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Cape mayor: Duties not impacted by incident at conference

By Staff | Jun 26, 2017

The morning after a domestic violence incident that resulted in the arrest of her ex-husband, Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki got up, got dressed, and attended second day programs and seminars at the 85th annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach Saturday.

Continuing to attend events through the four-day conference was the right thing to do for both the city and her own peace of mind, Sawicki said in a telephone interview Monday morning, adding she refuses to let the incident, the resulting media attention or ugly speculation on social media make her feel embarrassed to do her job.

“I refuse to be ashamed by this,” she said. “It’s never all right to put your hands on somebody.”

Sawicki’s ex-husband, Kenneth Duane Retzer, 48, a former Cape firefighter, was charged with battery/domestic violence/by strangulation, a third-degree felony, after police were called to a room the two were sharing at The Fontainebleau Hotel where the conference was being held. They had returned from attending a late night function at the hotel that was part of event.

According to an arrest report, officers responding to the domestic call found Retzer outside the room, bleeding from the face. Inside, they encountered a woman with visible injuries sitting on blood-spattered sheets. There were punch marks on the walls above the bed and near a window.

Officers were told a verbal argument began as the two returned to their room from the hotel’s nightclub. The argument continued in the room and became physical after the woman attempted to go to sleep. She told police Retzer was the aggressor and that she had attempted to defend herself.

Sawicki confirmed she is the woman’s whose name had been redacted from the report and that she told police she had been struck and fought back.

It was the first time their sometimes rocky three-year relationship turned physically violent, she said, adding that things seemed fine at the event.

Things, though, have not always been fine for the couple.

Last year Sawicki sought a restraining order, saying Retzer was harassing her via texts and phone calls, affecting her ability to work. She withdrew the complaint and the two married soon after. They divorced weeks later but have continued to see each other.

A judge has ordered Retzer to stay away from her while the criminal case arising from the weekend’s hotel-room incident is pending.

Sawicki said Monday she loves him but plans to press charges. While she has declined to talk about their relationship in the past, she said she has no choice but to comment regarding this particular incident because multiple media accounts and social media comments have attempted to “fill in the blanks” surrounding the incident with speculation.

She also has been working with a counselor with Lee County’s Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.

“I have had a victim’s advocate for the last two days. They are amazing. I hope others will reach out to them if they are in the same situation,” Sawicki said, adding she has learned a lot.

Declining medical attention, for example, was a mistake, she said.

“I refused medical treatment in a state of absolute trauma. It should have been mandatory that I had to go to the hospital. That’s one of the big takeaways that I got from this.”

Another, she said, is that she is far from unique.

While ACT officials said they could not comment on any specific situation, CEO Jennifer Benton said there is no “typical” abuse victim.

ACT received approximately 15,000 calls for assistance last year. ACT sheltered, or counseled, 6,000 individuals, mostly women and children.

“They’re all different,” Benton said of abuse victims. “There is no typical – no particular age, race. It doesn’t matter how much you make, what you do, you can still be abused – very professional people, very wealthy people, professional people, and poor people.”

Abuse also does not have a pattern, she said.

“It usually it starts with verbal, but nothing is typical,” Benton said.

Abusive behavior often starts with jealousy and criticism.

“It starts out very subtle, they (the victim) didn’t do something right, they didn’t look right, you didn’t do this for the kids,” she said.

Many times, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific incident that marks the point at which disagreement or argument becomes abuse.

“A lot of time victims say they don’t know when it started,” Benton said. “It’s hard because it’s so subtle in the beginning you don’t realize it’s happening.”

It’s also not always easy to foresee physical abuse.

“You think you’re tough enough to handle the verbal, you don’t always know the physical is going to happen,” Benton said.

There is, however, a common thread.

“It’s about power and control,” she said. “Telling them (the victim) they are stupid, they can’t do anything right, a lot of control tactics.”

Why do individuals stay in these relationships or go back to them?

Often times it’s love – and hope.

Profuse apologies, vows to change and “honeymoon” periods often follow inappropriate behavior.

“That’s what you hope for, that hope that it might be true,” Benton said.

One problem is that not only do victims often blame themselves but others blame them as well. This keeps individuals from reporting abuse or even sharing it with close friends or family.

“All the time,” Benton said bluntly when asked if fear of media attention or having people “find out” keep victims from calling the police if a situation escalates into physical violence. “It’s sad, it’s sad. It plays a big part into it. They don’t want to report because they’re afraid of people finding out, of shaming them, of blaming them instead of the abuser.”

No one enters a relationship expecting to be abused, she added.

Media attention and public reaction following her request for a restraining order last year was one reason she decided to resolve that matter privately, Sawicki said.

“Last year I thought by not speaking out, by not making it public, I thought I was being professional. This time I am not going to be ashamed. It’s never all right to put your hands on somebody,” she said again.

Cape Coral taxpayers will see no impact from her decision to bring Retzer with her to the conference or from the incident that occurred while there, Sawicki said. All personal costs of the trip, including the separate room for her two children, are exactly that, personal expenses. She said she had missed no planned events nor did she plan on skipping any Monday although the Miami Herald had reported the incident that morning.

“I’m a professional. I’m going to go do my job,” she said. “I’m sure I’m not alone, I’m sure there are other women, and men, who do the same thing and we don’t know they are abused.”

Retzer could not be reached for comment. A phone number was not listed on the arrest report.