Pinellas County Sgt. Schlager embraces Unity Day after loosing family to domestic violence

CLEARWATER, FLa. - In the Pinellas County Jail, deputies and inmates get to know each other pretty well. Except, one of those deputies leaves with a secret.

"At work? Inmates don't see me cry," explained Sgt. Ophelia Schlager. "I'm a sergeant. I need to carry myself in a way that they respect me."

Sgt. Schlager has fought the sharp edge of unrelenting pain everyday since April 18, 2012.

Her niece, Carla, and her husband divorced not long before. On April 17, Carla gained primary custody of their 14-month-old daughter, Tori.

Early the next morning, he brutally attacked Carla, her grandmother, and Tori for an hour, then set the house on fire.

"My sister kept saying, 'He killed them all.' That's all she could say," Sgt. Schlager remembered. "Carla was beaten, stabbed, shot, burned."

It's violence Sgt. Schlager had heard of many times before working with inmates in the Pinellas County jail.

On Tuesday the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office kicked off domestic violence awareness month with "Unity Day". Inmate artwork hung in the jail lobby while Sgt. Schlager spoke of her mission to end the need for such ceremonies.

"Believe that you can make a difference. Don't be afraid to speak out against domestic violence, and be courageous enough to act," she said. "When you respond to a domestic call, don't make prejudgments. Listen to the voice of the victim. Listen to your inner core. Go with your gut instinct."

Though Sgt. Schlager refuses to cry at work, she admits, she cries everyday at home.

But only long enough to release and refocus on her mission both inside and outside the jail.

"Our goal to save at least one person. Then we've saved one person. I think that's all that I can hope for," she said.
 

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