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The Senseless Death of Mina Arevalo

On the morning after Thanksgiving, November 29,1996, Northern California was rocked again by domestic violence homicide. Mina Arevalo, 40 years old and the mother of two young teenagers, was shot nine times by her husband Nick, who then committed suicide. Horrifyingly, Mina's 13 year-old daughter discovered her parents' bodies.

Mina ArevaloThe homicide shocked a community still reeling from the murder of Teresa Macias, a Sonoma woman tracked down and shot to death by her estranged husband, Avelino, just seven months before. Avelino then shot and wounded Teresa's mother, Sara, before turning the gun on himself. Law enforcement apathy and misconduct was so striking in the Macias case, it sparked a $15 million lawsuit against Sonoma County Sheriff Mark lhde.

Like the murder of Teresa Macias, Mina Arevalo's death is an indictment of law enforcement's response to domestic violence. And as with Macias, official records and interviews with friends and family show police had been called many times before.

Calls to Police
Just six weeks before the murder, on October 12th, Rohnert Park police records show a domestic violence call to the Arevalo house. Their report says Mina was uninjured and didn't want her husband arrested. But when Mina later confided to a friend about the dark bruises on her arms, chest and neck, she said police, "took a cursory peek in bad light and walked out." When she told them she at least wanted Nick to leave for the night, "she said the officer told her, 'It's his house,"' the friend reports.

It was probably this same incident Mina later described, saying police had laughed in her face. "She said she asked for a Spanish-speaking officer and they told her, 'We're not here just to please you,"' a friend states. Mina told her friend that Nick left the house that night, but returned as soon as police left. Enraged, he told her she was a fool for calling police and began to beat her again. Mina told her friend she called police again. "They told her that if she didn't quit calling they'd arrest her. They never came." Terrified, Mina slept in her van that night.

Evidence Ignored
Tellingly, the original police report sent up to the district attorney on this incident shows a corroborating witness: "He said he saw the entire incident," the report states. That alone should have been enough to alert the police supervisor and district attorney there was enough evidence to press charges. The report should have been sent back to police for further investigation; instead the DA simply dumped the case for "lack of corroboration." It wasn't until December 4th, five days after the murder, that Ofcr. Polik (in a move with no apparent purpose but to cover his ass) wrote a supplemental report detailing the eyewitness's statement. Yet again, law enforcement apathy literally kills.

But this was not the first police knew of Nick Arevalo's violence. Neighbors had repeatedly called to complain of his late-night shooting sprees. And police dispatch records show six calls to the Arevalo house in little more than a year, including one coded "domestic dispute" in August 1995. The other 911 calls look harmless on their face -- "vehicle abatement" and "animal complaint," for example -- but read on.

Friends and family confirm at least four times Mina called police to report the beatings. One call corresponds by date to one of the "barking dog" calls recorded by police dispatch. On November 4th -- less than a month before the murder and just two weeks after the last domestic violence call -- Mina fled to a friend's house after being beaten. She said she'd called police, but they never came.

Stop the War!
So here we are one year after Teresa Macias' murder -- one internal sheriff's department investigation later, one State Attorney General investigation later, one "Blue Ribbon Committee" report later, who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars in domestic violence grants later, and what do we get? Another dead woman.

Another dead woman, and another report of police laughing in her face as they crack jokes with her batterer; threatening to arrest her and not him; failing to write an Emergency Protective Order; using her children as translators; leaving her in worse danger than when they arrived.

If we think the Macias case prompted law enforcement to get their act together, we need to think again.

© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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