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The Murder of Claire Tempongko
A Homicide That Should Never Have Happened
To hear the KPFA Flashpoints interview with Purple Beret Tanya Brannan on the Tempongko case, click here.
( 2.6 MBs, 22 minutes long.)

On October 22, 2000, Claire Joyce Tempongko was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, Tari Ramirez. Ramirez stabbed Claire to death in her home in front of her two young children. Ramirez is still at large.

Like most domestic violence homicides, Claire Tempongko's death was completely predictable and preventable. For more than 18 months, she had repeatedly called San Francisco police to report Ramirez's violence and threats against her. Again and again she told officers of the escalating violence, her fears for herself and her children, and of her desire that Tari Ramirez be arrested and prosecuted.

Claire Joyce TempongkoThe following is an account, gleaned from police reports and court documents, of Claire Tempongko's desperate but futile attempt to save her own life. It is a searing indictment of the arrogance and neglect with which both district attorney and police officials continue to treat domestic violence in this community. Above all, it is a call to action.

April 28, 1999:

SFPD report #990516852, Ofcr. Jason Hui & Dharmani. Emergency Protective Order (EPO) granted. Charged 273.5 (spousal abuse), 23152(a) and 23152(b) (DUI); 20002(a) (hit & run); 148.9(b) (false ID to police officer). Copies of report to: no one.

San Francisco Police responded to a domestic violence call at Claire Tempongko's Richmond District apartment. Claire told police that Tari Ramirez had broken a window trying to get into her house after she had refused him entry. Concerned the noise would disturb the neighbors, Claire then let Ramirez in. He immediately grabbed her by the hair, dragged her outside to the hallway, and pushed her to the ground. When police arrived Claire told them she had told Ramirez he could no longer live in the house because he had beaten her last week. According to the report, Claire told officers Ramirez had "beaten her numerous times in the past and has gotten more violent," and that she was "worried for the safety of her two children and herself."

Later that same night Ramirez was arrested for a drunk driving accident. When the arresting officer on the DUI told Ramirez that his "wife" had called the police, Ramirez said, "Why, because I punched her?"

The officer's report states that Ramirez then moved forward, put his head next to the cage and repeatedly made obscene and sexually violent threats against the officer's mother.

Ramirez was arrested on spousal battery, 2 counts of drunk driving, hit & run and using a false ID. District Attorney Terence Hallinan's office had everything they needed (including a confession) to convict Ramirez of domestic violence. There were also clear indications of potential lethality (escalating violence, the relationship ending, etc.) Instead, the very next day Hallinan's office discharged the spousal abuse charge "to proceed on other count."

May 18, 1999:

SFPD Report #990603108, Ofcr. Jose Jiminez, Guillory, Barretta, Cole. Charges: 273.5 (spousal abuse), 245(a)(1) (assault with a deadly weapon), 422 (terrorist threats), 236 (false imprisonment), and 207 (kidnaping).

Just three weeks later, police were called again. According to the police report, officers found Joyce Tempongko "crying hysterically, shaking and very scared. She kept saying, ‘Don't leave me here with him.'"

Joyce told police she and Ramirez had been at a club when someone asked her to dance. Ramirez became very angry and started fighting inside the club. A friend, Teofilo Miranda, brought them back to his apartment to calm Ramirez down. Miranda told police Joyce told him, "You just don't know him, he hits me a lot," and kept telling him not to leave her alone with Ramirez.

According to the police report, Ramirez then dragged Joyce into another room where he repeatedly hit her on the head. Joyce broke away, but as she got into hallway, "Ramirez grabbed a beer bottle, broke it in half, and started making stabbing motions toward Tempongko," the report states. He then dragged her by the hair out of house onto the sidewalk saying, "I'm going to burn the house down and hurt your kids."

Again according to the police report: "Tempongko told us that when she was being dragged out, she thought that Ramirez was going to kill her." Joyce told police Ramirez had been arrested for domestic violence against her on April 28th. "It should be noted that Tempongko told us that during their six month relationship, Ramirez has hit Tempongko 18 times."

Police arrested Ramirez on five felony charges including spousal abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, terrorist threats and kidnaping. At his court date two months later, despite the previous domestic violence arrest and the obviously escalating danger and threats to Joyce and her children, the district attorney allowed Ramirez to plead guilty to only one charge, dismissing the other four felony counts. With that, Ramirez was sentenced only to probation.


May 23, 1999:

SFPD report 990632549 5/24/99, Ofcr Mark Gallegos. Ramirez arrested & charged with 166(b)(1) (violation of court order); and 166© (violation of DV protective order). Copies to: DA, OR, DV unit.

Claire Tempongko went into SFPD's Richmond Station to report that Ramirez had gone to her apartment in violation of a court stay-away order and left her a note asking her to meet him later. The handwritten letter was booked into evidence. Claire led officers to Ramirez; he was arrested and booked.

Like the previous domestic violence and assault charges, this charge too was dismissed by the DA's office in the plea bargain on the May 18th assault.

November 18, 1999:

SFPD #991411964 Ofcr John Tack, ofcrs Lee, Kiang, Mendribal, Obot. Charges: 236 (false imprisonment), 243(e)(1) (battery - noncohabitating former spouse).

Joyce's mother and stepfather called police to report that Ramirez had again beaten Joyce and that both were still inside the apartment. Officers found the two and interviewed them separately.

According to their report, Joyce told policethat Ramirez had grabbed her hair, pulling her head back and holding it. Joyce fled, then brought her mother back to the apartment with her. Ramirez started yelling at her mother, who then called police. At that point Ramirez grabbed Joyce by the shoulders and forced her into bedroom, closing the door and refusing to let her leave until police arrived.

"Tempongko stated she then became afraid for safety because ... Ramirez has a history of abusing her," the police report states. It goes on to say that Joyce told them Ramirez was on probation for domestic violence against her. She signed a citizen's arrest form and Ramirez was arrested for battery and false imprisonment.

At this point, two things should have happened: Ramirez's probation should have been revoked, sending him to prison on the original spousal abuse charge, and two new charges of battery and false imprisonment should have been filed. In fact, the probation officer recommended that Ramirez's probation be revoked and that he be sent to state prison.

Instead, the District Attorney offered Ramirez yet another deal: only a probation violation was filed, and the new charges were dropped. Ramirez was sentenced to 6 months in jail. He was out in 4.

WANTED! Tari Ramirez

September 1, 2000:

SFPD #001041186 9/2/00 Ofcr Nate Holmes. Charges: domestic violence (secondary only); false imprisonment.

Officers responding to a domestic violence call found Joyce Tempongko lying in bed with her kids. According to the police report, Joyce was crying uncontrollably with blood spilling from her mouth when officers arrived. They noted red marks around her mouth and neck. Ramirez had left the scene.

Joyce told police that when she came home, Ramirez forced his fingers down her throat, grabbed her around her neck and forced her into the bedroom, where he "applied pressure around her neck to the point she had difficulty breathing." The report says Joyce, "stated she felt he was trying to choke her to death." She also told them that Ramirez had a prior history of domestic violence.

Clearly this was the moment when Joyce Tempongko's life could have been saved. The police again had all the evidence they needed to get a conviction on spousal abuse and, in fact, charge him with attempted murder. Again, his probation should have been revoked, Ramirez should have be sentenced to at minimum two years in prison on the original spousal abuse case, and this case and all the other interim cases should have been filed as additional crimes.

Instead, Sgt. Al Lum, investigator with SFPD's domestic violence unit, referred the case to the Adult Probation Department, not the district attorney! Why? Because, Lum told the San Francisco Chronicle, Joyce Tempongko had been drinking the night of the incident, had not been hospitalized and had not called police to check on the progress of the case. "It's up to her to call or come in for a follow-up," Lum said. "She didn't call, so we couldn't do a work-up." (Sgt. Lum should be fired!)

The DA's office claims they never received the report, despite indications on the police report that their office was copied. No arrest was made. No charges were filed. With Ramirez free, the danger to Joyce Tempongko increased exponentially -- a direct result of law enforcement's failure to act.

September 7, 2000:

SFPD #001041227, Ofcr Noel Clark Schwab, G. Moriyama. Incident type: Terrorist threats. Charges: misdemeanor 647 (disorderly conduct), misdemeanor 148.9(a) (giving false ID). Arrested & booked. Later ruled detention only - not an arrest, per court files. Assigned to: DV unit. Copies to: DV, OR, DA.

Claire again called police to her apartment, reporting Ramirez's terrorist threats and telling the dispatcher that Ramirez had a history of violence with her and that she was scared he was going to hurt her. Claire showed the officers the emergency protective order from the September 1st incident, which had not been served.

The police filed a "terrorist threats" report, yet Ramirez was arrested & booked only on public intoxication and providing false identification to police. According to the press, there was no reference on booking papers to Ramirez's threats or his history of domestic violence!

When it came to court, prosecutors dropped the case due to lack of evidence. "It just looked like a drunkenness-in-public case," D.A. Hallinan told the press. Both probation officials and the DA's office say they never received the police report.

September 22, 2000:

Ramirez appeared in court for a revocation of probation hearing on the October, 1999 charge of violating his probation by peeping into a public restroom. No mention was made of the previous domestic violence incidents by the DA, according to Judge Lillian Sing. Ramirez, already out on probation, was sentenced to 30 days in the sheriff's work alternative program, and ordered to report to the jail on November 1st.

October 22, 2000, 9 p.m.:

Claire Tempongko returned home after having dinner out with a friend. Tari Ramirez was lying in wait. He stabbed Claire repeat-edly and to death in front of her daughter, age 5, and her 10 year-old son. Neighbors who heard screams coming from her apartment alerted police, who found Claire dead in her living room. Witnesses reported seeing Ramirez running down the street with a bloody knife; the knife was later found two blocks away.

Tari Ramirez is still at large.


Demand Justice for Claire Tempongko!

1. Call District Attorney Terence Hallinan at 415.553.9530 and demand that:

  • He immediately institute a policy that any violation of domestic violence probation involving a new violent incident must result in a motion to revoke probation and the filing of additional felony charges on the new incident.
  • He must immediately bring his domestic violence conviction rate, currently the statewide low at 26.8%, up to the statewide average of 60.2%.

2. Call San Francisco Police Chief Fred Lau at 415.553.1484 and demand that:

  • All members of the domestic violence team be evaluated based on the conviction rate of cases they handle. (This would force police to fight for their cases with the DA's office.)
  • Sgt. Al Lum be removed from the domestic violence team immediately!

3. Call Commissioner Dorka Keehn, San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women at 415.252-2570 and demand that:

  • The commission conduct a full and independent investigation into law enforcement's handling of all domestic violence incidents involving Claire Joyce Tempongko prior to and including her death.
  • The commission remove the City Attorney's investigator from this investigation because of the obvious conflict of interest.


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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