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Back to In Memory of Haille

Haille's Story - Part 3

Misdemeanor Murder

Do you remember how you felt when you first read that Cloverdale Police refused to respond to Haille's murder-in-progress? Does it make sense to you now? Do you understand how it could happen?

I can't. Though I've turned it around from every angle in my mind, it still doesn't make sense that a Cloverdale Police Sergeant and a dispatcher knowingly turned their backs on a woman being strangled to death.

I think I can explain the numb disconnect from human life that marks decisions made deep in a bureaucracy's den. To remedy that we need vigilant citizen's watch on the criminal justice system's treatment of women, just like our community's array of citizen's groups that monitor the Department of Forestry on behalf of the Redwoods.

I'm even more certain I can explain the hyper-male law enforcement culture that drives the system's mistreatment of women. For fourteen years, I've had a close-up view of the constant flow of half-baked investigations, the disregard for rape and domestic violence victims, the phoney rhetoric, the systematic complicity with the perpetrators, the meaningless processing of cases, and the failures to make much of dent at all.

But I still cannot understand what happened at Cloverdale Police Department on the Sunday afternoon of May 22, 2005.

We do know that the good samaritan Antonio got the urgency of his message across to the Cloverdale police sergeant and the department dispatcher who were there. After these officials made their decision not to respond, they called in the Sonoma County Sheriff to handle the case instead. The Sheriff's dispatcher who took that call typed the following first sentence of what she was being told by Cloverdale Police: (words in parenthesis are ours.)

"1 wma (white male adult) and 1 wfa (white female adult) passanger (sic) in a yellow car possibly a dodge, male driver has a knife and is choking the female..."

Clearly, the Cloverdale Police Sergeant and dispatcher knew they were dealing with as clear a murder-in-progress as it gets.

They knew the woman was in imminent danger of death.

The Cloverdale Sergeant and dispatcher also knew that they were only three minutes away in response time from the location. After all, it was happening right in their own back yard. (When the Sheriff's deputy later called Cloverdale to assist, that's exactly how long it took Cloverdale to arrive - three minutes.) Cloverdale also knew that in all probability it would take a Sheriff's deputy significantly longer than three minutes to get there. And for all they knew, the Sheriff's deputy may have been tied up in another call and not have been available at all.

What possible thought process, then, could have brought Cloverdale to a decision not to respond?

In early August, Cloverdale Police Chief Willis responded in writing to city Council Member Mary Ann Brigham's question on what happened that day. Summarizing the chief's one and a half page response, the chief states that there is no specific policy on how his officers should handle an out of jurisdiction case. The chief says that the decision on what to do was up to the discretion of the individual officer who receives the request. The chief then concludes that his sergeant and dispatcher did not act outside policy.

But the chief's written response only begs the wrenching heart of the question. Given that they had full discretion, how could a police sergeant and dispatcher turn their backs on a woman being strangled to death, knowing full well that by doing so, they could likely be condemning the woman to death?

Could it be that a cloud of contempt for the Spanish-speaking person making the plea muffled the cry for help? We do know that in the year 2000 it took us 6 months of battle to pressure Cloverdale Police to sign onto the Language Line service, a rudimentary step in establishing communication with the town's Latinos who even then made up 25% of the town's population. But though racist disregard may have played a part, the fact is, Antonio's urgency did get communicated, and the core incident involved a white male killing a white female.

Could it have been that the Sgt. and dispatcher knew that the couple in question was Atticus and Haille? It's very possible they did. Atticus' bright yellow car was well known throughout the town. Could their thinking have been, 'Oh, no, not them again, so let him kill her' -as if their repeat problems with Atticus were somehow Haille's fault? But that line of thinking would just repose the question. Even with that distorted thought process, how could they make the decision to let her die? It's just too big of a leap to accept.

Could it be what we hear so much of in the media, a case of officer burnout? That makes no sense. Cloverdale police can hardly claim burnout from too many heavy calls.

Could it be that Cloverdale police saw Atticus and Haille as a 'crank case', just like the deputy who talked to Rhonda? And that the Cloverdale Sgt. and dispatcher embraced the 'Misdemeanor Murder' mentality that plagues so many police? But Haille was never in trouble with police, and had no record of any kind. She was rumored to have used drugs. But could this compute in their minds that it was ok to let her die?

Or was this just the run-of-the-mill police turning away from domestic violence, normalized by habit and sexist attitudes, compounded by all of the above?

In early June, while leaving an interview, the Cloverdale business person called back to me. "Please don't use my name. This is a small town. There's only a small number of police. And I don't want them on my wrong side." And another Cloverdale business person said, "We need to say more about Haille. She shouldn't have died. But I can't get into the police. They're just too close." It was a refrain we heard repeated again and again.

Whatever the exact thought process of Cloverdale Police on May 22, 2005, the decision made by officials who are sworn to protect and serve was inexcusable and intolerable. But if even the most influential people in the community are afraid to keep hold of their rightful reigns on their police, the profound corruption of those in power is not only explainable, it's inevitable it will continue to harm.

In Memory of Haille

Domestic violence isn't an incident of threats or violence, nor even a series of incidents. Domestic violence is more a finely tuned violent regime that slowly but surely locks in all aspects of the victim's life to the service of the perpetrator's will and needs. Every time the victim resists or attempts to assert herself, the perpetrator just adapts and adjusts his controls to fit more perfectly over the contours of the individual victim's life. Over time, these controls can become so finely tuned that the perpetrators often govern everything from the victim's patterns of sleep, to her associations with others, her expressions and communications, to her movements from morning to night, and night to morning.

From the outside it's easy to mistakenly think that the victim has willingly submerged her strengths and personality to mirror the perpetrator's path. But that's only because the changes in the victim are so visible, while the perpetrator's controls are disguised and mostly hidden behind closed doors.

On the afternoon of August 23, in a peaceful Sebastopol countryside, about 300 mostly young people gathered to celebrate Haille's life and to mourn her death. The stories her friends told each other were the first time in a long time that the vibrance, adventure, and loveliness of Haille's spirit was revived and freed from Atticus' grip. Listening to these stories, it was clear how very much Haille had always been her own unique, person; a free spirit who was never meant to fit into anyone's mold.

In High School, Haille didn't just get good grades, she charted her own educational course. And though she didn't finish High School, Haille was literate, poetic, and very well read. Haille didn't have a career path, either. But before being trapped in Atticus' grip, Haille's ability to always find creative, money-making jobs was the envy of her friends. In fact, just days before the murder, a local glass-blower artisan had taken Haille on as a business partner. This successful artisan didn't do this as a favor to Haille. She did it, she says, because Haille's combination of artistic talents and people talents were perfect for the business.

Everyone mentioned how deeply thoughtful and considerate Haille was. But Haille's people skills weren't traditional either. In story after story, people described a mystical spirituality that Haille always braided colorfully and playfully into her friendships. Haille explored the edges and meanings of spirituality in her friendships, like she explored the edges of her arts, her dancing, her travels and travails.

Yet as much as Haille danced on the edges, no one would describe her as living on the fringe. Quite the opposite. If you had to pick just one thing that shined from everyone's story of Haille, it was Haille's wonderful ability to find a way to engage deeply with everyone she met. This big sweet crowd of Haille's young friends was itself a testament to Haille's reach. How many 19-year-olds have touched the hearts of so many?

In the late afternoon light people gathered on the grass in a large circle. Haille's father, Mike, stood in the center and told stories of his daughter's early years. "I will always be proud to be Haille's father," he said through tears.

Many of the lessons of Haille's story are explored in the group discussion questions that follow this text. And so too are the many things you and others can do to help stop this violence. But remembering Haille may be the most important lesson of all. Domestic violence perpetrators can get a hold of anyone, especially of someone who's young, even someone as free spirited and self reliant as Haille. And the victims, however bent off course they may appear in the circumstance, are vibrant human beings who have been crushed under the weight. They need your help to get free.

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


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