night when she disappeared at night, you're more than likely are dealing with somebody that's gonna be familiar with an area like this, for them to come where they're operating with a level of comfort in the darkness, you know? Yeah, this isn't the right road.
Connie: Guy never finds the spot he wants to show me, and eventually we head back to Missoula. Our misadventure reminds me of the twists and turns he's gone through in his investigation. He's gone down a lot of roads that seem to have led him closer to finding out the truth about what happened to Jermain.
Guy Baker: So I just leave it as I'm confident I've—the investigation has identified the person responsible for what happened to Jermain, and I've talked to them. We'll just say that. I appreciate your inquisitiveness but, yeah, like I said, if it's a cold case, we could talk about all these answers for you. But it's unique that you're doing an active case, you know?
Connie: When does a case become cold?
Guy Baker: When all leads are exhausted.
Connie: So is Jermain's anywhere near becoming cold?
Guy Baker: No. That's why it's the big thing. Let everybody know, I mean, two years later, this still is an active case being worked on a nearly weekly basis. So, yeah. No, it's not just closed and put in a box on a shelf somewhere. So I don't anticipate closing Jermain's case until I solve it.
Connie: Coming up on the next episode of Stolen: The Search for Jermain.
Naomi: It was still dark out when we left, and when we got down there, the sun had come up. All she kept saying to us was that it was just unbelievable what had happened to her.
Jocelyn Stevens: Yeah. Literally, that's all she said. He's gonna find them a new mom, and I don't know what to do. I want my boys.
Connie: Oh, my gosh. Okay, wow. So this is a lot more information than Guy Baker shared with us.
Connie: Stolen is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. It's hosted by me, Connie Walker. Our producers are Meg Driscoll and John White. Our editor is Devon Taylor.
Connie: Additional help from Jennifer Fowler, Anya Schultz, Nicole Pasulka and Heather Evans. Theme song and mixing by Emma Munger. Original music by Emma Munger and So Wylie. Special thanks to Lydia Polgreen, Collin Campbell, Reyhan Harmanci and Rachel Strom.