Victim service officers join district attorney’s staff

Published 12:54 am Thursday, January 31, 2019

District Attorney Walt Merrell announced this week that Gov. Kay Ivey, through the Alabama Department of Economic Affairs, awarded his office with a $106,908 grant to train and employ two certified Victim Service Officers.

“There has been a long-time statewide effort by the Alabama District Attorney’s Association to provide dedicated, highly trained and knowledgeable assistance to any victim of crime in the state. This grant is the culmination of that effort and represents the end result for the people of Covington County,” Merrell said.

“These Victim Service Officers (VSOs) will walk step by step with our victims, and that is of the utmost importance to us.”

Merrell said that in 2018, his office prosecuted 554 felony cases and more than 2,500 misdemeanor cases to a conclusion. He further estimated that about 50 percent of those cases involved victims.

“There are a lot of people in this county who are affected by crime,” he said.

Opp native Amy Harper and Red Level native Amber Gladwell have been picked to serve in these two roles, he said. Harper will work with victims in misdemeanor cases and Gladwell will serve the victims in all felony cases.

“As VSOs, these ladies will maintain constant contact with crime victims and advise them of case statuses and any scheduled hearings,” Merrell said. “As well, they will help those victims apply for financial aid with the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission and compile their requests for restitution to be presented to a judge. They will also help facilitate any counseling needs or medical treatment our victims might require.”

Gladwell, a graduate of the University of Alabama, was valedictorian of her Red Level High School class.

“Crime victims have been through traumatic experiences,” she said. “They have had their home burglarized, have been physically and emotionally hurt, or they have lost a family member to a violent act. During the processes of investigation and prosecution, it would be easy for a victim to become overwhelmed. It is extremely important to Walt that victims of crime don’t feel lost or confused, and that our office maintains an open line of communication with them.”

Harper, an Opp High school graduate who previously served as the long-time magistrate for Opp Municipal Court, mirrored those sentiments. “For a crime victim, so many things have already gone wrong. They may be living their darkest days. Often, worrying about the details of what has to happen next is never what they want to spend their day doing,” Harper said. “We are here to help make the process easy. I am excited about the VSO position because service to the victim is so important.”

Gladwell and Harper both recently finished an intense certification curriculum provided by the State of Alabama.

“They underwent over 40 hours of classroom training and also had a hands-on practicum,” Merrell said. “There has never been this level of victim service training anywhere in the state, and they are two of only 84 certified VSOs in the state.”

Merrell said he chose Gladwell and Harper to be named VSOs because of their character and heart. “They both love people. They both have the right temperament – they are caring, compassionate and kind. I knew they were the right fit because they are both the kind of ladies who just make you feel better… no matter how bad the situation may be. They just have that kind of effect on people.” Merrell continued, “I am proud of them for their hard work and dedication, and I am excited about what they will bring to the people we serve.”