Purple Berets


Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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Law Enforcement Lies!
Cutting Through the Disinformation on the
Macias Case

In the months after Teresa Macias' death we watched as Sheriff Mark lhde and District Attorney Mike Mullins spun the official cover-story of lies and obfuscation on the Macias case. Here's the truth behind what you've seen in the papers.

Why Law Enforcement Didn't Act

Sheriff  Mark Ihde
Sheriff Mark Ihde

The Sheriff's Story
1. The Sheriff's office variously reported having only two, then four and finally nine contacts with Teresa Macias in the months before her death. However, our investigation shows that in just the last three months of her life, Teresa called the sheriff and deputies responded at least 22 times that have been documented by witnesses and in Teresa's journal. Yet despite the countywide domestic violence policy that mandates arrest on restraining order violations, Avelino was never arrested or even cited. In fact deputies only bothered to write reports on two occasions.

2. The Sheriff maintains that deputies had no record of the restraining order, or could not confirm that a permanent order had been issued. A witness reports that Teresa delivered a copy to the Sonoma substation soon after her permanent order was issued. Witnesses also state that when deputies responded to Teresa's calls for help, she showed them the restraining order currently in force. If they still were uncertain, a simple call to the court would have clarified the issue.

3. The Sheriff maintains that deputies made no arrest because they never perceived Teresa was in danger. Sheriff's deputies were well aware she was in danger. She repeatedly reported Avelino's constant stalking, breaking into her house, blocking her escape and threats to kill. Not only were these obvious signs of danger, they were serious crimes for which he could and should have been arrested. In one incident not long before the murder Teresa's friend and neighbor, Marty Cabello, went with her to the sheriff s substation. Cabello says she told deputies that things were escalating and that Avelino had told her he was going to kill Teresa. She begged them to do something to protect her friend, but deputies took no action. Besides, Avelino should have been arrested for violation of a restraining order every time he made any contact or came within 100 yards of Teresa, her mother or her children ... period. Those were the terms of the order, and whether or not Teresa was afraid or was being physically abused at that time was immaterial.

4. The Sheriff maintains that Teresa didn't want Avelino arrested. Yet one of the two reports sent up to the D.A. for prosecution states, "Per the request of Maria Macias a copy of this rept. will be forwarded to the D.A.'s Office for review/complaint."

5. Other excuses given early on were that Teresa didn't report one incident until a week later, and that in a second incident Avelino was in his own home when deputies found him, and thus they had no authority to arrest. Both excuses are patently absurd.

The District Attorney's Story
District Attorney Mike Mullins1. Both crime reports sent to the District Attorney for review were rejected for prosecution "in the interest of justice." Internal documents leaked to the press and organizers showed both were rejected for completely specious reasons. In the complaint review form, the D.A. states the January 31st report was rejected because:

  • "party must obtain permanent order" - simply not true. At the time of this incident Teresa's temporary restraining order (TRO) was valid and in force until, February 15.
  • "no corroboration" - in fact the report named a witness who saw Avelino coming by the residence and who answered one of his phone calls to Teresa.
  • "no harassment" - Any violation of the order was enough for prosecution, whether or not Teresa was feeling harassed or afraid.

2. In their complaint review form, the D.A. states the February 22nd crime report was rejected because:

  • "no proof of service" - The first incident covered by this report took place on 2/14/96, when the original TRO was still in effect. There is no controversy over proof of service on the original order. The second incident took place one week after the court hearing at which the permanent order was issued. Because Avelino was present in court at that hearing, no proof of service was necessary.
  • "no copy of order after hearing" - This should not have been reason to reject the case, as the fact of the order could have been easily verified by checking the courtroom minutes.

3. In a press conference on May 29, D.A. Mike Mullins stated he didn't file stalking charges because stalking was not part of the sheriff's complaint. Yet in the supplemental report dated 2/24/96, Sheriffs Deputy Mark Lopez stated, "It is this Deputies (sic) recommendation that the D.A.'s Office possibly consider filing Stocking (sic) charges against [Avelino Macias] after reviewing all the facts." The fact is, stalking when there is a restraining order in force is an automatic felony, punishable by 2, 3, or 4 years in prison. Had the D.A. filed these charges, as he should have, Teresa Macias would probably be alive today.

4. Deputy D.A.'s checked the wrong box on the form.

The Rest of the Story
While the sheriff and district attorney have confined their excuses to the details of the restraining order violations, these were in fact the least of Avelino's crimes against Teresa and her children.

On 3/31/95, Teresa reported to Child Protective Services (CPS) 10 years of Avelino's physical and sexual abuse of the children. As her account detailed felony abuse, the sheriff's department was responsible for the criminal investigation. That investigation was inadequate at best. We do know that both of Teresa's older children corroborated her account. Still, the criminal process was dropped and despite more than sufficient evidence, no charges were filed. As a result, rather than Avelino being incarcerated for abusing the children, Teresa was punished instead when CPS took the kids from her, citing her inability to protect them from Avelino's abuse.

Teresa's April, 1995 request for a restraining order included a copy of the CPS report, as well as a sworn statement detailing Avelino's physical abuse of Teresa herself, including physical beatings and rape. Her January, 1996 restraining order request also included sworn statements as to specific incidents of rape, threats to kill, and abuse of the children. Most times deputies came to the house, they read these restraining order documents.

Among the many crimes reported in the eighteen calls to the sheriff we've been able to document unequivocally were stalking, breaking and entering, false imprisonment, terrorist threats, and more -- any of which could have and should have resulted in arrest and prosecution.

Steps Taken to Correct the Problem
1. The sheriff's internal investigation into their prior contacts with Teresa. After an investigation opened on May 21st and closed only two days later, the Sheriff's Office released a report in which they, "cleared themselves of any wrongdoing," according to the Press Democrat. Asst. Sheriff Gary Zanolini told the press, "I'm very comfortable with what we did given the circumstances."

2. The bogus Attorney General investigation. In a May 25th press release, it was announced that Sheriff Mark lhde, "has requested an independent review by the state attorney general's office into the facts and circumstances surrounding the Macias murder and suicide," as well as into internal domestic violence policies and procedures. However, documents received from the Attorney General reveal that no such investigation was ever requested.

In a June 4th letter to Sheriff lhde, Attorney General Dan Lungren writes, "The copy of the press release which you furnished might be read to suggest that our office would be reviewing the Macias case specifically. As I understand the matter, that is not our role; instead we will be reviewing the general policies for the purpose of ascertaining whether changes might be made to enhance the effectiveness of those policies."

When this letter was released to the press lhde responded, "The letter is not correct. There will be a review of the case." (Press Democrat, 6/18/96.) But in response to our California Public Records Act request for documents concerning the investigation, Senior Assistant Attorney General John Gordnier states unequivocally, "Sheriff lhde did not request an investigation. The sheriff requested, and we are conducting, a review of the policies and procedures related to the handling of domestic violence matters in Sonoma County."

In short, the Attorney General investigation was a sham. But, as Ihde wrote to Lungren, "It appears that this approach has calmed things down."

3. The press conference. On May 29th, a visibly frightened Mark lhde and D.A. Mike Mullins, looking haggard and depressed, presented the Bay Area press with the actions they'd taken to prevent what had happened to Teresa from ever happening again. Touted by the press in headlines like "Sonoma County Adopts New Domestic Abuse Policy," the steps they announced then and in recent weeks, are an insult the public's intelligence. They include:

  • Bumper stickers on all sheriff's department cars. Besides the obvious absurdity of the bumper sticker solution, in fact the stickers had already been on sheriff s cars for months and were probably on the cars of deputies who responded to Teresa's many calls for help.
  • Ten cell phones, as if Teresa's death stemmed from not being able to call 911, rather than from deputies' complete unwillingness to act once they responded to her repeated calls for help.
  • A computerized system for all domestic violence restraining orders, to be implemented by July 1st. Far from resulting from Teresa's murder, this system is mandated by the California Penal Code, and by law must be up and running by July 1st. For the sheriff to pretend this resulted from the Macias case is loathsome.
  • A blue ribbon panel to review the Attorney General's findings, to be chaired by and to include many of the same people who, on the county's Task Force on Violence Against Women, stifled every proposal for real accountability on the part of public officials, and then voted to disband the task force rather than include the county's only victim/witness advocate and grassroots women's rights groups.
  • Remedial paperwork training for all deputy district attorneys, the D.A.'s only tangible proposal for immediate action by his office.
  • Grants received for the sheriff's new domestic violence team are in no way a response to the Macias case, but were in fact applied for last year.

What Real Change Would Look Like
In all of this, the sheriff and district attorney have not yet even begun to address the core problem: What is going to make deputies care enough to even write an initial report? Far from taking on that task, our public officials are literally playing with women's lives when they try to dazzle us with public relations ploys instead of searching for real solutions. To truly prevent what happened to Teresa from ever happening again, profound changes must be made in the criminal justice system from top to bottom - changes not just in procedures and policies, but in deep-seated attitudes about a woman's right to safety. That will only happen if we all make it happen.


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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