OAK CREEK (WITI) — He’s battered as many as six different women and at least one child over a span of 30 years.
Last summer, he did it again, posted bail and was released. But it’s what we caught on hidden camera that exposes a system that is failing to protect women from the most dangerous repeat abusers.
When you think of a ‘hero’ you might picture a man who saves people from burning buildings. So it seemed fitting in 1999 when a man named Tom Herro did exactly that. FOX6 file video shows Herro taking on oxygen after waking a woman from a slumber as her house was going up in flames.
“Woke her up, she came out, she ran back upstairs to get her dog,” Herro said.
But aside from that act of valor 15 years ago, it seems, Tom Herro has spent most of his adult life as a villain.
“He’d either slap me, pull my hair, spit in my face, wreck the vehicle I was driving,” said Bridgit Walters, Herro’s third of five wives.
Walters had a son with Herro back in 1994. They got married in 1998. But just three months later, on her son’s 4th birthday, she confronted her husband about having an affair.
“He slapped me and actually took the back of my head and he smooshed it into Shane’s birthday cake,” Walters said.
According to criminal records, Herro punched Bridgit in the face, grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off the ground. She called police and got a restraining order.
“Within a week he was back at the house and he hit me again. So I called the police on him again,” Walters said.
She says he violated the order 22 times before moving on to another woman.
“He ended up slappin’ her around, beatin’ her up,” Walters said.
Over the next 16 years, records show Herro brutalized at least three more women in New Berlin, Oak Creek, and Milwaukee.
Pushing them to the ground. Tossing them down the stairs. Hitting them, kicking them, shoving, yelling, screaming..twisting fingers, pulling hair, throwing umbrellas, ashtrays and coffee cups. Breaking chairs, smashing windshields, even threatening to kill them.
A judge once called his “pattern of intimidation…one of the worst” he’s ever seen.
And that’s just the stuff that’s been reported to police.
“The majority of violence that happens in relationships happens in private,” said Carmen Pitre, Executive Director of Sojourner Family Peace Center, which advocates for victims of domestic violence. She says Herro is an extreme case.
‘There are those repeat offenders that won’t change their behavior unless you lock them up,” Pitre said.
He lives in Oak Creek and owns a heating and cooling business in West Allis.
He is a free man for now, but he’s been in and out of local jails and state prison for decades. Almost all of it for crimes involving violence against women.
“And all the police are doing is arresting him and letting him go. Arresting him and letting him go,” Walters said.
According to online court records, the abuse dates back to at least 1994 when he grabbed Bridgit by the neck, pushed her into a mirror, and threw her to the floor. That was 20 years ago.
But this woman says the abuse goes back even further.
“I had to hide under beds,” said Amy Weems.
Weems says she was seven when she woke up to a man arguing with her mother.
“He had his arm around her from behind and had a gun to her head,” Weems said.
It was Tom Herro, Amy’s father.
“He told me if I didn’t go back to bed, he was going to shoot her,” Weems said.
Amy has cleansed her life of the man she refers to as her biological dad. But she can never wash away the memories like the time her dad punched her in the face.
“I went to school with a fat lip, obviously it was questioned. They took me home with social services, and I was terrified, because that didn’t mean anything to him. All that meant was when I left, I got it again. And I did,” Weems said.
Three decades later, the cycle continues.
“You’ve gotta assume if it’s consistent over time, that the violence is escalating,” Pitre said.
“It’s gotten worse,” Walters said.
In 2005, Herro went after his girlfriend with a butcher knife and served two and a half years in prison. But it’s what he did next that sent Walters over the edge.
“He choked my son so hard, he couldn’t breathe, Walters said.
By January of 2010, Herro’s 15-year-old son was so tired of the constant abuse of women that he objected to his dad’s plan to have another girlfriend move in. According to a criminal complaint, Herro ‘flipped out’ and choked his son until he couldn’t breathe. He was convicted of felony child abuse. But even then he served just 15 months in prison.
“What is the courts waiting for? For him to actually kill someone before they actually lock him up and make him sit like he should?” Walters asked.
“The potential of him killing someone is always there,” Pitre said.
Statistically speaking, Pitre says domestic violence rarely leads to homicide. But research has found telltale signs that an abuser is more likely to take lethal action.
“We see multiple partners. We see abuse in those relationships. We see restraining orders that are violated countless times,” Homicide Review Commission’s, Mallory O’Brien said.
O’Brien is Director of Milwaukee’s Homicide Review Commission, which has studied data from domestic violence cases to develop a checklist of factors that increase a victim’s risk of being killed.
“If you get a number of checks on that checklist, it’s an indication that this person is at high risk of becoming our next homicide victim,” O’Brien said.
Last fall, while still on active supervision by the state Department of Corrections, Herro allegedly struck again. And that’s why Bridgit decided to come forward.
“She’s a typical abused woman. She’s in denial,” Walters said.
Wife number five called police to say her husband “lost his mind.” Pushed her to the ground, and held a chair over his head, broke it, then whipped a glass candle jar at her head. He was arrested and charged with battery, posted bail and was released.
“Why are you letting him out?” Walters said.
The court ordered Herro to have absolutely no contact with his wife. But days later, she wrote the judge, begging to “bring Tom back home.”
“We know that batterers can be very charming,”Pitre said.
“He can suck you back in,” Walters said.
The judge denied her request. But FOX6′s hidden cameras caught him at home with his wife — getting on a Harley together and riding away, in apparent violation of the order.
“The only way that anyone’s safe is if he’s in jail,” Weems said.
The women who know him best say he’ll never change.
“I think you need to lock him up and make him sit for a very long time,” Walters said.
Afterall, they know him like the back of his hand.
Last August, when Tom Herro pushed his current wife to the ground, smashed a chair on the floor, and whipped a glass jar at her head, he was still on parole for strangling his son.
His probation agent could have sent him back to prison for three more years.
But instead, ordered him to take a 90-day course on domestic violence.
He was then released on $1,350 cash bail.
He’s due to be sentenced for disorderly conduct on May 23rd.
But’s it’s a misdemeanor, meaning he doesn’t face much, if any, additional time behind bars.