Purple Berets


Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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Attorney General Joins Purple Berets!Attorney General Dan Lungren

When the long-awaited report from California Attorney General Dan Lungren came out in late September, 1996, one thing was conspicuously missing: any investigation of the Sonoma County Sheriffs Department's handling of the Teresa Macias case. (It was Teresa's April murder at her husband's hand that sparked the investigation.) Since May, Sheriff Mark lhde has been deflecting public inquiry into the Macias case by hiding behind his promise of an investigation by the Attorney General, all the while knowing that no such investigation was forthcoming. In fact, the sheriff never requested it.

Still, what Lungren's office did investigate (county policies and procedures for handling domestic violence cases) led them to recommend many of the same changes that local women's groups have been demanding for years. The Attorney General has added his voice to ours in calling for:

  • Law enforcement should correct "the practice of trying to discourage victims from filing complaints. We've been complaining of their constant efforts to dump these cases for years.

  • Add more victim services in the DA's office. As it is now, the county's only victim/witness advocate has been banned from domestic violence cases. The domestic violence counselor (who does no advocacy; only counseling) limits most of her services to victims in felony cases. The vast majority of the needs of victims, especially those whose cases are charged as misdemeanor, are not being met at all by the District Attorney's office staff.

  • Improve handling of misdemeanor domestic violence cases. Counties that have made real progress in ending domestic violence agree that their success is due to vigorously prosecuting it at the misdemeanor level, getting the message across early on that it's criminal behavior that will be harshly punished. By contrast, Sonoma County's courts often operate more like a revolving door in misdemeanor cases. Not surprisingly, the violence only escalates when batterers see how easily they can get away with it. The AG seems to want that to stop. We certainly do.

  • Provide qualified Spanish-speaking personnel at the various critical stages of domestic violence cases. This was one of the demands of the Equal Justice for Women & Children Petition, sponsored by the Purple Berets and other groups in 1993.

  • Maintain and report uniform statistical information on domestic violence cases. This too was a provision of the petition. DA Mike Mullins defied the California Public Records Act and threats to sue just to keep us from tracking his handling of these crimes.

  • Form a county Coordinating Council on Domestic Violence. The Task Force on Violence Against Women was in the process of doing this when task force leadership halted the process rather than include the county's only victim witness advocate and a representative of women's rights groups on the council.

  • When a decision is made not to prosecute a domestic violence case, deputy district attorneys should provide specific reasons for dropping the case. All filing decisions should be reviewed by a supervisor. This was also called for in the Equal Justice for Women Petition.

  • Periodic domestic violence training should be mandated for all deputy DA's. The AG recommends specifically that training on "signs of potential for future lethal acts" be included.

  • Train all law enforcement agencies on the "primary aggressor" provision of domestic violence policy. This is to stop the practice of arresting women victims in domestic violence cases if the perpetrator has an injury. We've had personal reports of five women jailed in just the last few weeks. This is sheer retaliation, and must stop.

In addition, the Attorney General investigators came up with some ideas of their own:

  • Sheriff's deputies need to leam how to write crime reports.

  • In what we call the 'Mark Lopez proviso', "Law enforcement should consider adopting a policy which precludes personnel who have been the subject of domestic violence complaints which have been found to be valid from handling such complaints." In other words, cops with a history of stalking or spousal abuse should not be sent to investigate these crimes. Duh!

  • The courts should consider ending family mediation in dissolution cases where there has been domestic violence.

  • Protective order materials given to the court should be provided to law enforcement, including the prosecutor. This would mean that police and the DA would be made aware of criminal acts included in restraining order applications. Presumably they would then conduct criminal investigations.

  • Domestic violence training for all judges and courtroom personnel, including family court mediators.

With all of this, the truth is the Attorney General's report doesn't even touch on the real cause of Teresa Macias' death: law enforcement's complete lack of will to treat domestic violence as a serious violent crime. Still, implementing the AG's recommendations would be a big step in the right direction.


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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