| The Legacy
of Teresa Macias ...
Women's 14th Amendment Right to
Equal Protection Established!
July 20, 2000, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated
Marķa Teresa Macias v. Sheriff Mark Ihde, the $15 million civil
rights lawsuit filed in the wake of Teresa Macias' murder by her
husband Avelino in 1996. With that ruling, the appellate court
accomplished exactly what Teresa's mother and children intended
when they filed suit: they changed the world.
days after Avelino Macias shot and killed Teresa, seriously wounded
her mother, Sara Rubio Hernandez, and then turned
the gun on himself, the local newspaper ran a four-inch article,
buried on the inside pages and headlined "Cops Wrap Up Investigation."
That was intended to be the last you ever heard of Teresa Macias.
Instead, her murder has become a touchstone case in the fight
to end violence against women. And with this appellate court decision,
whether the lawsuit ultimately wins or loses in federal district
court, this ruling will be cited in cases across the nation establishing
at long last that women have a constitutional right to hold police
legally accountable for their response to violence against women.
victory was hard-fought, a testament to the determination of Teresa's
family and local women's rights activists to roll back years of
discrimination built into the constitution's 14th Amendment, which
guarantees "equal protection under the law" -- to everyone except
as school desegregation came only after years of struggle in the
courts and in the streets, a woman's right to non-discriminatory
protection by law enforcement has a history, not of compassionate
patriarchs selflessly bestowing favors, but of women steadfastly
refusing anything less than equal justice. And because this is
your victory, we think you have a right to know how it happened.
At the time of Teresa's murder, the Purple Berets had five years
experience in identifying the deadly barriers women face when
they seek police protection from the male violence that holds
them hostage. By then, we knew full well that domestic violence
homicide almost always comes only after law enforcement's repeated
failure to provide protection for women in earlier incidents of
in the days immediately after Teresa's murder, Tanya Brannan (Purple
Berets) and Marie De Santis (Women's Justice Center), both bilingual
women's rights advocates, set out to investigate Teresa's prior
contacts with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and the district
attorney's office. Just as we expected, we found and documented
years of violence, stalking and sexual assault against Teresa
and her children, all reported to the sheriff.
fact, in just the last three months of her life, after having
obtained a restraining order, Teresa had called the Sheriff's
Department more than 20 times to report Avelino's continued stalking,
rape, false imprisonment, threats to kill and harassment, as well
as his decade of violence against herself and her children. Yet
despite a mandated arrest policy, Avelino was never arrested;
only two police reports were written; no criminal charges were
to Teresa's Fight to Survive
Our investigation began with interviews with family members, friends,
neighbors, employers, social service providers -- everyone we
could find who had witnessed Avelino's violence and stalking and
the sheriff's response to Teresa's reports of the crimes against
sister and mother,
Ana Rosa Rubio and Sara Hernandez
excruciating interviews, Teresa's mother, and sister, Sara Rubio
Hernandez and Ana Rosa Rubio, recounted how they had come to the
U.S. to help Teresa free herself from Avelino's tyranny; how only
days before the murder their hopes had been raised when Santa
Rosa Police had put Avelino in handcuffs, only to release him
at the request of a CPS worker; and how they had watched Teresa
give up hope in those last days after, again and again, the sheriff
protected Avelino instead of Teresa and her children.
still hospitalized with gunshot wounds in both legs, gave an anguished
account of Teresa's final, fruitless attempt to get police protection
on that last day. When Avelino accosted them as they arrived for
work Teresa said, "You know what to do, Mother," a signal for
Sara to call 911. But it was already too late. Hearing the killing
gunshot, Sara rushed to the door, only to see Avelino running
toward her, shooting wildly. She barely got the door locked in
time to save her own life.
and neighbor Marty Cabello, describing an earlier visit to the
sheriff's substation to deliver evidence, said she was shouting,
"He's going to kill her; he's told everybody he's going to kill
her, and then his mother-in-law. You have to do something." Still
the deputy made no arrest. The death threats weren't even mentioned
in his report. Teresa's niece Monica Armstrong had often translated
for her with sheriff's deputies. Monica angrily described the
moment when police arrived to say her aunt was dead. "Are you
guys happy now? Why are you telling me this now when you knew
it was going to happen?" she asked. When police claimed they didn't
know, she replied, "How could you not know?"
with the eyewitness interviews, we were also collecting documentary
evidence (police reports, court records, restraining order documents)
using courthouse files and Public Records Act requests. Child
Protective Services (CPS) records, though shrouded in secrecy
and generally unavailable, were accessible to Teresa's next of
kin. Those records were invaluable in documenting law enforcement's
prior knowledge of the violence and danger to Teresa and her three
young children, and of Teresa's fear for her life. (Footnote
as documentary evidence and personal testimony piled up and press
coverage of our investigation sparked universal outrage, information
began to flow more readily. Inside sources in the DA's and sheriff's
offices, dismayed at the official cover-up, began to leak sensitive
internal documents and information to us and to the press. The
case began to take on a life of its own.
... and Organize
investigation immediately connected us with many natural allies,
including Sonoma's La Luz Bilingual Center, women's groups and
Latino, civil rights and anti-racist groups. To provide a focus
to bring all these people together and a platform to announce
results of the investigation, we organized a memorial vigil one
month after Teresa's death.
of people gathered to mourn Teresa and to honor her family's commitment
that her death be used as a catalyst for change. Teresa's picture
filled the square, as organizers detailed the sheriff's and district
attorney's deadly role in this entirely preventable tragedy.
community unity generated by that event became the kernel of the
public pressure campaign launched on the flood tide of media coverage
then unleashed. That pressure took the form of letters to the
editor, speak-outs in the Board of Supervisors chambers, meetings
with public officials, radio talk shows, demonstrations and other
public events. Teresa's photo was omnipresent wherever law enforcement
issues were discussed, a constant reminder that police misconduct
has two faces -- action and inaction -- both with equally deadly
the pressure intensified and the revelations of law enforcement's
failure became undeniable, outside agencies were drawn in. The
state Attorney General investigated law enforcement's domestic
violence practices and protocols. Even for then-Attorney General
Dan Lungren (hardly a feminist!), the widespread disdain and incompetence
investigators encountered was too shocking to be covered up.
report of the Attorney General's investigation gave high-level
corroboration of the very charges against law enforcement that
women activists had been making for years. Later, even the sheriff's
own hand-picked Blue Ribbon Committee lambasted his and other
county agencies' handling of the case and called for substantive
changes in policies and protocols county-wide.
Power of the Press
media component of the campaign was by far the scariest. Constantly
afraid that we were letting the moment pass, we wouldn't break
the story of our investigation until every detail of Teresa's
prior contact with the sheriff had been tied down and corroborated.
We knew that if we got one fact wrong our entire investigation
would be discredited and ignored.
their initial reports of the homicide, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
steadfastly maintained the official silence on the murder. To
break through this "white-out" we broke the story into the San
Francisco media first, releasing the investigation the night of
the vigil before the cameras of TV Channel 7.
the San Francisco media picked up the story, the local press was
shamed into covering it. Over the next weeks not a day passed
without a huge front-page spread. Interestingly, with all the
gallons of ink devoted to the case over the next months, the press
never turned up one new fact; never generated one new piece of
evidence; never found one additional witness. And despite basing
all their coverage on our investigation, they only mentioned the
Purple Berets once, reporting only that we had organized a memorial
the story broke we were constantly working with media to keep
the story alive. For the Sonoma County Independent, we brought
together other women whose domestic violence or sexual assault
cases had been botched, proving that Teresa's treatment by law
enforcement was everyday fare in our local criminal justice system.
Channel 7's "I-Team" investigators did great follow-up stories
on the domestic violence restraining order we had uncovered against
sheriff's deputy Mark Lopez. (It was Lopez who had most often
responded to Teresa's calls to law enforcement. He has since been
as we were running out of ideas on how to keep the press interested,
county officials handed us an opportunity. Six weeks after Teresa's
death, the sheriff and district attorney called a "damage control"
press conference. Women activists showed up early and en masse,
armed with press statements, banners and posters of Teresa. By
contrast, Sheriff Ihde and D.A. Mike Mullins arrived forty minutes
late and looking haggard and afraid. They were unprepared with
any new revelations, with their only solution a tired bumper sticker.
Law enforcement looked worse than ever and the story was off and
final crushing blow to the status quo was the filing of a $15
million federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Teresa's children
and her mother, Sara. Although the law is firmly planted in opposition
to women's right to police protection, Teresa's case is perhaps
the best-documented domestic violence case we'll ever see, complete
with translators who witnessed almost every encounter with law
enforcement and Teresa's own journal logging Avelino's violations
and the sheriff's response to her reports. If any case can change
the world, it is this one.
family was lucky enough to connect with San Francisco-based civil
rights attorney Dennis Cunningham and Rick Seltzer, whose Oakland
law firm wanted to put back into the community some of the fruits
of their success. Filed in October, 1996, Marķa Teresa Macias
v. Sheriff Mark Ihde charges the sheriff discriminated against
Teresa because she was a woman and a domestic violence victim;
that such discrimination denied her equal protection of the law;
and that, by failing to take reports, ignoring evidence, discouraging
her from calling, etc., the sheriff emboldened Avelino, increasing
the danger to Teresa and her children.
$15 million at stake, finally the floodgates to change flew open.
Our biggest police agencies formed special domestic violence units,
prosecution increased, victim support services doubled and tripled,
and a new domestic violence court was established. Hammered by
women's increasing demands for equal justice, law enforcement
could no longer simply refuse to respond.
Up the Fight for Women's Rights
hard to imagine how differently things would have gone without
the activism of the Purple Berets. Please join with us in the
ongoing fight for women's rights. Give generously of your time
*) CPS's role in the murder is another
ugly chapter in this tragic story. In 1995, after receiving Teresa's
report of Avelino's abuse of the children, CPS should have demanded
that sheriff's deputies do their job to protect the children by
arresting the abuser. Instead, they punished Teresa when they
took her children, citing her inability to protect them from Avelino's
then kept Teresa's head spinning, insisting that if she ever wanted
her children back she had to attend counseling sessions with Avelino
in an effort to reunify the family! It was CPS worker Suni Levi
who, only days before the murder, had Santa Rosa police release
Avelino, as if the couple's upcoming counseling session was more
important than protecting Teresa's life.
also billed Teresa and Avelino for the cost of the children's
foster care! According to one family friend, it was after receiving
a bill from CPS for thousands of dollars that Avelino really began
to unravel. But even after literally holding Teresa in place until
Avelino could hunt her down and kill her, CPS still had one more
ugly card to play. We were naive enough to think that after the
murder the children, suffering the shocking loss of both their
parents, would be immediately released from foster care and into
the waiting arms of their grandmother and extended family. Instead,
CPS held the children for five more months, and would have held
them longer still had advocates and attorneys not intervened.
complete text of the ruling is available online at www.ce9.uscourts.gov.