September 13, 2001
Chief Michael Dunbaugh,
Santa Rosa Police
and Santa Rosa City Council Members
Santa Rosa, CA
Chief Michael Dunbaugh
and Santa Rosa City Council Members,
received Chief Dunbaugh's September 5 letter outlining the department's
proposed remedies for preventing future mishandling of domestic
violence calls. We also received the enclosed outline of the planned
four hour domestic violence training for officers, and a September
11 letter re SRPD's proposed establishment of a victim services
We appreciate the department's
extensive work in developing these remedies; the work group meetings
on officer use of the Language Line, the work group developing
the victim survey form, and the detail of the training outline.
We also appreciate the open communication throughout the yearlong
At the same time, though
the proposed remedies should be effective for improving some areas
of the problem, there are other very critical areas of the problems
we feel haven 't been adequately addressed. We outline them below.
In addition, we want
to emphasize that the only real measure of success will be an
end to the flow of serious complaints about the department's handling
of violence against women and children. Despite more than two
years of bringing scores of these complaints to the attention
of the department, we have had more complaints of serious police
misconduct in the last six months than we did in the same time
period last year. The situation remains urgent and alarming. The
overwhelming majority of violence against women cases we see involving
SRPD continue to be mishandled by the department, endangering
the victims and community, and violating the victims' fundamental
constitutional rights to equal protection of the laws.
The gaps we see in
the proposed remedies are as follows:
There should be an immediate Santa Rosa Police Department general
order put in place mandating that in all rape, domestic violence,
and child abuse cases involving non English-speaking parties,
when no fully bilingual officer is available to handle the call
responding officer(s) must use the Language Line for interviewing
the principle parties.
In early June we received
a call from a very frightened monolingual Spanish-speaking victim,
a mother of five children all under the age of 7. She told us
that her husband had not allowed her to leave her home for months,
that he often left her and the children without food or money,
and that he had her convinced that she had no rights. She said
she was living like a prisoner in her home. When we asked if she
had ever called police, she told me that she had called 911 about
three weeks before and that the four SRPD officers that came to
her home didn't speak Spanish, couldn't communicate with her,
couldn't understand her, and never even hinted at providing an
interpreter. She said the officers only spoke with her husband,
who spoke English. She said they laughed with her husband, and
then they left. The officers didn't write a report. When they
left, she said she lost her will to struggle.
This woman's statement
about the effect of that encounter with SRPD is attached.
Chief Dunbaugh has recently validated the complaint to the victim,
the point we wish to make here is that there are a number of things
about this case which indicate great urgency for a general order
immediately mandating officer use of the Language Line. The fact
that this case occurs after two years of bringing such cases to
your attention, after two years of promises that it doesn't and
won't happen, and after memos to officers, work group meetings,
and officer surveys devoted to this same problem, these things
all point alarmingly to the need for an immediate order. In addition,
the fact that this case involved four officers, and not one of
the four officers offered to call the Language Line further underscores
In addition, during
the September 12 meeting devoted to finalizing the development
of a victim quality control interview, Sgt. Schwedhelm head of
the sex crimes/domestic violence unit was asked how these interviews
were going to be carried out with Spanish-speaking victims. Sgt.
Schwedlelm replied, "We're going to pass over them for now," explaining
that it was too difficult to arrange. And despite the fact that
our representative, Stephanie Serra, and a representative of United
Against Sexual Assault continued to press Schwedhelm on the unacceptability
of `passing over' Spanish-speaking victims, Schwedhelm continued
to argue adamantly that there were no resources available to interview
Spanish-speaking victims, apparently completely unaware of the
gross display of blatant discrimination and insensitivity he was
manifesting. YWCA advocate Nadine Reyes argued just as vigorously
to exclude Spanish-speaking victims and together they sealed the
decision for exclusion.
that the primary complaint we have brought to you for more than
two years has been SRPD disregard of Spanish-speaking victims,
Schwedhelm's grating insensitivity is by itself alarm enough to
issue an immediate general order. The widespread and seemingly
impenetrable oblivion of so many in the department to issues of
racism, sexism, and their constitutional obligations to provide
equal protection means that the only way to assure proper police
conduct is to mandate it.
Just as disturbing
is the fact that four officers who responded to the above mentioned
case, sworn to serve and protect, could walk out of that house
where there were five children under the age of seven, relying
completely on the story of the husband, knowing that the woman
had called 911 for help with her husband who was furious, and
having looked at a restraining order (expired) that the woman
had previously obtained against the husband. This indicates not
only a need for an immediate general order mandating use of the
Language Line, it also indicates a need to remedy a much more
deeply rooted problem. The problem is the officers didn't care
enough to find out why the woman wanted help nor care enough about
what might happen to her and her five very young children when
they turned their backs and left. Nor did they bother to write
a report as required by law.
The remedies outlined in the Chief's letter do not address, or
only tangentially address, what the scores of cases show to be
a pervasive and ongoing bias, contempt, and could-care-less attitude
shown by way too many SRPD officers against women, against
Latinas, and against victims of violence against women. The
proposed domestic violence training should be very beneficial
for those officers who respect their duty to treat people equally
and with respect, but procedural training will have little effect
on those officers and staff who feel free to abuse and endanger
the victims out of spite or disregard as has been the problem
in scores of cases we've brought you, and as can be seen in the
case above and the more recent one that follows.
In early July a domestic
violence victim called 911 after the abuser had made a threat
to her friend that he was going to get a shot gun for the victim
and her son. This incident occurred in the wake of SRPD having
bungled two previous incidents in the couple weeks before, one
in which the same perpetrator had strangled the victim and the
other in which the perpetrator had violated an emergency restraining
order. By the time of this new threats incident we had already
lodged complaints to ranking officials of the department on the
very poor handling of the earlier incidents; the failure to take
witness statements in the first, and the failure to write a report
and make a mandated arrest in the second.
Lefwich responded to the threats call. The victim asked the officer
to take a report and Officer Lefwich immediately began telling
the victim he wasn't going to do that. Soon two other adults arrived
who confirmed what happened next. Keep in mind that it's been
more than a decade now that under California law (PC 13730) officers
must write a report on all domestic violence related incidents.
According to the victim
and the two witnesses,
- As the victim repeatedly
begged Officer Lefwich to write a report, Lefwich kept telling
the victim for a good ten minutes that he wasn't going to write
a report giving all manner of excuses, "There's no crime here,"
"What's the point, nobody's going to read the report anyway,"
"There's a lot of paperwork involved,""You want me to write
a report just to appease you?"....When the victim begged him,
"Can't you write just some kind of report, a note, or just something
written," Leftwich said he had "too many other things to do."
- The victim, who
has been living in fear of this perpetrator (who by the way
is wanted in the state of Washington for having skipped out
on his sentencing for sex crimes) and living with frustration
over police bungling, began crying. She put her head down, gave
up, and finally told Leftwich to `forget it'. According to the
victim and witnesses, that's when Leftwich began taunting her.
He reached for her arm and said repeatedly, "Look at me, you
need to look at me and listen to me." Lefwich continued haranguing
the victim about how she needed to understand the law, and how
things worked, and how he wasn't going to write a report.
- According to all,
Lefwich was sarcastic, condescending, and harassing the victim.
One of the witnesses said, "I was amazed. It made me sick."
day or two later when the victim reported this to us, I suggested
she go to the police station to see if a police report had been
written, and to get a copy of the report if there was one. (Domestic
Violence victims have a statutory right to a copy of the report,
(Family Code 6228), a law over which we have wrangled thoroughly
and repeatedly with SRPD since the law's passage two years ago.)
A couple hours after
the victim's call to us, she came into our office visibly shaking
and on the verge of tears. She said that the SRPD staff person
argued with her about getting the report. When the victim insisted
she had a right to the report, the staff person went in back for
a few minutes, returned, and handed the victim a copy of the report
which the staff person had maliciously blacked out with a marker
pen from beginning to end. A copy of that report as handed to
the victim is attached.
This report, though
certainly not the most egregious misconduct we see, is a clear
and visible manifestation of the unchecked hostility and mean
spiritedness that victims of rape and domestic violence have been
encountering for years when they go to Santa Rosa Police for help.
Imagine what that must feel like! Understand that this is not
corrected by training!
As the victim has said
to us repeatedly, "If I treated people on my job the way Santa
Rosa Police treat people, I would be fired on the spot." We wholeheartedly
agree that firing, and not training, is the only remedy for these
kinds of abusiveness to victims.
There is still no effective means, nor any plan for creating an
effective means, by which the average resident of Santa Rosa can
lodge a complaint against their police department and have that
complaint be investigated fairly. We already demonstrated
to you in our January 1 letter how police dodge, deceive, defend,
and dissimulate when responding to victim complaints, and this
even when the complaint is brought by an agency experienced with
these cases. There have only been a handful of the scores of cases
in which we feel the department gave more energy to honest investigating
than they gave to defensive and deceptive spin.
The average citizen
making a complaint does not know the intricacies of the law and
policy, does not know how to investigate, prepare evidence, take
witness statements, scour the public documents, and compile effective
reports on their own complaint, and then combat the inevitable
police denials and deceptions. The average unassisted citizen
doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting their complaint
heard and investigated fairly.
And even though we
are very experienced in these things, we are now more than two
years and over thirty serious complaints into this process with
SRPD, and victims of very serious violent crimes are still being
mistreated by police. The problem still isn't anywhere near resolved.
the task of getting this situation taken seriously in the first
place has strained our organization to the maximum for over two
years. On any one of these cases, we generally have to investigate
that complaint ourselves, gather the documents, do the interviews,
get witness statements, write up the complaint, repair the immense
damage done to an already severely traumatized victim, make herculean
efforts to secure her safety because police have failed to do
so, dog the police to redo the case, organize one form or another
of public visibility, and then rebut the inevitable wall of defenses.
And we haven't even brought you a fraction of the problem cases.
We can't begin to keep up with the proper recording of these abuses.
You are certainly fully
aware that there is no way an average person in Santa Rosa can
get through this process and come out with a just resolution to
their complaint You need to also understand that this is why things
get so extremely bad with police in the first place. Police cover
up complaints, things grow worse, and police cover up more complaints.
And pretty soon you've got the situation you've got now. As we've
said from the very beginning, you must provide an independent
mechanism for handling citizen complaints against police.
4. The SRPD has
wrongly dropped rape and other sex crimes from the agenda.
Police repeatedly refused to keep sex crimes in the discussions
despite our objections and despite the fact that mishandling of
sex crimes has been an integral part of our complaints. Imagine
the degree of difficulties victims encounter when reporting sex
crimes to police. The sad part is that rape victims so despair
of obtaining justice that only one out of six rape victims even
bother to report to police in the first place.
Victim Services must be completely independent of police control.
Today we received Chief Dunbaugh's outline of the department's
proposal to set up a victim services unit. This is the first we
have heard of this plan and we strongly object to this both in
general and in it's particulars.
A proper law enforcement
response is the most important factor in freeing a woman from
violence, in obtaining her safety, and for opening her path to
justice. No other segment of society has the authority or power
to put the perpetrator under control. You can social work these
cases to death, but without proper law enforcement response most
victims will be condemned to remain trapped in the violence.
At the same time,
law enforcement culture is ill-suited and ill-recruited for the
task. Most officers don't like handling these cases, don't want
to do these cases, and victims have no legal means to hold law
enforcement responsible when police don't do these cases. It's
a police culture that hasn't even learned to work on a par with
women, let alone to act on women's behalf. At least 12 female
officers in the last three years have left the department, a department
that has only around 15 female officers at any time out of over
160 officers, and has never had a female of rank.
At this point in time,
vigorous advocacy by victim advocates is the only remedy victims
have for helping her get proper law enforcement protection. That
police are being given more and more control over victim services
is an obvious mockery. It is a profound conflict of interest,
and thoroughly sabotages the ability of advocates to fight for
victims' rights in the criminal justice system.
Sonoma County, police chiefs have had veto power over victims
services' government grants for years, and they have in fact used
this veto power repressively to crush effective victim advocacy
in Sonoma County. The effect has been plain to see. So called
victim advocates have evolved into a doctor-nurse relationship
with police. Making matters worse, advocates in the last few years
now have their offices inside the police department. And now we're
going to have chief Dunbaugh put together a victim services unit?
There are millions
of dollars of government funds flowing into victim services in
Sonoma County. But those who receive them are contractually under
control of police. You must know that you would never have known
about these dangerous deterioration's in SRPD response to women
and children if it were not for the fact that we are completely
independent of police control. And the corrections now being planned
would not have come about. At the very least, the council must
act to keep victim services out of the chief's control.
Thank you for your
|Marie De Santis