Monday, August 29, 2011

Failing victims of violence (Denver, Colorado)

Excellent piece by Jessica Lenahan, whose children were murdered back in 1999 by their father, SIMON GONZALES, after the police refused to enforce a protection order.

Guest Commentary: Failing victims of violence
By Jessica Lenahan
Posted: 08/28/2011 01:00:00 AM MDT

Twelve years ago, I found myself in an unthinkable situation. My husband, Simon Gonzales, whom I had known since childhood, became a possessive, controlling man I didn't recognize. When he became abusive, I feared for my safety and that of our children. I obtained a restraining order against him, and trusted the law to protect us.

But that trust was destroyed on June 22, 1999. That night, my estranged husband kidnapped our daughters — Rebecca, Katheryn and Leslie — from our front yard. Panicked, I repeatedly called the Castle Rock police for help. Over the next 10 hours, the police refused to go after Simon or try to find my daughters. Hours later, my husband drove up to the police station and opened fire. He was killed in the shootout, and the bodies of my girls were found shot to death in the back of his truck.

There wasn't even a proper investigation to determine whether my girls were killed by their father or in the hail of bullets at the station. I still don't know for certain the exact cause, time and place of my children's death.

In the hours leading up to the shootout, it became clear that my order of protection was worthless, and that the police didn't regard domestic violence as potentially lethal. I was told "the girls were with their father," that I "shouldn't worry," and that I should "give it a few hours." Meanwhile, the police responded to a fire-lane violation, looked for a lost dog, and took a two-hour dinner break.

I sued the town of Castle Rock for failing to enforce the restraining order and took my case to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the court ruled my constitutional rights had not been violated by the failure to enforce the restraining order.

I felt utterly abandoned, but I wasn't done fighting. Along with attorneys from the ACLU, I filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that the police failure to enforce my restraining order, and the U.S. courts' failure to provide a remedy, constituted violations of international human rights law. After a 12-year process, the commission made public on Aug. 17 a landmark decision in which it found the U.S. had violated my human rights and those of my three children.

The commission's report said the Castle Rock Police failed in its legal obligation to protect women and children from domestic violence, and emphasized the government has a duty to protect domestic violence victims by taking steps to ensure their safety, including the enforcement of restraining orders.

In the United States, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Many of these women will, like I did, place their faith in the justice system. To tell these women they have no right to rely on their government to protect them is outrageous and cruel. Restraining orders filed by victims of domestic violence must always be enforced, and a 911 call to enforce those orders must mean something. Policies regarding domestic violence must change so no one else's rights are violated.

It is shameful that it took an international human rights commission to point out that policies meant to protect domestic violence survivors are dangerously inadequate. Despite everything I've lost, I still have hope that our government will use this ruling as an opportunity to make things right, to provide the protection and accountability that will prevent a tragedy like I suffered from occurring again.

Jessica Lenahan is an advocate for battered women and children.