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Supreme Court Hears Restraining Order Case

The US Supreme Court heard arguments in a case today that will determine whether police departments and local governments can be held accountable for failing to enforce restraining orders. The case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales, stems from a $30 million lawsuit filed by Jessica Gonzales against the Castle Rock, Colorado police department for failing to respond to five phone calls she made reporting that her estranged husband had violated the restraining order she had placed against him and taken her three young daughters. When Jessica Gonzales showed up at the police station after midnight, the police officers took an incident report, but still did not attempt to find and arrest the husband, Simon. Simon eventually showed up at the police station at 3:20 a.m. and opened fire with an automatic weapon, which he had purchased after abducting the girls. The police fired back and killed Simon. All three girls had been shot and killed with multiple gunshots to the head; their bodies were in the back of Simon’s truck.

Under Colorado state law, the police are required to enforce court-ordered restraining orders by arresting violators, according to the ACLU. By failing to do so in this case, Gonzales and her lawyers argue that the police violated her 14th Amendment right to due process. In an en banc opinion, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Joined by the Bush administration and many police groups, including the National Sheriffs’ Association, the town of Castle Rock appealed the decision, arguing that it would be unrealistic to enforce every restraining order, Newsweek reports.

“I want to make sure that no parent ever has to go through the pain that I went through,” Jessica Gonzales told the ACLU explaining why she sued the Castle Rock police. “I want to make sure that police are ultimately accountable for doing their jobs. We rely on the courts and the police for protection against violence. A restraining order is the only legal alternative offered for protection against domestic violence.”

This case is about protecting the vulnerable from further violence and abuse evident by the fact of the court issued restraining order,” said Margie Moore, director of the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing. “If these restraining orders are not subject to mandatory enforcement by the police, the victims are absolutely defenseless, and we are turning back the steady progress many police departments have made to effectively combat this type of crime.”

The National Center for Women and Policing joined Women in Federal Law Enforcement, the National Black Police Association, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, the National Center for Women & Policing, and Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc. in filing an amicus brief in support of Gonzales’ claim that her due process rights were violated.

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Sources:

Washington Post 3/21/05; ACLU 3/21/05; USA Today 3/20/05; Newsweek 3/19/05; National Center for Women and Policing