Purple Berets


Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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The Macias Trial:
Women's History in the Making

"If I die, I don't want other women to suffer as I have suffered;
I want them to be listened to."

— María Teresa Macias

In the most important women's rights case in the country, María Teresa Macias v. Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde, federal district court Judge Susan Illston on March 13th denied the County of Sonoma's request to have the $15 million civil rights lawsuit dismissed on summary judgment.

With that ruling, Judge Illston swept away the final hurdle — a hurdle that nearly every domestic violence civil rights case fails to clear — and this landmark case will go to trial in federal court in San Francisco on June 17th.

This is a great victory for women and domestic violence victims everywhere, as the Macias case breaks new ground with every court appearance. A July 20, 2000 ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has already established in the clearest language ever that women have the right to hold law enforcement legally accountable for their response to violence against women.

That ruling, which sent the case back to the district court for trial, is already being used by other domestic violence lawsuits all over the West. A trial victory will have even more far-reaching effects on women everywhere, and will likely become the law of the land.

We've come to know that the number one reason for domestic violence homicide is law enforcement's refusal to enforce the laws protecting women from abuse by their partners and ex-partners. Until now, women have had no legal recourse.

A victory in the Macias case will put law enforcement all over the country on notice that failing to provide effective law enforcement to victims of domestic violence is a violation of the constitution and will cost them millions – a fact that likely will save thousands of women's lives.

Maria Teresa MaciasMaría Teresa Macias was shot to death by her estranged husband, Avelino, on April 15, 1996, after the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department ignored Teresa's more than 25 calls for help. Avelino also shot Teresa's mother, Sara Hernandez, before turning the gun on himself.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed on behalf of Teresa's children, came out of the month-long investigation into Teresa's murder by Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets and Marie De Santis, Women's Justice Center. Focusing on Teresa's many contacts with law enforcement, that investigation showed a 2-year pattern of deputies' failure to investigate, make arrests, write reports or in any way protect Teresa from Avelino's escalating violence, sexual assaults, stalking, and threats to kill Teresa and her mother.

Not long before the murder, Teresa and a neighbor, Marty Cabello, went into the sheriff's substation to report the latest of Avelino's many violations of the domestic violence restraining order Teresa had obtained.

"I told them, ‘He's gonna kill her. He's saying he's gonna kill her and then he's gonna kill his mother-in-law. You've got to do something,'" Cabello told us. No action was taken by the Sheriff.

The lawsuit states that the Sheriff's deputies' behavior emboldened Avelino, increasing the risk to Teresa and her three children and leaving Avelino free to hunt her down and kill her, all this in violation of California state law and county policy.

We ask you to support what is by far the most important women's rights case in the country and be a witness to women's history in the making.

  • Make plans now to attend the trial beginning June 17th in federal court in San Francisco, 450 Golden Gate at Polk - 17th Floor, courtroom 4. The trial is slated to last three to four weeks and will run Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The final pre-trial hearing will take place on at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4th. That too will be open to the public.

    It's crucial that Judge Illston see this case is being widely watched. Your presence can literally help to change the world. Please come pack the courtroom.

  • Support the Purple Berets.We'll be putting hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars into this case. We need you to volunteer your time and to donate money to make it all possible.

  • Help to spread the word of the trial to other women's and civil rights groups in the Bay Area. The higher the profile of the case, the more law enforcement will be forced to pay attention to women's right to non-discriminatory law enforcement.

To download a flyer about the trial, click here

For more on the Macias case, contact Purple Berets at:
PO Box 3064, Santa Rosa, CA 95402, (707) 887-0262

(For the full story on the Macias case, click here)

May 2002


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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Copyright © 2001 Purple Berets

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