- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Dasa Robertson wants everyone who walks into her office to feel at ease - and that’s why her tables are all older pieces of furniture, complete with stains from children’s art projects.

“I think it’s important, where people can sit down and look, and say, ‘Oh, this is a used table,’” she said. “That’s homey.”

The director of the Albany County Crime Victim/Witness Program works closely with victims of all sorts of crimes, from domestic violence cases to burglaries. With the aid of a volunteer coordinator/bilingual advocate, an intern from the University of Wyoming and three volunteers, she helps walk witnesses and victims through what can often be a complex and confusing legal process.

It’s a tough job, but an incredibly meaningful one as well.

“I fell in love with it immediately,” she said. “I mean, it’s very stressful, but I really felt like everything I did was rewarding. I can work with clients and help them through the criminal justice system. It’s a very confusing process. And even when I took the classes, it wasn’t anywhere near what I was expecting when I walked into the courtroom, and so I can imagine it’s just as confusing for any victim.”

An unexpected career

Born and raised in Torrington, Robertson originally moved to Laramie to attend law school. After earning an associate’s degree from Eastern Wyoming College-Torrington, she hoped a law degree would improve her chances of someday working in an FBI crime lab.

Those plans quickly changed.

“The year that I was supposed to go to law school my mom passed away, and I just didn’t feel like I’d be able to concentrate well enough on law school with that too,” she said. “And in the meantime, there was an ad in the paper for a victim advocate, so I applied. And here I am still, 12 years later.”

She graduated from the University of Wyoming in 2012, with degrees in psychology and criminal justice, and in 2013, she was selected as the crime victim/witness program’s director.

Robertson, who has lived in Laramie for the past 18 years, enjoys reading, fishing, being active in her church - Laramie Valley Chapel - and spending time with her family: her husband Dale Robertson, a contractor, and son, Dale Robertson II, who works as an intern at the Albany County Attorney’s Office.

“The people here are really nice,” she said. “I get along with just about everyone here, and it was quite a culture shock in moving here, because Torrington’s a town of 5,000.”

Since July, her office has handled 248 cases from six different agencies: the University of Wyoming Police Department, Laramie Police Department, Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, Wyoming Highway Patrol and Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

But despite the heavy workload, many of her past cases are still fresh in her mind - especially a case where a father and his 4-year-old son were killed in a traffic accident.

“It was really tough to deal with because my son was 4 at the same time,” Robertson said. “And so when the victim, who was the wife and mother, came in for victim’s comp - it was my first victim’s comp case as well - we both sat in tears, because I felt so bad for her, and all I could think of was I have a 4-year-old son too.”

Maria Consuelos, who joined the program as a volunteer coordinator/bilingual advocate in September, said Robertson taught her a lot of things about the legal system. Working in the office has been a “new experience,” she said.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “I came to this pretty new, with criminal justice, and she has a lot of knowledge and knows how to work well with all three courts and attorneys.”

Reaching out

The first step in contacting a victim is pulling up a police report to learn more information about a case; if her office knows the victim’s going to be in court on a specific day, Robertson makes sure someone is available in the courtroom.

“We sit down and talk with the client and let them know what to expect from here on out,” she said.

In a felony case, a preliminary hearing is in Circuit Court, and the judge decides whether there is enough probable cause to move the charges to District Court.

Next, the defendant pleads guilty or not guilty to the charges at an arraignment.

In cases involving violence, it’s important to make sure victims have access to the Albany County SAFE Project, Robertson said.

“We want to make sure that their safety is the utmost priority,” she said. “If we know that the defendant is bonding out we definitely get in touch with them right away, get them to SAFE if that’s the case.”

When a case does go to jury trial, it’s the responsibility of her office to work with the victims and ensure witnesses are available to testify when needed.

Prior to the trial, she collaborates with the Albany County Attorney’s Office to prepare witnesses for questions they anticipate the prosecution and defense asking, since testifying on the stand can often be a very “nerve-wracking” experience, she said.

Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said the role of a victim/witness coordinator is twofold - it requires an understanding of advocacy and a working knowledge of the prosecutor’s office and the court system.

“Dasa, I have found to have a strong background in advocating for victims and witnesses and has a great knowledge of our operational system,” she said.

Robertson provides a lot of office support to county prosecutors while they prepare for trial, Trent said.

“She’s a very supportive, caring person,” she said.

Looking toward the future

There are some big changes ahead for the crime victim/witness program; starting in July, the program is set to become a part of the Albany County Attorney’s Office. The two offices currently collaborate through a joint powers board; Albany County is the only county in Wyoming to have this arrangement.

“Peggy’s vision is a team approach, which is awesome,” Robertson said. “It’s awesome for that office, it’s awesome for victims. For instance, if we do meet with victims for witness prep, not only is the county attorney there, but I’m there, and so is the investigating officer. It’s a team approach, and it’s much more comfortable for that client.”

But some aspects of her job remain a constant. She still gets emails from clients she helped years ago, she said; they write to her to tell her how they’ve been doing, the ways their lives have changed.

“I think the most rewarding part is when I have a victim that comes in and they’re in peril, and next thing, when they’re getting ready to leave they’ll say, ‘I haven’t smiled in weeks and you’ve made me laugh; I really appreciate that,’” Robertson said. “Or when I’m in Walmart and a client I worked with 12 years ago comes running up and gives me a hug - that’s a reward. I know I’ve done my job.”

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com


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