As the town of Belleville, Ont. swirls with rumours over a case of alleged domestic assault between the town's first female police chief and her husband, Chief Cory McMullan has spoken out about her decision to identify herself as the victim.
She didn't do it lightly. "It's my personal life," she said slowly in her office, her voice soft. "I've always had my professional life as something in the public eye, but this is my personal life."
On Aug. 9, Belleville police issued a news bulletin about a domestic assault that had occurred three days earlier. "The victim reported she was struck by a male in the home," it read. On Wednesday, Chief McMullan, 47, sent out a media advisory disclosing herself as the victim. Her husband, retired police officer David McMullan, 53, has been charged. The couple has two teenaged children.
In a town with a population of just under 50,000 people, keeping the matter a secret was nearly impossible, she says. "I have injuries," Chief McMullan said on Thursday. "Those injuries are visible."
Indeed, the town is abuzz with talk about the alleged assault. City Councillor Jack Miller says he puts no stock in the rumours, calling them silly.
"In a smaller city, things tend to take off," he said. "I've heard more than 40 rumours and none are the same."
Mr. McMullan could not be reached for comment.
In an e-mail late Thursday, Chief McMullan said the rumours "do nothing but retraumatize victims of crime. I have asked the public and media to respect the privacy of my family as we work our way through this extremely difficult time."
Mayor Neil Ellis released a statement encouraging the community to support Chief McMullan.
"While nothing has been proven in court, and respectful of her privacy, I note that domestic violence is far too common in our society and can happen within anyone's family and amongst our friends, neighbours and/or co-workers," the statement said. "It can often be unexpected, and at first, even unbelievable."
Hanging out with a group of friends in the parking lot of a Belleville Tim Hortons, Chelsea Keene, 17, expressed support for the police chief. "I kind of like that she came forward, being a voice for [domestic violence] It's good she came out and said something," Ms. Keene said.
An external police force was called in to investigate shortly after the incident, Belleville Deputy Police Chief Paul Vandegraaf said Thursday night.
"We're not releasing who the police service is that's doing that investigation," he said, adding that "arrangements" for the investigation were made on the weekend.
Since becoming police chief over a year ago, Chief McMullan has been constantly in the public eye. She guided her force through investigation of several high-profile cases, including the double killing of a mother and daughter, and the Colonel Russell Williams' case.
But while Chief McMullan says she's used to being in the spotlight, identifying herself as a victim of a crime - the same type of crime she so often encounters as a police officer - was the most difficult choice she has made. She says she did it to bring attention to an issue that is, all too often, faceless.
"There are victims of domestic violence everywhere and coming forward and getting the help and support is the only way that it's going to stop," Chief McMullan said.
Common police practice is not to identify anyone involved in domestic incidents to protect victims and their families. And women are often reluctant to come forward due to the stigma attached. Chief McMullan knew, as a public figure, that identifying herself would bring domestic violence back onto the public radar.
"Anything that I can do to help victims, I will," she said.
Both Chief McMullan and her husband worked at Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service before moving to Belleville. Mr. McMullan retired in 2009. Peterborough Lakefield Staff Sergeant Lynne Buehler has known Mr. McMullan since 1985 and says she is shocked by the allegations against one of her former officers.
"He was a valued member of our service," she said.
With a report from Sarah Boesveld