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Domestic violence investigations: The lessons learned from Nicole Brown Simpson’s death

If Police1 had existed in 1994, I would have used Nicole Brown Simpson’s tragic life and death to give context to the complexities of domestic violence calls

Obit OJ Simpson

While Nicole Brown Simpson was married to O.J. Simpson, she meticulously documented 62 instances of domestic abuse.

Paul Hurschmann/AP

The death of Nicole Brown Simpson’s husband, O.J. Simpson, brings back a lot of memories.

Nicole Brown Simpson was found brutally murdered (nearly decapitated) on June 12, 1994, along with Ron Goldman, a young waiter who had been assigned by his restaurant manager to return some expensive sunglasses to Nicole.

The husband

Before the killing, Simpson’s husband, O.J. Simpson, was known and loved by everyone in the nation. We had watched him pile up yardage and touchdowns as a running back in college, where he won the Heisman Trophy, and then do the same for the Buffalo Bills, as a professional. Simpson embarrassed would-be tacklers with the footwork of a ballet dancer and the speed of a world-class sprinter.

When Simpson retired, he went on to make us laugh hard in the “Naked Gun” movies. He flashed his smile while famously running through airports for Hertz Rent-A-Car commercials. In retirement, he proved to be a talented on-field football commentator on national TV as well.

America loved him!

Nicole Brown Simpson’s experience

Nicole Brown Simpson, O.J.’s wife, also once loved him. However, love eventually turned to fear.

While married to O.J. she meticulously documented 62 instances of domestic abuse. She called the police approximately eight times and on the ninth call, was hospitalized with her injuries and told investigating officers, “He’s going to kill me. He’s going to kill me!”

O.J. was arrested and pled guilty to the charges. In this case, he received two years of probation, 200 hours of community service and was ordered to pay less than $1,000 in fines.

It appears that this arrest did not serve as a deterrent as Nicole Brown Simpson continued to live in constant fear until she was brutally murdered.

The murder arrest

Police investigators found a mountain of evidence pointing to Nicole’s husband O.J. as the killer. The whole country watched as the O.J. Simpson trial played out live on TV. After the evidence was presented by the prosecutors, a “dream team” of defense attorneys put the police on trial, suggesting O.J. was arrested because of the color of his skin.

The jury bought it and found Simpson not guilty, with O.J. vowing to find his wife’s killer.

The evidence, disregarded by the jury, suggested O.J. found his wife’s killer every morning when he shaved. The monster was hiding behind that phony smile he saw on the face looking back at him in the mirror.

If Police 1 had existed in 1994

If Police1 had existed in 1994, I would have used Nicole Brown Simpson’s tragic life and death to give context to the complexities of domestic violence calls. I would have taken the opportunity to prepare officers to better protect people whose lives are constantly endangered by the “domestic terrorists” they live with.

This is what I would have written.

Myths about domestic violence

Some myths about domestic violence provide a shield for abusers. People tend to believe:

1. Domestic violence only happens to poor people.

2. If the abuser will stop drinking/drugs, they will stop abusing.

3. Victims bring it on themselves, as they know “how to push buttons.”

4. Victims seek out batterers because “they like it.”

5. Victims are uneducated with no job skills.

6. Victims can just leave and get away from the abusive situations.

7. Only women are victims of domestic violence.

Some of these myths are clearly debunked by the Nicole Brown Simpson case.

Truths about domestic violence

An act of domestic violence occurs every 15 seconds in this country. The truth about this violence is:

1. It can happen to anyone regardless of race, creed, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

2. It affects all socioeconomic backgrounds and education levels.

3. It occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

4. Men and women can be abusers.

5. It can happen to intimate partners whether married, living together or dating.

6. It happens often when victims are pregnant.

7. It can have a substantial effect on family, friends, co-workers, witnesses and the community at large.

8. Children who witness domestic violence are seriously affected and often become victims of it.

9. Child witnesses can grow up to believe violence is a normal way of life.

10. People often ask why victims don’t just leave, however, when a victim does leave, they find themselves even more endangered.

11. It often spills out into the public arena as well especially the workplace.

12. Experts believe that to abusers it is all about power and control.

13. Domestic violence calls are extremely dangerous for police officers taking the lives of many police officers each year as they respond to these calls.

When responding to domestic violence calls use extreme caution!!

There is a progression of aggression

Victims of domestic violence are somewhat like the frog in a French restaurant. The chef puts the frog in a pot of cool water and turns up the heat. By the time the frog realizes the environment is too hot to live in, they are unable to get out.

Domestic violence cases are like that in that abusers turn up the heat gradually. There is a progression in the abuse that often looks like this:

1. Verbal abuse.

2. Throwing things and punching walls.

3. Grabbing, pushing, shoving, victims and throwing things at them.

4. Open hand impacts. Slapping.

5. Hitting with a closed fist, kicking and biting the victim, while standing.

6. Attempted strangulation.

7. Beating the victim and holding them against the wall.

8. Throwing the victim to the floor and punching and kicking them repeatedly.

9. Threats with a weapon.

10. Assault with a weapon.

I found that sitting down with victims of domestic violence who were in the early stages of a violent relationship and explaining the progression of aggression helped them decide to leave before it was too late.

Lessons learned from the Nicole Brown Simpson case

There are many lessons for police officers that can be gleaned from this case. For example:

1. A thorough investigatory approach to domestic violence investigations can be homicide prevention.

2. One experienced investigator once said, “If you can properly investigate a domestic violence crime you can investigate a homicide, because in both cases the victim is not much help.”

3. Abusers can be schmoozers so don’t fall for false friendly during a domestic violence investigation.

4. Domestic violence is under-reported so look beyond the case you are investigating for indications and evidence of an ongoing situation.

5. Watch the hands during domestics.

Families living with an abuser often will attempt to keep abuse a family secret, even after police get called to the scene. Families protect the abuser because:

1. They are embarrassed.

2. They feel they might damage the business and reputation of the abuser.

3. They are financially dependent on the abuser.

4. They have a misplaced loyalty.

5. They fear very real consequences after the police leave.


There are thousands of domestic violence-related homicides yearly. If every officer in the United States handled every domestic violence call like a serious case of homicide prevention many lives could be saved.

In the case of domestic violence by doing this, the life you save may be your own.

Final note: One last note about Nicole Brown Simpson’s murder. You might be satisfied to hear the case of her accused killer has now been appealed to a higher authority. Justice will be served.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.