A groundbreaking civil rights trial set to begin today in San Francisco, could change the way police are held accountable for domestic violence cases nationwide. Six years ago, Maria Teresa Macias was shot dead by her estranged husband Avelino Macias as she was walking into a Sonoma County, California home for a housecleaning job. Macias’ mother Maria Hernandez and her children claim that police failed to respond to numerous domestic violence calls before the shooting and that police were more likely to ignore domestic violence complaints from poor, Latina women. 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. “She struggled to talk to police and wasn’t heard,” Hernandez said.
The case, originally thrown out by a federal judge in 1999, seemed to be destined to the same fate as 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.
Research conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing has shown that if there were more women in law enforcement, the response to domestic violence cases would vastly improve. Independent studies document that one in four police officers have themselves used violence in their own families.