DOCUMENTS: History of domestic abuse by father accused of setting house fire that killed his children

Published: Oct. 18, 2023 at 11:19 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Court documents obtained Wednesday (Oct. 18) by Fox 8 reveal Joseph Washington, the man police say set fire to a house with his three children trapped inside, had a history of abuse toward the mother of his children.

In a divorce filing from 2019, Washington’s ex-wife says Washington made similar threats to those that resulted in the death of their three children.

“When children are massacred, when children are slaughtered, it’s time for action,” said community activist Bruce Alexis.

The New Orleans community is hurting after police say three children died in a house fire early Wednesday morning.

A memorial already growing on America Street in New Orleans East for the family torn apart by grief.

MORE: Father accused of setting house fire that killed his 3 children

The overnight house fire was not the first Washington is on record of threatening.

Washington’s now ex-wife and the mother of his kids describe being dragged and strangled by the man in divorce paperwork.

These documents tell a story from September 2018 where Washington pushed her “against a wall and choked her,” pushed her down to a couch and choked her again while she was “holding their infant child.”

It details Washington dragging his ex-wife by the neck to their bedroom, where he “searched for his gun.”

The ex-wife tried to escape, but she was dragged back into the room, this time by her hair.

When she was finally able to make it outside to safety, she recounts hearing Washington threaten to “set the house on fire,” saying he turned the stove on, filled the house with smoke, but help came in time and Washington was arrested.

After this incident, Washington’s ex-wife was granted a 2-year protective order from Washington.

The divorce was finalized in August 2019.

“I think there is no more horrific tragedy than the intentional death of children,” said New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno.

Avegno says abuse like this is a public health crisis.

“If we can do anything to learn from this, it should be to collectively, both law enforcement, public safety, public health, and everyone one of us turn a laser focus on supporting the health and welfare of our children,” Avegno said. “This has got to be the highest priority for our city.”

Dr. Avegno says her office will present the first Domestic Violence Fatality Review findings to the City Council on Oct. 19.

She says the city needs a stronger prevention and safety net to complement the hard work of public safety officials.

“We want to end violence, period. We want New Orleans to unify for a common objective and a common goal and that’s to end violence, senseless violence,” Alexis said.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, there are resources both nationally and locally to help.

Call the New Orleans Family Justice Center at (504) 866-9554 for a 24-hour hotline with free services ranging from domestic violence to sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at (800) 799-7233.

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