Before she and two others were shot dead near Ardmore on Sunday, Debra Ann Rivera twice had asked a judge to order her ex-husband to surrender his guns because of alleged abuse.

The request was denied both times.

According to the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office, Darwin Brazier, 43, used a semi-automatic SKS rifle with a high-capacity magazine to shoot his ex-wife and two other victims multiple times and then shot himself to death near his home in Madison County.

In addition to 41-year-old Rivera, the Sheriff’s Office said Brazier killed her husband Radex Rivera, 41; and their roommate, Timothy James Hayward-Boger, 59.

Deputies responded to a call at 27774 Pinedale Road near Ardmore at 1:44 p.m. Sunday, according to a statement by the Sheriff's Office. The caller "advised dispatchers she had received a text from Brazier saying he had just killed his ex-wife, her husband and a man named Tim and he was going to kill himself," according to the statement.

Brazier fired 30 high-powered rounds at the scene, the Sheriff's Office said, then headed to Madison County.

Beginning about 2:40 p.m., Madison County deputies assisted in the search for Brazier using K-9 units and then a SWAT unit.

Lt. Donnie Shaw, public information officer at the Madison County Sheriff's Office, said a car owned by Brazier was found near Macedonia Road in Madison County. The SWAT unit set up a perimeter and began a grid search.

About 30 to 45 minutes into the search, "They thought they were receiving gunshots from an unknown person," Shaw said. "They set up a tactical approach to where the gunshots had come from and were actually moving toward the area where the gunshots were."

That's when the deputies found Brazier's body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound about 30 feet into the woods off Cook Road near his home, Shaw said.

Debra Rivera most recently petitioned Limestone County Circuit Judge Chad Wise for a protection-from-abuse order March 1. Wise granted it on a temporary basis, but on April 10 terminated the temporary order and denied her request for a permanent order.

“He calls my husband threatening to hurt both of us,” Rivera wrote in the court filing. “(He) drives by my house all hours of day to check where I am. He is upset I am now married and don’t want to be with him. He has been physical in the past, pulled a gun on me. … I know he has anger toward me and in past has caused physical pain to me.”

Rivera said in the petition that Brazier was stalking her and that he called her so frequently that she had to change her phone number.

According to court documents, Rivera and Brazier divorced in 2005. They reconciled after the divorce and had two daughters, ages 11 and 5. After a contentious custody proceeding, Wise on Dec. 17 granted custody of the girls to Rivera and provided Brazier with visitation rights.

“All of this activity has been going on for a year but has become worse since I was given custody of the kids,” Rivera wrote in her abuse petition, which requested that Brazier be enjoined from having contact with her.

In a one-sentence response, Brazier’s lawyer denied the allegations by Rivera, who was not represented by an attorney. Rivera and Brazier attended a hearing in Wise’s courtroom April 10 and on the same day he issued an order denying the petition.

Wise did not return a call Monday.

Rivera also had petitioned Wise for a protection-from-abuse order on March 14, 2017, including a request that Brazier be required to surrender any firearms. Wise denied the petition March 31.

In the 2017 petition, Rivera alleged that Brazier had stolen her personal contacts and had placed a GPS tracker in her car. She claimed he provided personal information about her to a convicted felon so the felon could harass her.

“The defendant has verbally abused me by, saying he will take my kids, that I made my bed and now I have to lie in it,” Rivera wrote.

While Rivera did not have a lawyer for the protection-from-abuse petitions, she was represented in the custody case by Huntsville lawyer Amy Alexander.

“She was one of the nicest people that you could ever meet,” Alexander said Monday. “She was happy with life most of the time, except for the strain and stress of this (child-custody) ordeal.”

Rivera had expressed concerns for her safety, Alexander said.

Judges have a difficult time evaluating protection-from-abuse petitions, Alexander said, because they sometimes are used as part of a litigation strategy.

“The difficulty the legal system has with them is that when you’re in a divorce or custody battle, that’s often alleged — people crying wolf,” Alexander said. “It’s hard for the judge to determine when there is an actual issue, or if someone is just alleging it because they’re in the midst of a domestic case.”

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, has sponsored multiple bills related to domestic violence since 2014.

“I’m very curious to know why the (protection from abuse order) was denied,” Scofield said Monday. “Obviously, my hope is that judges throughout Alabama would take this issue very seriously and treat each one with great care so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.

“ … At the end of the day, it rests with a judge and you hope they’d take these claims very seriously. One would think that to go through this application process, (applicants) do feel threatened.”

Violating a protection order is a Class A misdemeanor and punishable with up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, in 2016, domestic violence, including that committed by an ex-spouse, was indicated in 4,611 violent crimes, including 43 homicides and 4,235 aggravated assaults.

SyRhonda Smith is a domestic violence victims' services coordinator in Morgan County for Crisis Services of North Alabama. Part of her job includes walking people through the protection from abuse order process. It begins at the county circuit clerk’s office, and there’s no filing fee.

“There is a narrative page, where the victim describes the abuse in their own words,” Smith said.

Based on the written testimony, and sometimes oral testimony, a judge can issue an emergency order.

“Generally, there are hearings within 10 days for a permanent order,” Smith said.

Smith couldn’t speak to the situation in Limestone County, but said in her experience in Morgan County, protection orders are granted more often than they’re denied.

If Smith could make any changes to the protective order process, she said it would be in enforcement, including cleaning up a “gap” between when an order is issued and when it is served to the defendant.

Crisis Services of North Alabama has a variety of free resources to victims of domestic violence, including help navigating the protective order process, trauma counseling and safety planning.

“It’s so important to have all those pieces working together because it increases their chances of success,” Smith said about victims leaving unsafe relationships.

Crisis Services serves Morgan, Limestone, Madison and Jackson counties. More information is available at csna.org.

Rivera's death is not the only time, according to police, an area woman was killed by an ex-husband after being denied a protection-from-abuse order.

Kay Letson Stevens requested a protection from abuse order on Oct. 15, 2014, after filing for divorce that May. She was shot dead at a bakery she owned in Decatur in November 2015.

Her petition asked the court to prevent Roger Stevens from contacting her at home or at work. It also asked that he be ordered to surrender all firearms.

Morgan County Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell denied the request from Kay Stevens on Oct. 20, 2014, stating Roger Stevens’ alleged actions were “not a definition of abuse in accordance with Alabama Law for Protection from Abuse,” according to court documents.

Roger Stevens was charged with capital murder and remains in the Morgan County Jail.

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eric@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer. mary.sell@decaturdaily.com. Twitter @DD_MarySell.

(3) comments

Kramer MD

I am a member of an organization related to family law issues in Alabama. The organization does a yearly continuing education course for family law attorneys. The first, foremost biggest question the attorneys in attendance: how to best stop the false filings of protection of abuse (PFA)!

Sadly, many PFA filings are promoted by many attorneys to gain a leg up in child custody or divorce proceedings. The attorneys and judges are very well aware of it, yet they will not police themselves. These false filings as the legal community will admit, bogs down the court system. Judges discredit the PFA filings because they know the false filings are so common.

The same goes for contested divorces with child custody. Law in Alabama is widely known, custody typically automatically goes to the mother when ordered by a judge, and mothers want custody for monetary child support. Before many of you berate the previous sentence, know that many attorneys and judges hold opinions fathers only want custody of a child to ‘get out of paying child support’. Neither is true, but fair is fair, isn’t it?

How does child custody impact false PFA filings and possibly leading parents reaching a point to killing the other parent?

The Alabama courts and legal community hold opinions if parents can’t get along to the point that they need a judge to order a child custody arrangement, child custody needs to be ordered to go to only one parent, typically the mother.

The Alabama 1852 law - as implemented by the courts and judges - bogs down the legal system. It allows attorneys to create strife among many good parents that just happen to have decided they can no longer live together. Divorce in and of itself does not cause one parent to be unfit for child custody. But the law as the legal community implements it - provides when one parent fight for something, the children, it creates the strife in the parents. The law does that! Not the parents. If the law said, unless you solid proof against the other parent, the judge will order the two parents live in the same community as where the child attends school and will order equal custody, that would going a long way to stop the false PFA filings and tying up the courts on contested cases that truly don’t need to be contested! How?

1) It would reduce incentives by unethical attorneys and parents in the false filings of a PFA to gain an advantage in child custody matters.

2) It would free up judges to have time to hear and decide cases with significant allegations abuse and negligent.

As it stands now, for no other reason than judges, attorneys and mothers know that contesting child custody will lead to the child being restricted time with their father to 80 day per year, which equates to only 4 years of 19 years of a child’s minority and the mother receiving child support and the marital home with the father being marginalized. In many situations, this leads to parental alienation by the controlling parent which damages children for the remainder of their lives. And in some situations, one time is too many, leads to the marginalized parent killing the other parent and others.

Ask yourself these questions about the recent Limestone County triple homicide, as well as the Decatur florist whose former husband killed her last year. What led to these killings?

Limestone County triple homicide

-Father marginalized in children’s lives
-The mother living in the marital home remarries and moves in another man
-Signs are mother was committing parental alienation upon the children and attempting to restrict the children’s already limited time with their father.
-Father’s friends indicate he was a great father, a kind person and a big teddy bear but he had a mental breakdown.

What caused it?
Sure we all can admit the divorce?
But what about getting screwed by the legal system?

Decatur Florist murder by ex-husband

-Certainly, the ex-husband had a mental breakdown.
-New reports indicate the legal system left him without a home and zero retirement, nothing period!

What caused it?
-Sure we all can admit the divorce?
-But what about getting screwed by the legal system?
-Do you know to retain a family law attorney the public recommendation is to find an attorney closest to the judge otherwise you’ll get screwed? That needs updated to say you and loved ones can possibly lose your life, as well.

The attorney’s and Alabama legal system owns the 4 murders!
Society, well, you don’t care!

I am not condoning the acts of these murderers, but in general, these persons friends and family will say they had a mental breakdown from being screwed by a legal system that has no accountability whatsoever to acts and omissions that fail society. The legal system knows it but policing it would remove the almighty dollar from a many attorney's pockets. They will criticize me for writing what I have written above. It is easier to criticize me than address the real issue.

RD TODD

Judge WISE could have prevented this. The level of his failure, 3 lives lost, shows he needs to change his name to something more descriptive and find a job where misjudgments are less likely to get innocent people killed..

Dixie Boy

These domestic murders of those once loved by the perpetrator are an endless saga of our tragic human flaws. Perhaps there was a chance for someone to have helped this man before his reprehensible decision to murder was carried out. Perhaps, our Court and Law Enforcement could have helped these victims who had their lives ended to have prevented their murders. Now all are dead and there is no way to restore their lives.

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