Jan 20, 2023 - News

Utah man who killed family wasn't charged in prior abuse case

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The daughter of Michael Haight told police he was abusing her two years before he shot and killed her, his wife, his mother-in-law, his four other children and himself Jan. 4.

Driving the news: Haight's eldest daughter, Macie, told police in 2020 that Haight had choked her and she was "very afraid that he was going to … kill her," according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

  • Macie, then 14, detailed multiple assaults after someone outside the family told police Haight was abusing his children.
  • Het was not charged, and an investigator told him his behavior was merely "close to assaultive."

Between the lines: In a news conference immediately after the killings, Enoch police said they'd "rather not" share details about previous investigations into the family.

  • City Manager Rob Dotson then stepped in and changed the subject to the police officers' emotions.
  • "There will be questions that everybody asks themselves: What if I had done this? What if I had done that? Those aren't very good questions to ask," Dotson continued. "The question to ask is, what do we do now?"

Catch up quick: Police found the Haights' bodies after a caller asked officers to check on the family because Tausha, Michael's wife, had not shown up for a scheduled appointment.

  • She had filed for divorce two weeks before the killings.

Details: In the 2020 investigation, Michael admitted he was surveilling Tausha's phone and iPad to see if she had spoken negatively about the family, the AP reported.

  • He said his daughter's allegations were a misunderstanding and accused her of being "mouthy."
  • Tausha told police she didn't want her husband to be charged and said she hoped the investigation would be a "wake-up call."

Meanwhile: Iron County Attorney Chad Dotson says his office declined to file child abuse charges after "it was determined that there was insufficient evidence" during a phone call with investigators.

  • But he also told KUTV the case was not formally screened for charges, and the reports and interview records were not sent to his office.

Of note: In 2020, investigators did a "lethality assessment" with Tausha and found she was not in a deadly relationship, the AP reported.

Yes, but: Choking and attempted strangulation is a well-known predictor of fatal domestic violence.

What they're saying: The power imbalance between men and women can make it particularly difficult for abused women to obtain support in religious and conservative societies like Utah, said Susan Madsen, founder and director of Utah Women & Leadership Project at Utah State University.

  • "You end up having more domestic violence, sexual assault, [and] child sexual abuse," Madsen told Axios.

What's next: On Wednesday, State Rep. Candice Pierucci and State Sen. Luz Escamilla introduced a bill that would create a task force to develop new ways to collect domestic violence data.

  • It's difficult to track domestic violence cases because they are not often shared among public agencies, Erin Jemison, policy director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, told Axios.

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