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Maria Teresa Macias - Murdered April 15, 1996

The Murder of
María Teresa Macias

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Federal Appeals Court Reinstates Macias Case

July 20, 2000

In a landmark ruling with sweeping implications for women's constitutional right to law enforcement protection, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday reinstated the case of Marķa Teresa Macias v. Mark Ihde, Sheriff (C-96 03658 DLJ). The ruling overturns federal district judge Lowell Jensen's April, 1999 dismissal of the case, and establishes the landmark precedent that women have the constitutional right to hold law enforcement legally accountable for their response to violence against women.

Marķa Teresa was shot to death by her estranged husband Avelino Macias in the town of Sonoma on April 15, 1996. Avelino then shot and wounded Teresa's mother, Sara Rubio Hernandez, and finally turned the gun on himself.

For more than a year prior to her murder, Marķa Teresa had repeatedly sought help from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department for protection from her husband's years of violence against herself and her three children. In just the last three months of her life, after having obtained a restraining order, Marķa Teresa called the Sheriff's Department for help on at least fourteen occasions. Calls and written reports to law enforcement detailed Avelino's continued stalking, rape, false imprisonment, threats to kill, and harassment, as well as his decade of violence against Marķa Teresa and her children.

The $15 million federal civil rights lawsuit, filed October 9, 1996, alleges that the Sheriff's Department discriminated against Teresa and denied her equal protection of the law by failing to take reports, ignoring evidence, discouraging her from calling, and more. In addition, the Sheriff's Department never arrested Avelino despite ample authority and their own written policy to do so. The lawsuit further alleges that the Sheriff's Department's indifference to Marķa Teresa's plight emboldened Avelino in his escalating pattern of stalking, threats and intimidation and thereby increased the danger to Teresa and her children.

The lawsuit maintains the Sheriff's Department's disregard for Marķa Teresa's obvious endangerment reflected a departmental policy and custom of discrimination against women, against victims of domestic violence, and against Latinos. The suit alleges that this denial of Marķa Teresa's 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law led directly to her murder.

"This victory is of national significance," said Rick Seltzer, attorney for the Macias family. "It notifies law enforcement all across the country that they must take their responsibility to victims of violence against women very seriously."

The 9th Circuit Court ruled Judge Jensen erred when he dismissed the case on summary judgment. The ruling states, "There is a constitutional right ... to have police services administered in a nondiscriminatory manner -- a right that is violated when a state actor denies such protection to disfavored persons."

For the complete text of the ruling, click here.

Tanya Brannan,
Purple Berets Advocacy & Education Project

Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center

Rick Seltzer,
Attorney for the Macias family


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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