Sonoma County, California agreed to pay $1 million to the family of Maria Teresa Macias on the second day of a landmark civil rights trial that raised the issue of police accountability in domestic violence cases. The settlement, which was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in a closed door meeting today, is not an admission of wrongdoing by the county in a case that alleges police discrimination, Michael Senneff, an attorney representing the county told the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.
The civil suit asked for $15 million in damages and was filed by Macias’ mother Maria Hernandez and her children, who claim that police failed to respond to numerous domestic violence calls before the day in 1996 when Macias was shot dead by her estranged husband Avelino Macias. Court records show that Macias began reporting her husband to police in early 1995, and that by April 1995, she had a restraining order against him. The family claims that police did not take the calls from Macias seriously because she was poor and Latina.
When the case was originally thrown out by a federal judge in 1999, it seemed to be following the precedent of several other cases nationwide in which crime victims have had little luck suing police for failing to stop violence. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit – opening the door to such claims if victims or their families can prove that police negligence was caused by unequal, discriminatory practices. The case marks the first time the courts have allowed victims to seek damages if they show police failed to stop the violence and that discrimination was a factor. The settlement was announced in US District Court in San Francisco on the second day of the trial just minutes after Hernandez completed her testimony.