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Letters to Authorities

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SRPD Still Discriminating Against Women and Latinas, July 2001

Date: July 10, 2001

Chief Michael Dunbaugh
Santa Rosa Police Department
Santa Rosa, CA

Chief Michael Dunbaugh,

In the last fourteen months we have brought you close to thirty complaints from victims of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse who were deeply disturbed by the treatment they got from the Santa Rosa Police officers who responded to their calls for help. In the year and a half prior we brought dozens more such complaints to the attention of your ranking officers. Here's another complaint.

In this case we are writing with the mother and aunt of a Latina victim of child sex abuse to express our concerns about the responses of two Santa Rosa police officers. The case was reported to SRPD in early June.

In brief, according to both the victim's mother and aunt as told to me in separate conversations, responding officer Akin repeatedly told the family this case was not a priority, repeatedly implied it wasn't criminal, lectured the child victim about her behavior, verbally defended the perpetrator, didn't take basic evidence seriously, and misinformed the family about basic criminal justice matters.

At a later date, according to the girl's mother, Sgt. Schwedhelm misinformed the mother about her rights in an attempt to dissuade her from exercising those rights, and he tried to dissuade the mother from using Women's Justice Center as their advocates in this case.

In early June, the mother of the 16 year old victim called Santa Rosa Police to report that an adult male (approximately 25 years of age) was coming to her daughter's school, taking the girl out of school, and having sex with her.

When officer Akin responded to the home, the victim, the victim's mother, and the victim's aunt were present. Following that response the victim's mother and the victim's aunt talked to me separately. Both were deeply distraught, and in fact shocked, by the officer's response to the call. The accounts given to me separately by the aunt and by the mother were identical. Both women are professionals in the community.

According to both the girl's mother and aunt, responding officer Mike Aiken repeatedly said things that indicated the case wouldn't be taken very seriously. In fact, Aiken said so in as many words with comments such as, "This case is not a priority on the list." He said these things in front of the victim. Additionally, when Officer Aiken was leaving, he said to the mother (who was alone for a moment), "This case is not a priority. There's a lot of labor migrants in Sonoma County and a lot of domestic violence. Your case is not a priority."

As told to me, Officer Akin also said a number of things in front of the victim, the mother, and the aunt indicating that this case was no big deal and hardly criminal. Aiken said twice, on the first response in front of the victim, and again the next day, "I'm not going to throw dirt on this guy, because I don't know him.", treating the family's report as if it were mere gossip. Akin also said, "It isn't a crime for him to pull her out of school." And when the mother tried to describe the hand print type marks she had noticed on her daughter's body, Akin didn't take notes, he argued with the mother, and said, "Oh, it could have been anything." In describing this, the girl's mother said to me, "It was like he was trying to get it over with and get back to his real work."

What was most disturbing to both the girl's mother and aunt was the way Officer Akin treated the girl and the things he said to the girl. According to both women, Akin told the girl, "You've made a mistake. Maybe you don't regret it now but you will in the future."

Akin also told the girl, "If this guy loves you so much, why doesn't he wait two years. I waited two years for my wife until she was 18." And Akin said to the girl, "If you're pregnant, this is someone you're going to have to deal with the rest of your life."

The girl's mother said to me, "He (Akin) was giving my daughter totally the wrong message, like she did something wrong." In a separate conversation, the girl's aunt said to me, "He (Akin) was treating this like it was consensual and he was lecturing the victim. He was treating her like it was the girl's fault."

In addition, both women were very disturbed that Officer Akin didn't take notes, other than basic names and addresses. And when the women asked for a protective order, Akin told them that you can only give an EPO for domestic violence, and then changed his explanation the next day.

On the second day, when I talked with officer Akin he told me they couldn't issue an EPO because they didn't know who the suspect was (not true, the mother had given the officer the suspect's name the night before), Aiken then told me they didn't know how to contact the suspect, (not true, the mother had given the officer the suspect's telephone number and hangout location the night before), officer Aiken then told me that in order to serve the EPO police always have to get a statement from the suspect. (Not true). Though there are reasons for and against getting an EPO in this kind of case, Aiken was willing to throw out complete fabrications to prove it couldn't be done.

About a week after the initial report when the family hadn't received any follow-up call from police, the mother asked me to call and find out if a detective had been assigned to the case and, if so, to find out the name of the detective. When I called the sex crimes unit, I was told by a detective that she couldn't find the case. Following that call, my messages weren't returned for the next two days. The day following that, I was told by the same detective that since this was a child abuse case, that all information was confidential, and, as such, they could not tell me the name of the detective assigned to the case. Despite the fact that I had already communicated with Schwedhelm on the case, Sgt. Schwedhelm then told me that he would require a phone call from the mother before telling me the name of the detective assigned to the case.

The mother immediately made the call. According to the mother, when she made that call to Sgt. Schwedhelm and requested that Women's Justice Center be the advocate on the case, Sgt. Swedhelm told the mother that since this was a child abuse case, they (the police) couldn't give out any information on the case to Women's Justice Center. The mother argued with Schwedhelm that since she was the girl's mother she certainly had the right to say who was the advocate on the case and who could have information on the case. According to the mother, Sgt. Schwedhelm continued at length to try to convince the mother that the detectives couldn't work with me, Marie De Santis or Women's Justice Center.

When the girl's mother related this conversation to me she was furious with the treatment she received from Sgt. Swedhelm and SRPD, and she was incensed that instead helping her daughter, SRPD was delivering her family one insult after the other.

Signed by:
Marie De Santis, Director
Victim's Mother
Victim's Aunt

cc: Santa Rosa City Council (redacted)
Community Members (redacted)

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,

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