Purple Berets


Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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María Teresa Macias Case:
Legal History

October 1996: Macias Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed.
The $15 million federal civil rights case of Estate of María Teresa Macias vs. Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde (Case No. C 96 3658 SI) claims that the Sheriff's Department repeatedly denied María Teresa Macias' constitutional right to equal protection in its response to Teresa's more than 20 calls for help before she was finally murdered by her physically and sexually violent husband. The suit claims that the Sheriff's Department discriminated against Teresa as a woman, a Latina, and as a victim of violence against women by never once arresting or even citing her husband despite a county mandate to do so, by failing to write reports, failing to investigate, ignoring evidence, and discouraging Teresa from calling.

March 1999: Macias Case Dismissed.
Federal District Court Judge Lowell Jensen dismissed the Macias case siding with Sonoma County Sheriff's Department arguments that police cannot be held responsible for another person's violence. This dismissal was in line with previous legal precedent which has consistently denied women legal remedy when police ignore women's pleas for help with domestic and sexual violence. The Macias family appealed Judge Jensen's dismissal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

July 20, 2000: Unanimous Landmark Appellate Decision Declares Women's Constitutional Right to Non-Discriminatory Police Protection.
In the most unambiguous language to date, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared women's constitutional right to non-discriminatory police protection and provided women a constitutional basis for holding police accountable for inferior police protection. The 9th Circuit Court decision also reversed Judge Jensen's dismissal and remanded the case back to Federal District Court for trial.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial in district court, this overarching, historic decision laid down by the 9th Circuit Court will remain binding law throughout the nine western states and two U.S. territories of the 9th Judicial District.

March 2001: District Court Judge Jensen Recuses Himself from
Macias Case.

Following the 9th Circuit Appellate Court decision when Judge Jensen delayed new action on the case, Macias Attorney Rick Seltzer requested that Jensen recuse himself, citing the judge's overwhelming prejudice against the case. Judge Jensen complied. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston was then chosen by an automatic assignment process to replace Jensen.

June 8 and 11, 2001: Judge Illston Sets Trial Date and Rules in Macias' Favor on Key Case Issues.
In her first set of rulings on the Macias case, Judge Susan Illston set an April 22, 2002 trial date (later postponed to June 17). In addition, she declared that Judge Jensen's earlier ruling that police can't be held responsible for Macias' murder is null and void. Illston also ruled that the Macias family can ask money damages for Teresa's pain and suffering before her death resulting from Sheriff's denial of equal protection.

Taken together, Judge Illston's June 11th rulings open the door to the possible finding that Sonoma County Sheriff's conduct was, indeed, a significant cause of the murder of María Teresa Macias. The second part of her ruling opens legal and financial remedy to all victims of violence against women who receive inferior police response, even if it didn't end in murder. These women, too, can hold police accountable for denying their constitutional rights.

March 13, 2002: Judge Illston Denies Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Case on Summary Judgment.
Sweeping away the final pre-trial hurdle, Judge Illston ruled against motions to dismiss the case filed by the County of Sonoma and by ex-Deputy Mark Lopez, an individually named defendant.

June 17, 2002: Macias Trial Begins.

(Compiled by Marie De Santis, Women's Justice Center.)


© Marie De Santis
Women's Justice Center
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