"Instead of Helping
Me . . ."
Marie De Santis, Women's Justice Center
a year before she was murdered by her husband Avelino, Maria Teresa
Macias pursued every possible avenue to escape his years of violence
against herself and their three children. She reported to Child
Protective Services, obtained restraining orders, cooperated with
investigators, attended counseling, brought her mother in from
Mexico and her sister from Ireland, and tirelessly reported new
incidents to authorities, verbally and in writing. In just the
last three months of her life, between January and April 1996,
Teresa and witnesses reported Avelino's crimes against her to
the Sheriff's Department on at least 18 different occasions.
the help of friends, professionals, battered women's groups, churches,
and Latino organizations, she stayed at shelters, studied English,
got help to translate for police, meticulously documented, spoke
publicly about the abuse, and reached constantly for two goals:
to live in peace with her children, and to help other women who
find themselves victims of abusive men.
to be free of Avelino's violence was relentless. And it was doomed.
The help she reached for failed her at every turn. After Child
Protective Services took her children because she was unable to
keep Avelino away from them, Teresa made a comment to her mother
that seemed to describe the efforts of her entire last year. "Instead
of helping me," Teresa told her mother, "they sank me even more."
On April 15,
four days before she was going to take the final step of fleeing
north with her kids. Avelino lay in wait at the Sonoma house she
and her mother were due to clean. Avelino ended Teresa's life
with a bullet to the head, shot her mother through the legs, and
then turned the gun on himself.
In the last
couple weeks of her life, Teresa had become enveloped by an ominous
sense that Avelino would indeed succeed in his threats to kill
her. If he did, she told her mother she wanted the story told.
"If I die, I don't want other women to suffer what I am suffering,"
she said, "I want them to be listened to." It's with the same
hope that we present the following facts and questions as we know
them to date.
know Teresa before her death. The following information is gathered
from court documents, interviews with eyewitnesses, interviews
with her family and close friends, and from the extensive documentation
and diary left by Teresa herself.
On March 31, 1995, Maria Teresa Macias reported in writing to
Child Protective Services (CPS) that her husband Avelino had physically
and sexually assaulted her and their children for the last decade.
In both her report to CPS and in the statements she attached to
her temporary restraining order application that same week, Teresa
made clear she was an eyewitness to many of the physical and sexual
assaults against her children. After receiving the report, CPS
told Teresa that if she didn't keep the children from Avelino,
they would intervene and take the kids.
The Sheriff's Department was responsible for the criminal investigation
in this case. A year later, the District Attorney's computer has
no record that the results of a Sheriff's investigation into the
child abuse had been logged into the District Attorney's office.
Did the Sheriff's Department do a complete criminal investigation?
Or did they yield to a less formal response of counseling and
social work to deal with these grievous criminal allegations of
violence and sexual assault?
And in 1994,
when Teresa called the Sheriff to her home following a beating
Avelino had given their son, did the Sheriff take any action then?
There is no indication in the DA computer that the results of
this case were sent to the DA's office either, despite there being
another adult witness present during the incident.
It is known
that in the last three months of her life, between January and
April of 1996, Teresa and other witnesses called the Sheriff or
went directly to the substation on at least 18 different occasions
to report Avelino's ongoing violations. On these occasions, Avelino
was never once arrested, cited, or charged. Yet on each of these
occasions Teresa and/or the witnesses reported an array of criminal
acts by Avelino against Teresa including but not limited to: daily
stalking, forced entry into her home, threats to kill, false imprisonment,
violations of restraining orders, telephone harassment, trespass
at her places of work and more. The Sheriff was told, "Do something
-- he's going to kill her! He's told me he's going to kill her!"
Following her initial report to CPS (March 1995) Teresa went into
a battered women's shelter with her children, and when Avelino
found her there she transferred to another shelter. Though she
had been content at the first shelter, she was very uncomfortable
with conditions at the second. Teresa made a phone call to a long
time friend. She told her friend how unhappy she was staying at
the second shelter. The friend told Teresa that that wasn't a
problem, that Avelino had completely moved out of their home in
Agua Caliente, and Teresa could feel free to move back there with
Soon after Teresa moved back to her Agua Caliente home, Avelino
pushed his way back in. His violence and threats resumed. He threatened
against her going to police or going to court to renew the restraining
order. But according to all accounts, what made Teresa most fearful
of going to authorities at this time was the CPS threat to take
the kids if Teresa couldn't keep Avelino away.
Teresa was tormented by this dilemma. She talked at length with
her friend trying to weigh out the dangers and benefits of going
to authorities at this time. On June 8, 1995, CPS did come in
and take the kids. Those close to Teresa all say she was devastated
by the loss. On June 16, Teresa recanted everything, apparently
in hopes of getting the state to return her kids.
On the day of the court hearing that followed the removal of the
kids, her friend translated the CPS report to Avelino. "There
was not one thing in that report that was negative about Teresa",
says her friend, "except the fact that Teresa couldn't keep Avelino
away from the kids." Teresa had gone to CPS seeking protection
for the kids from Avelino, and CPS had turned the full burden
and responsibility of protection back on her. "Instead of helping
me," Teresa told her mother, "they sank me even more."
early summer of 1995, in addition to suffering the loss of her
children, Avelino was reasserting his control with a vengeance.
Teresa became a prisoner in her own home. Desperate from her worsening
situation, Teresa called in her mother from Mexico and her sister
from Ireland. They arrived in August. Where the Sheriff and CPS
had failed in getting Avelino out, together the mother, sister,
and Teresa succeeded. In September 1995, they threw Avelino out
of the house. But still they were unable to get him out of Teresa's
More than anything, Teresa wanted her children back. The steps
laid out by the county to do so were confusing to all who tried
to help her. By all accounts, both Teresa and Avelino became entangled
in conflicting and changing treatment objectives put forth by
an array of counselors and social workers. One would be working
toward protecting the kids from Avelino while another was working
toward family reunification.
On January 15, 1996, Teresa obtained another temporary restraining
order. In her application Teresa recounts Avelino's ongoing threats
to kill, threats to keep her from ever seeing the children again,
and ongoing incidents of Avelino's forcing her to have sex against
her will. On February 15, Teresa went to court and had the restraining
order made permanent.
During the time the restraining orders were in effect, in the
three months before Avelino killed Teresa, his threats and an
array of assaults continued on nearly a daily basis. Avelino followed
her everywhere, he forced entry into her home, pounded on doors,
blocked her car with his car, caused her to lose job after job
because he stalked her at work, violated the restraining order
numerous times a day, and never ceased with his threats to kill
both Teresa and her mother. Though she reported all this to the
Sheriff, it appears the one crime she didn't report directly was
the ongoing rapes.
Between January 15, 1996 and her death on April 15, there were
at least 18 calls made to the Sheriff to report Avelino's crimes
against Teresa. In addition to Teresa, there were a number of
adult witnesses to nearly all these incidents. These adult witnesses
were not only willing to help, they themselves frequently went
to or called the Sonoma Valley Sheriffs. In addition, Teresa would
deliver her own handwritten accounts documenting events to the
In one typical
incident, on January 23 Avelino had blocked Teresa's car into
a parking space with his car making it impossible for her to get
out. Teresa asked her friend to call the Sheriff. When the deputy
arrived, Teresa showed the deputy Avelino's car blocking hers
in a way clearly meant to prevent her exit, and she also showed
the deputy a copy of the restraining order. The deputy told Avelino
to move his car. Avelino told the Sheriff he would do it and the
deputy left. But Avelino didn't move his car. Within the hour,
Teresa and her friend had to call the Sheriff again. This time
the responding deputy yelled at Avelino, and told him he had to
move the car or go to jail. The Sheriff waited for Avelino to
move the car, waited for Teresa to leave, and then the Sheriff
By all accounts of every witness and everyone who called the Sheriff
in the last three months and was present when the deputies arrived,
the Sheriff's deputies would sometimes scribble a few notes, sometimes
read the restraining order (which contained her statements of
ongoing rapes), only once actually sat down to talk with Teresa,
never arrested, cited, or charged Avelino, and almost always gave
another excuse as to why they couldn't do anything. Sheriff's
deputies said they had to catch him in the act, but many times
they did catch him in the act. Then they would say Teresa had
to put everything in writing, and when she did. the next excuse
would be, "Well, how do we know he wasn't just following your
car by chance?" This despite the fact that for virtually all events
there were adult witnesses present and willing to verify.
the deputies would end the contact by saying, "We'll talk to him."
According to those who were present when the deputies would talk
to Avelino, the deputies told him the same thing every time, "You
do it again, and you're going to jail."
There were only two occasions that a Sheriff's report was logged
into the DA's office. First, a Sheriff's report dated January
31 was two paragraphs long and stated that Teresa reported that
Avelino "has been attempting to contact her by telephone and by
coming by her residences." This Sheriff's report contains no dates,
no times, no details, nor any attempt to verify events with the
witness Teresa provided to the deputy at this time.
Sheriff's report dated February 22, as obtained on Public Record
Act request was missing three of six pages. According to the witness
who accompanied Teresa to the Sheriff's substation that night
and who later read the three available pages, there was vital
information missing, including Teresa's and the witness' report
that night of Avelino's threats to kill, their report that Avelino
had followed them in the car to the Sheriff's substation, and
a detailed history they gave to the deputy that night of Avelino's
ongoing stalking and abuse. Also missing from the report was Teresa's
written statement of events that she delivered to the substation
the next day. Whether or not this information is contained in
the missing pages is not known.
Attorney's office declined to file charges on both reports. In
public statements in regard to the second report, the DA's office
claimed they could not file because no restraining order was in
effect. Yet a central event described in the report occurred on
February 14, when the temporary restraining order was both served
and still in effect.
In just the last three months of Teresa's life, with the gravity
and number of Avelino's criminal acts and threats that were reported
to the Sheriff, with all the witnesses willing to help, with Teresa's
clear and constant documentation, the Sheriff could have arrested
Avelino any day of the week, with or without a restraining order.
And they could have picked from any number or combination of charges:
felony stalking (stalking is an automatic felony when the victim
is covered by a restraining order), terrorist threats, vandalism,
breaking and entering, restraining order violation, trespassing,
false imprisonment, and more.
at Teresa for continuously calling the Sheriff, and he laughed
and laughed at the Sheriff. "The Sheriff protects me," he would
scoff to Teresa and her family, "more than they protect you."
According to witnesses, the Sheriff knew about and had investigated
an incident where Avelino had shot a man through the head about
six years ago. The Sheriff had also responded to other incidents
where Avelino had threatened Teresa with gun in hand.