Justice Center Centro de Justicia Para Mujeres 250 Sebastopol
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
Tel. (707) 575-3150
August 24, 2000
Mayor Janet Condron
and Santa Rosa City Council Members Santa Rosa, CA
OPEN LETTER RE: Case
Complaints Against Santa Rosa Police Department Handling of Violence
Against Women and Children May thru August, 2,000
Dear Mayor Janet Condron
and Santa Rosa
City Council Members,
are writing to ask your help with a problem we have been trying
to resolve for the past year and a half without success. During
this time we have had scores of complaints about Santa Rosa Police
Department's response to cases of violence against women and children.
Over this time we have taken these complaints to many officials
at different ranks in the department. And we have presented the
complaints in varying manners in hopes of finding a way to be
heard and of motivating corrections.
Last December, seeing
no improvement in the situation, we phoned Santa Rosa Police Commander
Swanson and expressed our concern that the department's response
to domestic violence was getting very sloppy, most noticeably
that there was a general failure to enforce restraining orders,
and an overall disregard for Spanish- speaking victims. In response,
Commander Swanson arranged a meeting between Women's Justice Center
and Sgt. Schwedhelm, head of the Sex Crimes and Family Violence
Unit, and Sgt. Briggs, head of Patrol.
On January 6, 2000,
we met with Sgts. Schwedhelm and Briggs for about three hours
during which time we laid out the problems we were seeing. In
addition to the complaints stated above we detailed our concerns
about failures to write reports, the frequent misuse of children
and family members as translators, failures to take threats seriously,
inability to recognize high lethality risk cases, disrespect for
victims, and more. In the couple months following this meeting
we phoned Sgt. Briggs with concerns about the department's handling
of two new cases.
June, we again called Commander Swanson, this time with our concerns
regarding the handling of a new May case that resulted in a domestic
violence related death. Commander Swanson then assigned Sgt. Oliveras
to look into the situation. After more than a month of investigating,
Oliveras concluded that officers had done nothing wrong. However,
at no time during his examination of the case did Oliveras speak
to, nor attempt to contact, the principle witnesses in the case.
As on other occasions when we have asked the department to review
a complaint, we have felt the response was obstructionist, defensive,
purposely incomplete., and had no intention of finding the truth.
In mid-August we again
phoned Commander Swanson. This time to express our dissatisfaction
with Oliveras' examination of the death case, and to bring four
brand new case complaints to his attention. And though Swanson
has turned these cases over to internal investigations and/or
to a relevant sargeant, we are also bringing them to your attention
because after a year and a half of this, we have lost confidence
in the ability of SRPD to either investigate itself or to correct
the problems. And we are certain that, left uncorrected, these
problems will lead to yet more unnecessary suffering and tragedy
for the women of Santa Rosa.
The following seven
case complaints have come to us between May and August, 2000.They
are similar to the flow of such case complaints we've been seeing
for the last year and a half. These cases represent only those
complaints where we have been given permission to pass them on.
There are others where victims did not want to come forward. Though
the narration of the following seven cases at this writing uses
changed names and does not specify exact dates, the full information
is available to you on request.
We ask your help in
three ways. One, that you provide for an independent investigation
into the following complaints. Two, that you oversee that necessary
changes are made in the department's handling of rape and domestic
violence. And three, that the city provide an ongoing mechanism
by which such complaints can be independently investigated and
necessary corrections implemented.
And finally we would
like to arrange a time to present our input to you on what we
believe is needed to correct the situation.
#1, Chronicle of An Announced Death
the beginning of May, Margarita's ex-boyfriend was calling her
again. In fact, he'd already called her a number of times this
day, despite the restraining order she had obtained, despite the
many times she had told him she didn't want to be with him, despite
her pleadings with him to get help.
On this phone call,
Margarita's friend Gloria intervened and answered the phone. On
the phone, Javier launched into an all too familiar refrain. If
Margarita didn't come back to him, he told Gloria repeatedly,
he would kill himself. Gloria tried in vain to talk with Javier,
reason with him, calm him down, change his course. But Javier
just kept threatening and trying to enlist Gloria into making
Margarita come back.
Gloria ended the conversation
and the two women talked. At first Margarita didn't want to take
Gloria's advice to call the police. But then she agreed; Javier
needed help, he had to be stopped, the situation was out of control.
Gloria's voice on the
police dispatch tape we obtained is clear and urgent. "I have
a lady here who has a restraining order", she can be heard to
say on the tape, "Her boyfriend is calling her by phone, and he's
When the Santa Rosa
Police officer arrived Gloria translated for Margarita and relayed
the details of her own conversation with Javier. According to
the women, together they told the officer the details of the recent
events; beginning in March when Gloria had broken up with Javier
and gotten a restraining order against him. The women showed the
officer the restraining order which was in effect.
According to the women,
they told the officer that even back then Javier was threatening
to commit suicide if Margarita didn't get back with him. And that
just a month ago when Margarita wouldn't give in to his threat,
Javier had, in fact, made a suicide attempt that was serious enough
to put him in the hospital for three weeks. They told the officer
that while in the hospital Javier was begging Margarita for help
and that Margarita went to him in the hospital half believing
that maybe she could help. But when Javier got out of the hospital,
Margarita could see it wouldn't work. She broke up with him again
a few days before this call to police. And Javier had been calling
According to Gloria,
Gloria told the officer that she herself had just talked with
Javier before calling the police, and Javier was again threatening
to commit suicide if Margarita didn't come back with him. Gloria
told the officer the details of Javier's threats. She told the
officer that's why she called.
The officer then put
through a call to Javier at his home, at times using his own limited
Spanish and at times using Gloria to translate. The officer reminded
Javier that he was violating the order, and told him that if he
called again he would be arrested. The officer then asked Javier
for his address. When Javier refused to give his address, the
officer told the women not to worry, he could get the address
from the reverse telephone directory available to police.
The conversation with
Javier was ended. According to the women, during the call the
officer never talked to Javier about the suicide threat. When
the officer and his partner left, Margarita and Gloria just assumed
the officers would talk to Javier about the suicide threats when
they got to his home. Margarita went to work the next morning
feeling relief that she had gotten help. She picked up her girls
from school. And back they came that afternoon to what they hoped
would be the beginning of peace. Margarita opened the door to
her room, her two girls in tow. Javier's body lay lifeless on
the floor. He had killed himself. Gloria's peace was pierced with
wrenching, inconsolable pain.
We obtained this information
in separate interviews with the two women the day after Javier's
suicide. The following questions need to be answered:
- State law (PC 836
(c) (1)) requires that police make an arrest on restraining
order violations. Why didn't the officer arrest? Why didn't
the officer go to the suspect's home? Why didn't the officer
issue a `stop and hold'? We feel that if handled correctly,
the suspect would have been taken into custody and put under
suicide watch at the jail.
- The crime report
written by the officer does not mention Javier's threat to kill
himself. Did the officer write a false report?
- Even as written,
the officer's own report makes clear the officer knew of Javier's
very recent suicide attempt in response to Margarita's first
break up with him, the officer knew of Javier's hospitalization
for that attempt, of the more recent break up, and of multiple
recent restraining order violations. How is it the officer didn't
recognize a potential for lethality in this case?
- SRPD CAD records
show that Santa Rosa Police responded to a call involving Javier
on the day before the women called the police. A police report
has never been written on that incident. However, there is information
which leads us to believe that on that call police found Javier
saying he was distraught over his breakup with Margarita, and
saying that he wanted to hurt himself, and that he couldn't
go on living if he couldn't get back with Margarita, and that
police transported Javier to his home and dropped him off. The
CAD record indicates that the officer went to the address of
Javier's home shortly after responding to the location of the
incident. What happened at that incident and why was no report
written? Why didn't the officer take Javier into custody?
- When Commander Swanson
asked Sgt. Oliveras to look into our complaint, why, in the
more than a month and a half of investigating, did Sgt. Oliveras
make no attempt to contact either one of the women?
#2, Suffer the Children
received a call from a Spanish-speaking mother. Her voice was
desperate and exasperated. A full two months before this call
to us, the mother said, she had gone with her daughter to the
doctor. The girl had told the doctor about having sex with a man
in his twenties. The girl was under 14 years of age, a fact that
makes such sexual relations between the adult and the child an
automatic felony child molestation.
At that time two months
before, the doctor had called the mother into the office and together
they called the Santa Rosa police. When the police arrived, the
mother, the doctor, and the girl reported openly to the police.
Now the mother was
telling us that in the more than two months since she had never
heard from the police again, despite the fact that the she hasn't
moved or changed phone numbers. The mother told us that there
has never been any forensic examination of the child, and there
has been no interview of the child at Redwood Children's Center,
nor has there been any attempt to set up this standard interview.
We called and talked
to the doctor who confirmed to us the parts of the story she was
involved in, including that the mother and daughter had cooperated
fully with the police. The doctor also told us that she, herself,
had never heard from police again after that initial report was
It wasn't until we
at Women's Justice Center made a call to police following the
mother's call to us that a detective made arrangements to go with
the mother and girl so they could point out the home where the
man lived. That was more than a month ago. And they haven't heard
from the police since.
#3, No Sanctuary
English-speaking woman called. She said she was fleeing domestic
violence in another state and that she had come to Santa Rosa
because she has a relative here. She said that within an hour
of her arriving in Santa Rosa she had gone with her relative to
the Santa Rosa Police Department to report the domestic violence,
and to report that she had fled a domestic violence situation
with her child.
She said she and her
relative went to the front desk and told the police technician
her story; that she was fleeing domestic violence from another
state, that her husband had threatened to kill her, that she was
afraid for her life, and she wanted to make a report. The police
technician at the front desk called up a supervisor relaying the
information and asking for a course of action. When the technician
got off the phone with her supervisor, the technician told the
woman that `we (Santa Rosa Police) don't have an extra little
file for cases like that, and if it didn't happen in our county,
there's nothing we can do.' We then talked separately to the woman's
relative. The relative confirmed the account of events as they
occurred at Santa Rosa Police Department..
It is, and has been
for many years, standard police practice to do a courtesy report
when a victim flees domestic violence, or any other violent crime,
from a distant jurisdiction. The courtesy report is then mailed
to the police department at the appropriate jurisdiction where
the follow-up investigation is done. When we at Women's Justice
Center called the shift sargeant to pass on the woman's complaint
and ask that the report be done, the sargeant argued with us and
balked for a while at doing the report. It was only when we pushed
that an officer was sent out to the woman's house to take the
A few days later when
the woman went to SRPD to pick up a copy of the report at the
records department she was refused a copy. Not only does state
law mandate that police give domestic violence victims a full
copy of the crime report (Family Code Section 6228), but, in addition,
we had complained to the records department only a few months
before about the department's repeated failure to comply with
this law. In response to that complaint, the head of records wrote
a memo to all staff to bring about compliance. Lack of knowledge
about the law seems not likely to be the problem. Rather it seems
instead that a willingness to defy the law and to defy victim's
legal rights is what prevails.
When we called over
to the records department regarding this most recent refusal,
only then was the report made available to the victim. As for
not taking the report in the first place, the only possible reason
we can think of we can think of was that Santa Rosa Police didn't
want to be bothered, and they didn't think the victim could find
her way around.
If police had bothered
to take the report they would have become immediately aware that
the suspect had a long violent history, and had a number of current
warrants out for his arrest
#4, Police Violence
deeply distraught Spanish-speaking single mother of three children
walked into our office, her movements painful and slow from a
fresh beating, her arm in a sling. Teresa told us that she had
been beaten by a police officer the day before. We tried to explain
that we didn't do those kinds of cases. But she was desperate
Teresa told us she
had come home from work the day before to find police in her backyard
and her teenage son in handcuffs. She was told that police believed
a friend of her son had stashed a stolen bicycle at her house.
Teresa says she asked the officer in broken English if he had
papers to be at her house. The officer asked her to wait outside
the yard. Teresa asked the officer again if he had papers permitting
him to be at her house. Again the officer didn't answer her question.
Instead, the officer said, "You're under arrest". Teresa says
she then asked the officer again if the officer had permission
to be at her house. Teresa said that without any other provocation
the officer grabbed her and pushed her back against a fence and
an exercise machine. Then the officer reached over, pulled her
back toward him and threw her against the fence and equipment
again, this time kicking her as she landed against the fence.
Then the officer again reached over, again pulled her back toward
him, and again threw her against the fence and equipment. This
time, Teresa says she fell to the ground, whereupon the officer
bent down and grabbed her arm and twisted it until Teresa was
in unbearable pain, at which point a female officer on the scene
yelled, "Stop, stop", to the male officer.
According to Teresa,
the male officer then picked her up, and handed her over to the
female officer. The female officer then transported Teresa to
the hospital where she was treated for injuries. At our office
(the day after) we could see large multiple bruises and abrasions
extending from Teresa's shoulders, all the way down her back and
on her buttocks. There were cuts and contusions on her elbow and
hands and one arm was in a sling.
did not want to make any kind of report to Santa Rosa Police.
So we went to the DA's office. At the DA's office, a DA investigator
argued with us for over an hour saying that Teresa had to go to
Santa Rosa Police to make an administrative report. When it finally
became clear that Teresa was not going to Santa Rosa Police and
that we knew that the DA's office had the authority to take the
criminal report, the investigator took a preliminary statement
and took pictures of the injuries. However, the DA's office did
not officially open a case.
It was only after two
more weeks of dancing around that the DA's office arranged for
the evidence to be sent to the State Attorney General's Office.
As of the date of this writing, now more than a month later, though
an AG prosecutor has been assigned to the situation, there is
still no investigator assigned to the case, Teresa still has not
given a formal statement, no date has been set to get her statement,
and no case has been opened. At the time of this writing, we have
been informed that SRPD Chief Dunbaugh is communicating with the
AG's office in regard to this situation. Since the events of this
case in no way involve the chief, we fear that the chief is interfering
by attempting to forestall the AG's a criminal investigation of
this case so as to give SRPD internal affairs time to do an administrative
whitewash. The victim did not want to make an administrative complaint,
nor any complaint to SRPD.
In this case, we ask
that the Santa Rosa City Council immediately inform Chief Dunbaugh
that he must not in any way attempt to forestall, obstruct, or
influence the progress of the Attorney General's investigation,
and in addition, we ask that you urge the California Attorney
General's Office to proceed with their investigation.
In addition to our
grave concerns about the allegations of police brutality in this
case, we are also concerned that in reality there is no mechanism
by which a citizen can make a criminal report against a police
officer. Officially, the DA's office has the authority to take
citizen's reports of criminal behavior by police officers. However,
judging from our experience, there is no way an average citizen
could get through the barrage of misinformation, resistence, and
obstacles put in our way as the DA's office attempted to convince
us that they couldn't take a report and that Teresa's only option
was to file an administrative complaint with SRPD.
Unless we naively assume
that police officers never engage in violent criminal behavior,
it is urgent that Sonoma county secure a viable mechanism by which
citizens can file timely criminal complaints when they are criminally
wronged by officers.
#5, Not Even for Court Officials
Sonoma County Family Court Mediator became concerned about a woman
appearing at the courthouse on a domestic violence case seeking
to have a Temporary Restraining Order made permanent. The Spanish-
speaking woman had filed a declaration regarding the domestic
violence she had experienced at the hands of her children's father.
The mediator, in reviewing the status of any criminal proceedings
resulting from the incident, could find no evidence that a police
report had even been made. After speaking with the family law
judge, the mediator was instructed to make a police report. She
called SRPD from the judge's chambers to ask for an officer to
be sent to the court to make the report.
The responding officer
seemed to the mediator to be reluctant to get involved or take
a report. The officer suggested to the mediator that some people
just try to get the police involved to influence the outcome of
a family law case. The mediator had to respond to the officer's
concern that she, the mediator, was the attorney representing
the woman in this case, which the mediator was not. After taking
the report, the officer told the mediator that the woman was confused
about the dates specific incidents took place. The mediator referred
the case to Women's Justice Center because she was uncomfortable
about whether the case was being taken seriously, and wanted to
be sure the woman had the benefit of discussing the case with
someone who spoke Spanish, which the mediator did not.
#6, In Contempt of Women
a mother of two young children called SRPD to report that a male
roommate was threatening to have her beat up and threatening to
kill her dog. The man had moved in a few months before and his
abusiveness had escalated to the point where Nancy had her two
children sleeping with her at night for fear of leaving them alone.
Sandy, Nancy's other roommate, was also fearful of Jack. When
Jack had moved in , the women didn't know that Jack had just gotten
out of prison after serving time on a charge of assault with a
The first time Nancy
called police a few weeks before, police never arrived. The dispatcher
had said officers were busy with a lot of violence. This second
time calling the police, Nancy told the dispatcher that this time
she needed a report taken. A half hour later when police hadn't
arrived, Nancy called again.
When police finally
arrived, Nancy says the officer encountered Jack out in front
and talked outside with Jack for about ten minutes. Then the officer
and Jack came in the house together. The officer proceeded to
ask Nancy what was wrong with seemingly no sensitivity to the
difficulty she might have speaking with Jack standing right there.
Nancy told the officer anyway that Jack was threatening her and
her dog. Nancy says Jack immediately began to yell accusations
at her. Nancy says that from then on she could hardly get a word
In the midst of this,
Nancy's other roommate, Sandy, walked into the room. Both women's
accounts concur as to what happened next. They said the officer
told them that we (police) don't take reports for threats. The
officer told the women that unless someone's holding a weapon
and coming at you there's no crime. The officer told the women
it's not a crime to make threats in California and that he (Jack)
can threaten you all he wants. The officer said this in the presence
of Jack. According to the women, the officer didn't write any
notes while there.
Both women, in separate
conversations with us, described the officer's response as laughing
at the women and their complaint. At one point Jack said, "You
women make me sick", and the officer laughed.
the officer left, the women had the presence of mind to call the
parole board whose agents arrested Jack as soon as they heard
the women's story.
#7, "Like I Was Calling About a Cat Up a Tree"
received a call from a frantic English speaking woman who said
she had called 911 early in the morning. The woman said she told
the 911 operator that her husband would not relinquish the baby
to her, that she was trying to leave the home, that she had full
physical custody of the baby, and that her husband had just been
convicted of two counts of domestic violence the day before, and
that she wanted her baby.
The woman told us that
the 911 operator told her that `since you live in the home, it's
a squabble'. The woman asked the 911 operator what she recommended.
The woman said the 911 operator told her that she `should go back
and talk it out with him'.
The woman said to us
that "the attitude of the 911 operator was like she (the operator)
was on a coffee break and I was calling about a cat up a tree".
The woman told us that
she had hidden the baby car seat and other baby things out in
the back. And since the police wouldn't help she was afraid she
was going to have to plan a way to steal the baby back herself.
We called Sgt. Schwedhelm
who said he would contact the woman. After talking to the woman,
Sgt. Schwedhelm then assigned two officers to get her baby back
into her custody.
Please keep in mind
that these are just some of the problem cases we have had with
Santa Rosa Police in just the last four months. And that we have
been receiving such complaints at the same rate for more than
a year and a half. Though we have cases that have been handled
very well by Santa Rosa Police, the solid majority of violence
against women cases we have seen from this department in the last
year and a half have been handled poorly.
As we said to Commander
Swanson in a recent conversation, Santa Rosa Police used to set
the standard in Sonoma County for handling crimes against women
and children. Something very serious has gone awry. The overall
department response to violence against women has deteriorated
badly and dangerously. Most disturbingly, there seems to be no
way to get the department to take the complaints seriously and
make the urgently needed changes.
On one occasion, I
accompanied a Spanish-speaking victim who wanted to make a formal
complaint against the two SRPD officers who handled her domestic
violence call. The sargeant we met with used me for a translator
and after the woman was done telling her whole story, the sargeant
said she would have to come back the next day so he could tape
the complaint with a neutral translator.
Though both the victim
and I felt this was a delaying tactic in hopes the victim wouldn't
return, we both returned the next morning at the given time. This
meeting which we had been made to believe was for the purpose
of getting the women's taped complaint through a neutral translator,
was instead an ambush. When we arrived, the officer against whom
the woman was making the complaint was present at the meeting,
and I was used as the translator. And every time the woman would
begin to tell the story as she experienced it, the officer against
whom she was making the complaint would pipe in and argue against
her statement. When we attempted to give the sargeants present
the name and phone number of a very credible bilingual witness
who had heard and seen the entire incident in question, the sargeants
would neither take, nor write down, any of the witness information.
I'm certain this woman,
who is a highly successful business woman in Santa Rosa, would
be more than willing to give you her first hand evaluation of
the complaint process at Santa Rosa Police Department.
The dangers of this
deterioration in police response are obvious. What is more difficult
to convey is the profound and long term civic despair that results
in individuals and throughout the community when people's life's
emergencies are scoffed at by authorities. We need to start now
to establish an independent check on police exercise of their
authority in Santa Rosa.
We hope that this letter
communicates to you the degree of our concern and frustration
and the urgent need for you to act now on behalf of the entire
Santa Rosa community. We look forward to working with you towards
finding a solution.
Thank you for your
Marie De Santis