Background

The Domestic Violence Policy Committee was appointed by Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde and District Attorney J. Michael Mullins in July 1996 in response to concerns surrounding the murder of Maria Teresa Macias by her husband, Avelino Macias, on April 15, 1996, on a Sonoma street. In addition to shooting and killing his wife, Mr. Macias severely injured Sara Hernandez, Mrs. Macias' mother, prior to taking his own life. Public criticism of the handling of the case by law enforcement and prosecutorial staff and a preliminary investigation by the Sheriff's Department raised substantial questions about broad-ranging systemic deficiencies that may have contributed to an institutional failure to properly identify the lethality of this case.

The committee, with a membership representing a variety of backgrounds and experiences, began meeting in mid-July to formulate a workplan and to review information regarding the Macias case and other information concerning the overall domestic violence intervention and criminal justice system in Sonoma County. The following objectives were formulated to guide the committee's work.

Committee Objectives

Preamble

During the several months of meetings, presentations and readings of documents, and the committee review of the September 1996, Attorney General's Report and the 1994 Domestic Violence Community Task Force Report on Violence Against Women, leading to the writing of this final report, the committee has consistently returned to a central concern: the core values, attitudes and belief systems of the people who are entrusted to keep the peace. These individuals include not only sworn and non-sworn staff of the various law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney staff, but also professional, para-professional and administrative staff of government and community based agencies, local government leadership, school personnel, and the courts.

Although there has been some improvement, it is distressing that many of the recommendations put forward in the 1994 Report by the Community Task Force on Violence Against Women (and repeated again in the Attorney General's Report) have still not been fully implemented at this writing.

Often in our investigation we encountered personal philosophies that adversely impact the systems and the individuals who rely on them for support. This was not only true of public interaction, but also inter-agency interaction as well. "Institutionalized" individual complacency, apathy or lethargy were observed as being deeply ingrained in the system and highly detrimental to the best interests of individuals and the general public. The resulting attitudes, e.g., domestic violence is a personal matter; it's those people again; it's not our job to address that part of the problem; it's so complex; she insists on staying with men who abuse her, become an obstacle to a sense of personal accountability

Thus, in order for the systems to improve, individuals implementing the systems at all levels (front desk/telephone receptionists, department heads, private citizens) must be open to examining the quality of what they contribute to the system on a daily basis. Individuals must become personal stake holders by seeing themselves as individual service centers who value their own roles in routinely producing successful outcomes for people who use the system. They must fully consider the consequences of acting or failing to act, and, therefore, assert individual leadership though they may not be in supervisory positions.

In addition, the system will be well served by individuals who, on their own initiative, continually seek improvement in their own work and the systems in which they work. Individuals must become solution thinking and change making agents, rather than finger pointing, shoulder shrugging naysayers who consciously or unconsciously fail to see opportunities for creating success.

These changes on an individual level must precede any real systemic change that can be hoped or planned for as a result of this Committee's work. Individual resistance to change or reluctance to examine personal responsibility impedes the achievement of the a long-range goal of eliminating violence in our community, particularly violence in families.

Therefore, among all of the recommended actions we present, we feel most strongly about those that establish:
* training and education in domestic violence that goes beyond policy and procedure for all law enforcement, District Attorney, Court and other agency staff and focuses especially on fundamental attitudes and beliefs about domestic violence
* a real accountability for improving our community's response to domestic violence, i.e., a reliable means to critically evaluate and improve performance * community education and prevention activities.
We believe that all of the policy and procedural recommendations in the world will be of little use if there is not an accompanying rethinking of fundamental attitudes and beliefs about domestic violence and the priority we, as a community, assign to eliminating domestic violence.

In putting together this report the Committee struggled with the dilemma of how to provide objective analysis and constructive recommendations in the face of a situation that evokes extreme sorrow and anger. This is not about blame or finger pointing at any one individual or agency. Rather, it is all of us, those involved in the "system" and the public at large who must decide whether we truly care about creating a community that is free from violence.

If I die, I don't want other women to suffer what I am suffering.
I want them to be listened to.
--Maria Teresa Macias (quote from her diary)

Findings, Comments, Recommended Actions

The next section of the report is organized according to twelve major issues:

  1. Attitudes and Values Conflicts
  2. Community Involvement and Advocacy
  3. Training
  4. Accountability
  5. Contact with Law Enforcement
  6. Law Enforcement Personnel and Their Families
  7. Protection of Children
  8. Restraining Orders
  9. Investigation, Prosecution, and Inter-Agency Communication
  10. Processing of Court Cases, Disposition and Follow-up
  11. Prevention and Treatment
  12. Language Translation

For each issue, we discuss our major Findings, our Comments on the Attorney General's Report and Community Task Force Report, and Recommended Actions. For each Recommended Action we have identified the Accountable Party(s) whom we believe has the primary responsibility for taking action.

While we have tried to be comprehensive in our review, there are many areas to which we have given insufficient attention. We encourage an active response to this report. We consider it a living document that can and should be critiqued, modified, and most importantly, acted upon. To facilitate this action orientation, we have also listed our Recommended Actions by Accountable Party in Appendix 1.


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