How the justice system failed to prevent a young Ohio mother's murder — despite years of clues

Posted at 4:55 AM, May 05, 2017

An investigation by our sister station WEWS in Cleveland reveals how police, prosecutors and courts failed to prevent a young mother’s murder despite years of clues, a criminal history filled with red flags and repeated threats to kill.

On the evening of March 8, 2017, 20-year-old Dakota Steagall made good on a promise he first made more than two years earlier.

Kaitlyn Carroll Peak, 22, was shot repeatedly and left for dead while Steagall kidnapped her 7-week-old baby outside a Mansfield, Ohio apartment complex where Steagall was living.

Kaitlyn had broken off her relationship with Steagall more than a year earlier after repeated assaults and threats to both to her and her family.

But an investigation has uncovered massive failures in the criminal justice system that is supposed to protect victims of domestic violence—including allowing Steagall to repeatedly plead to lesser charges, suspend jail time and instead face only probation.

The First Sign of Trouble

It was close to midnight on Nov. 14, 2014 and Kaitlyn had gone to Steagall’s home to celebrate her birthday.

According to police reports, Steagall “became upset” and told Kaitlyn “he was going to kill her and then himself.”

It would be the first of several 911 calls begging police for help—“he’s trying to stab me also,” she told dispatchers.

Steagall “stabbed himself in the chest” and then ran off—his bloody sweatshirt left behind on the driveway.

Just three months earlier on Aug. 4, 2014, Steagall was arrested “for taking chunks of concrete and throwing them in a crowd of people” outside the Richland County Fairgrounds. He was charged with assault but allowed to plea to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct.

Richland County sheriff's deputies later found him in the emergency room at MedCentral Hospital in Mansfield where “emergency commitment” orders were completed for Steagall to be “evaluated mentally.”

At the time, Kaitlyn warned deputies that Steagall “had been mentally ill for the past few months” and had a previous “suicide watch."

Prosecutors advised “no felony charges” applied and the assault charges were dismissed and first degree aggravated menacing charges were reduced to a fourth degree misdemeanor with no jail time.

“I’m going to make you lose your job, then I’m going to kill you and then I’m going to kill myself and then I’ll be done.”

It would mark the beginning of threats, arrests and court appearances that allowed Steagall to continue to roam free and Steagall’s explosive temper would surface again and again.

Kaitlyn’s aunt remembers one chilling threat—“I’m going to make you lose your job, then I’m going to kill you and then I’m going to kill myself and then I’ll be done.”

On March 8, 2015, Steagall was arrested for underage consumption, obstructing official business and contributing to the delinquency of a minor after trying to steal wine from a local supermarket.

He was placed on 12 months probation.

Eight weeks later, May 8, 2015, Kaitlyn reported to Mansfield police that Steagall “punched her in the area of her left eye” after coming home drunk.

Juvenile records reveal Steagall had a history of drug and alcohol abuse going back to 2011 when he just 15 years old.

Protection Order Filed

Just hours after the May 8, 2015 assault, Kaitlyn filed for a protection order telling a magistrate that Steagall “had been drinking and he doesn’t do good with alcohol.”

Kaitlyn reported that Steagall “continued to drink until he passed out” and the following morning “punched me in my eye."

“I don’t feel safe with him in the house."

“I don’t feel safe with him in the house,” she wrote in a court document.

A hearing for a full protection order was scheduled for May 19, 2015—but instead, the case was dismissed.

Records we obtained reveal Richland County sheriff's deputies made only four attempts to serve Steagall with a warrant and then quit trying on May 14, 2015 — five full days before the scheduled court hearing.

Deputies indicate they couldn't locate Steagall.

By now, Kaitlyn’s family is convinced that Steagall had also persuaded Kaitlyn to drop the charges — a tactic domestic violence advocates say is common among abusers.

It worked. 

Now frightened for both herself and her family, Kaitlyn did not appear in court the morning of the hearing.

But just weeks later, Steagall lashed out again.

On July 1, 2015, Kaitlyn called 911 at 2:17 a.m., telling dispatchers that Steagall “started pulling my hair and holding me down on the bed and hitting me."

In a police report, Kaitlyn inquired “how to pursue charges at a later time."

Pleas For Help

Two weeks later, July 16, 2015, Kaitlyn called 911 again — pleading for help.

“My boyfriend is at my house and he attacked me in front of my 14-year-old sister,” Kaitlyn told dispatchers.

But despite the 911 call for help, Kaitlyn told Mansfield police who arrived on the scene that “there was no violence or threats at this time.”

Just three day later, July 19, 2015, Kaitlyn’s mother called 911 from her daughter’s apartment advising police that Steagall is nearby and “he does not belong there."

She also told Mansfield police that her daughter—a four-time victim of domestic violence — is afraid to call police herself.

“She’s tired of calling the cops because they told her if she called them again—she’d get charged with disorderly conduct or something."

“She’s tired of calling the cops because they told her if she called them again—she’d get charged with disorderly conduct or something,” Kaitlyn’s mother told dispatchers. “We’re just afraid something's gonna happen.”

And it did.

Just after 10 p.m. on the night of Jan. 6, 2016, a  police report indicates Kaitlyn called 911. “The female advised boyfriend won’t let her leave and threatened to kill her and then hung up," it read.

Steagall remained on the streets.

One month later, he struck again.

According to a Feb. 5, 2016 police report, Mansfield police arrived at Steagall’s apartment after Kaitlyn called 911 and told dispatchers that Steagall “possibly has a gun he’s shown her a picture of."

At the time, dispatchers even admit “we have a lot of history with this guy” adding “we’ve committed him a number of times."

By now, Kaitlyn has been threatened with her life at least 6 separate times over 16 months.

Her aunt recalled that Kaitlyn “had tried to get away from him, she knew they were not good together, but at the same time she was still trying to be a friend to him because he threatened to commit suicide multiple times.”

The Threats Keep Coming

Two weeks later, Feb. 19, 2016 at 10:27 p.m., Steagall began texting Kaitlyn a series of threatening text messages — again threatening to kill her and her grandmother.

Mansfield Municipal Court Probation Records on June 27, 2016 reveal Steagall was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Menacing, recommending that Steagall should be “continued on probation for one year and placed into the Mental Health Court or Treatment Court Program."

He was released on a $5,000 bond.

But the day before, on June 26, 2016, Mansfield police records say Steagall was arrested and charged with “obstructing a public official” after police arrived at Steagall’s apartment, responding to a reported drug overdose.

On Nov. 30, 2016, Steagall was placed on one year probation.

Steagall laid low for the next few weeks, but social media messages reveal he was actually shopping for a gun.

In a text message on Feb. 18, 2017, at 11:04 p.m., Steagall asks a friend, “Hey, do you know anyone selling a strap”—slang for a gun.

Making Good on a Promise

Two weeks later, on March 8, 2017— Steagall finally made good on a promise he first made more than two years earlier — and police, prosecutors, probation officers nor judges could stop what would happen next.

Kaitlyn Carroll Peak was shot to death—with her 7-week old baby girl in the backseat.

Steagall committed suicide the next day.

On Facebook, friends admit the unthinkable—some apparently knew what Steagall was planning.

“Yeah, he told me he was going to,” one person posted.

Two days later, on March 10, 2017, another Facebook post: “Damn, man, I didn’t know when you asked if I had a gun for sale it would up like this—rest easy man."