Monthly Archives: October 2008

Domestic violence: human rights violation

This case serves as a reminder that the need for the US to engage with human rights is not an academic exercise. The human rights framework offers hope to women in this country, and indeed to everyone, that they have someplace to turn if they are denied help in their own country and that they can send a message to the government that it needs to do much more to protect basic human rights.  

Seeking a New Ally to Curb Domestic Violence
By Meghan Rhoad

Jessica Gonzales called the police in Castle Rock, Colorado, seven times on the night in June 1999, when her estranged husband abducted her three daughters, ages 7, 8 and 10. For seven hours after he took them, she pleaded with the police to go after him, to enforce the restraining order she had against him.

They ignored her appeals. Then, at 3:20 a.m., her husband drove up to the police station in his pickup truck and began shooting. The police shot back, killing him. They found the bodies of the three girls in the back of the truck, slain by their father’s semi-automatic.  
On Wednesday, Jessica Gonzales (now Jessica Lenahan) saw the United States called to account for its inaction when her case came before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The hearing will determine whether the government’s failure to enforce the restraining order violated Ms. Gonzales’ rights under international human rights law. In turning to this body, she is trying to help domestic violence survivors across the country, and indeed throughout the hemisphere.  
The commission, part of the Organization of American States, has taken up the subject of domestic violence before and ruled against Brazil in a similar case. But this is the first time it has taken a case from the United States. A ruling against the United States will place into sharp focus gaps in the protection it offers its citizens.  
If the Inter-American Commission finds for Ms. Gonzales, it can order damages from the U.S. government, or recommend structural recommendations to avoid similar situations arising in the future. The Commission also generally engages in regular follow-up conversations with the government in question–here the U.S. government–to make sure its recommendations are duly considered and implemented. In addition, while the Commission’s decisions perhaps are not enforceable in the way we are used to think of enforceability–with police orders or ultimately jail–they carry significant moral weight.  
Although the US has always considered itself a human rights leader, it has been reluctant to take part in some of the worldwide mechanisms promoting human rights. It is not a party to a number of important international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  
But this case serves as a reminder that the need for the US to engage with human rights is not an academic exercise. The human rights framework offers hope to women in this country, and indeed to everyone, that they have someplace to turn if they are denied help in their own country and that they can send a message to the government that it needs to do much more to protect basic human rights.  
Ms. Gonzales first brought her case in US courts, but the system did not offer a remedy for the grievous harm she had suffered. Her case wound its way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June 2005 that Ms. Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to the enforcement of the restraining order against her husband.  
In contrast, under international human rights law, governments have a responsibility to protect against and provide a remedy for violence against women, as outlined in a friend-of-the-court brief in this case filed by Human Rights Watch and numerous women’s rights organizations. In finding this case admissible, the Inter-American Commission effectively acknowledged that it is the duty of the government to protect its citizens against domestic violence. Human Rights Watch has urged the Commission to find that the United States failed to fulfill that obligation when the police ignored Ms. Gonzales’ pleas for enforcement of the restraining order.  
Beyond the realm of domestic violence, human rights law offers remedies and standards currently unavailable under domestic law. For example, international human right law recognizes a right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes access to good quality health care. While polls indicate most Americans believe the government should guarantee health insurance, our legal system does not recognize such a right and millions of uninsured Americans go without care.  
Opponents of US involvement in the international human rights mechanisms contend that the advanced legal system in the US precludes the need for involvement in international human rights treaties. They say that we should protect our sovereignty and not let other nations dictate our laws.  
However, the failure of the legal system to provide a remedy to Ms. Gonzales points clearly to gaps in the US system, gaps that imperil women and indeed all of us. Engaging with the international system on these issues neither denigrates our system nor sacrifices our democratic process. On the contrary, when we withdraw from the international human rights framework and decline to participate in the international conversation on these issues, we are ceding opportunity to provide leadership and to assert our values.  
As a start, the United States needs to ratify the international treaties it has thus far neglected and take an active role in international deliberations on human rights. But the United States also has a responsibility at home to make certain that our citizens have the basic rights and protections they need to enjoy our freedoms.

Source: Human Rights Watch

Maryland high-risk victim program to be taught elsewhere

Maryland domestic violence program to be taught elsewhere

Published October 22, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — A program developed in Maryland to get high-risk domestic violence victims to safety before they are killed will be taught in other parts of the country with the help of a federal grant.

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski and Rep. Donna Edwards have scheduled a news conference Wednesday to announce details of the Justice Department grant, which has been awarded to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.The group will train law enforcement in other parts of the country about its Lethality Assessment Program. The program, which has been used in Maryland for several years, involves close collaboration between law enforcement and domestic violence programs.

It was recently named one of the “top 50” innovations in American government by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Institute.

Michaele Cohen, the executive director of the group, said it is the first time the program has spread outside Maryland. She also said police from other parts of the country already have expressed interest.

“We said that we would take it to five regions and that we’d ask law enforcement agencies and programs to apply as teams in urban, rural and suburban communities,” Cohen said.

Mikulski, D-Md., described the program as “the gold standard for the country.”

In the program, police officers responding to domestic violence 911 calls ask victims 11 questions to identify those most at risk of being killed by spouses or partners and refer them immediately to counseling. The questions focus on whether an abuser has ever made death threats to the victim or has a handgun.

Once a first responder identifies that a victim is in “high danger,” the officer informs the victim that people in similar situations have been killed. The officer then calls a domestic violence hotline counselor and encourages the victim to talk to the counselor.

If the victim declines, the officer seeks advice from the counselor and again encourages the victim to talk to hotline personnel.

When the victim continues to say no, the officer reviews potential factors that can lead to homicide to make the victim aware of the signs. The officer also encourages the victim to contact a domestic violence program and provides police contact information.

If the victim decides to speak with the counselor, the officer responds to the outcome of the conversation and may coordinate safety planning between the two.

In 2003, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence formed a committee of police, domestic violence advocates and researchers to develop a screen that applied the research of Johns Hopkins University researcher Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell. The committee then created guidelines to direct authorities on what to do when someone is found to be in danger.

The program was field tested in Anne Arundel and Harford Counties and the city of Frederick in 2004. It was put in place in Washington, Garrett, Calvert, Kent, Cecil and Queen Anne’s counties and the cities of Cambridge and Easton between 2005 and 2006.

Now in Maryland, 86 out of 109 law enforcement agencies in the state are participating in the program, according to the group.

In the United States, about 1,600 women are killed each year in intimate-partner homicides. In Maryland, 56 people were killed in 2006, the most recent year for which domestic violence murder statistics are available for Maryland.


New online guide for working with victims with disabilities

Office for Victims of Crime has added to the collection of online guides, a toolkit for agencies working with victims with disabilities.

“This toolkit identifies and addresses the issues and obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who have been victimized or abused. The information provided in this resource and the companion bulletin is intended to function as a guide for organizations seeking to improve their capacity to respond to crime victims with disabilities.”

Mythology: DV not most dangerous call for police

Mythology of Crime and Criminal Justice Reports cited in Criminal Justice: An Introduction, by Phillip Purpura, states that domestic violence calls are not the most dangerous calls for law enforcement.  “Intervening in robbery situations, pursuing suspects, making traffic stops, and investigating suspicious persons are more dangerous.”

U.S. Extradites Accused Serial Killer to Mexico

United States Extradites Accused Serial Killer to Mexico
WASHINGTON – Jose Francisco Granados de la Paz, 30, a Mexican national, was extradited yesterday to Mexico to stand trial in the state of Chihuahua for aggravated homicide involving the June 2001 stabbing death of Mayra Juliana Reyes Solis, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich announced today. The case marks the first use of a special provision of the United States/Mexico Extradition Treaty that allows either country, after granting the extradition, to surrender a defendant who is serving a sentence to the other country for trial before the expiration of the sentence that is being served.

According to Mexican authorities, the case is part of Mexico’s ongoing investigation into the murders of young women in the Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, area since the mid-1990s. Granados de la Paz was serving a sentence in the United States for immigration violations when he was identified by U.S. and Mexican authorities as a person sought in connection with the Juarez murders investigation.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice

Rural law response to SA and DV victims inconsistent and inadequate

An article about Iowa’s state coalitions helping sexual assault and domestic violence victims highlights some of the differences between law enforcement and criminal justice system response in urban and rural areas. In discussing the budget and service problems with state representatives, CAASA representatives said that the state’s court system is lacking:

“Des Moines calls our judges up in this area ‘the Iowa black hole,'” said one of the representatives.

While court trainings are held locally, the women told Johnson, Kibbie and May that nobody attends them. The women advocates also asked that greater penalties and enforcement be implemented at the state level. As Taylor told them that animals are more valued in this state than domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, Dean said, “If (Atlanta Falcons player) Michael Vick would have been abusing his wife, he’d still be in the NFL today.” The former football player, who plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges, was sentenced to 23 months in a U.S. penitentiary in December.

“You talk about county attorneys who have a split office. We have more county attorneys that that’s all they do now than we did 20 years ago — and most of them have an assistant county attorney and they have three times as many office staff as they did 20 years ago. Why aren’t they doing their jobs,” Sen. Kibbie asked.

“That would be the question of the day — or the week,” one of the CAASA representatives replied.

……..The area legislators were also told the difference between response to domestic violence and sexual assault incidents in the urban and rural parts of Iowa is “night and day,” with officials in urban areas being “more responsive.”

Does your rural area have a history of inconsistent and inadequate response by law enforcement and district attorney offices than in other areas of your state? Do your advocacy programs struggle to develop and maintain collaborative responses from teams that include local law enforcement, victim assistants, county attorneys, local judges and the district attorney?  Does the pattern of response change depending on who is elected to be sheriff or DA?

Why do you think these rural officials feel they do not have to be as responsive to women victims as they would be expected to in urban areas?

We welcome your comments.

L.A. County deputy arrested in Irvine stabbing

Deputy Robert McClain, 34, allegedly stabbed and tried to castrate a young man he suspected of having an affair with his wife. McClain’s wife is also attacked.

By Richard Winton and Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 30, 2008

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was arrested Monday on suspicion of attempted murder after he allegedly beat, stabbed and may have tried to castrate a young man whom he suspected of having an affair with his wife, according to a law enforcement source and a relative of the victim.

Deputy Robert McClain, 34, is also suspected of assaulting his wife after confronting her about the alleged affair, law enforcement sources said.

Police responding to a call discovered the male victim, bleeding and unconscious, in the leasing office of an Irvine apartment complex about 7:30 a.m., said Irvine Police Lt. Rick Handfield. As detectives began to investigate, they learned that a female friend of the 23-year-old victim had driven herself to a local hospital for undisclosed injuries the same morning. Police said the woman was identified as McClain’s wife.

After interviewing McClain’s wife, detectives began searching for her husband, police said. When they found him, he had injuries that police suspected were sustained during the attack. Police believe the young man and McClain’s wife were attacked sometime between 10:30 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday, authorities said.

In addition to attempted murder, McClain was expected to be charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence, authorities said.

Police declined to release detailed information about the nature of the victims’ injuries, beyond saying that the young man had been “cut with a sharp instrument.” But one law enforcement source said the assailant had attempted to castrate the 23-year-old male, whom The Times is not identifying because of the nature of his injuries. Another law enforcement source confirmed that the victim had cuts to the area around his groin. He was listed in stable condition.

Nancy Smith said her brother, the young man’s father, was told by an emergency room nurse that a castration attempt had been made.

She said the nurse warned the father that his son had been beaten so badly that “you won’t recognize him.”

Smith said her nephew worked as a salesman at a men’s clothing store but was also an aspiring singer and songwriter.

“He is just the sweetest kid,” she said.

Smith said her nephew met the woman he was allegedly involved with at the apartment complex where he lives and she works in the leasing office.

She said the young man’s mother and father, who live in different states, were both flying to California on Monday.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Sheriff Lee Baca on Monday immediately began proceedings to terminate the deputy. “The sheriff believes strongly that this must be acted upon,” said Whitmore. McClain is still considered a probationary deputy, having been with the department a year. Until deputies have completed their probationary period, they can be terminated for any reason.