MADISON — Wisconsin’s domestic violence laws would be strengthened under measures pushed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers after a mass shooting by the estranged husband of an abuse victim.
Police officers and judges can do more to bring perpetrators to justice and protect victims, said state Rep. Andre Jacque, a Republican from De Pere who is sponsoring the bills. Jacque’s three proposals would clarify the obligations of police officers in responding to domestic abuse cases, grant judges more power to keep suspects in check and allow more evidence to be used in investigations.
Wisconsin is among 21 states with a mandatory arrest law in domestic violence cases. Police must arrest domestic abusers even if an alleged victim doesn’t want charges pursued. The state also requires law enforcement officers to have written policies for responding to such calls.
But no one has authority to ensure police departments are responding to domestic abuse calls as they should.
The Brown Deer Police Department was under fire for not arresting Radcliffe Haughton after reports of abuse in January 2011, and again several weeks before he killed his 42-year-old wife, Zina, and two others at a Brookfield spa last October. Haughton also killed himself.
“I think it was wrong,” Zina Haughton’s brother Elvin Daniel said of the police’s response. “They saw something suspicious at the house but didn’t go find out what was wrong.”
Twelve state lawmakers signed a letter last November and sent it to Brown Deer police, accusing the department of not upholding the state arrest law.
During a January 2011 standoff at Haughton’s Brown Deer home, officers thought they saw Haughton with a rifle and set up a perimeter around the house. They ordered Haughton to surrender, but he refused. The police left after 90 minutes without arresting him, the letter said.
Brown Deer police said officers left because they weren’t sure if Haughton had a gun and they did not believe he posed a danger. Police also said the victim refused to cooperate.
Jacque’s proposal would require officers to document their responses to abuse calls, even if they don’t arrest anyone. They would have to file a report to the district attorney’s office to explain in cases where they felt no abuse could be shown.
“This is not to point fingers at police officers. Most of them are doing their jobs with high integrity,” Jacque said. “But there were cases where district attorneys did not receive any written report of a domestic abuse.”
In addition, Jacque’s bill would add stalking, or a threat to stalk, to actions that constitute domestic abuse. It also specifies that in the case of judge substitution, a restraining order issued against a suspect by the previous judge would remain effective until the judge holds an injunction hearing. Current law allows for vacating a temporary restraining order when a person requests a hearing from a new judge.
Gov. Scott Walker agrees that state laws governing domestic abuse must be clarified and strengthened, said his spokesman Cullen Werwie. Walker’s budget includes $10.6 million to help build the Family Justice Center in Milwaukee and $560,000 to help the Domestic Abuse Intervention Services Center build a $5.8 million new shelter in Madison.
Jacque has bipartisan support in the Legislature. Rep. Jon Richards, a Milwaukee Democrat, is co-sponsoring his legislation.
Richards and several other Democrats unveiled a proposal last month that would make it illegal to buy or transfer guns without a background check, with Daniel saying such a law might have saved his sister. However, the Democrats’ proposal faces an uphill battle at the Capitol where Republicans who have majority control have been cool to gun-control legislation. Richards said he believes there is a link between gun regulations and domestic abuse.
Tony Gibart, policy coordinator for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, praised Jacque’s legislation for encouraging referral to local shelters. He noted police officers are crucial in connecting victims to the services they need.
Daniel, who said abuse history on his sister had never been known to the family, said victims have to stand up for themselves.
“They should speak out to police officers and their families,” Daniel said of domestic abuse. “If it could happen to Zina, it could happen to anybody.”