By Community Alliance Staff
June 19, the Law Offices of Kevin G. Little announced a lawsuit against Fresno Police officers and the City of Fresno for “the lax enforcement of the laws protecting [plaintiffs, women] from violence and also from being re-victimized by Fresno Police officers.” The plaintiffs in the case are Pamela Motley and the family of Cindy Raygoza. The defendants are Fresno Police Officers Joseph Smith, Brian Little, Derrick Johnson, Michael Couto, Bernard Finley, Byron Urton, other unknown officers and the City of Fresno.
The claims are as follows: “denial of equal protection and substantive due process; municipal liability, deprivation of rights to familial association/ relations, declaratory relief, negligence and wrongful death.” The plaintiffs are seeking damages and improvements in the enforcement of laws from protecting women against violence.
According to a statement by the law firm, domestic violence against women is prevalent in Fresno but the appropriate response is not. “Fresno routinely is among the statewide leaders in the reported incidents of violence against women per capita. However, despite the dire need for effective, proactive, and timely enforcement of violence against women laws in Fresno, these laws are often not fully complied with by the Fresno Police Department.”
Regarding incidents reported, Fresno State’s Violence Prevention Project notes that “Fresno County ranked #1 in felony domestic violence arrests in California (per capita) and 26% of the homicides in Fresno are related to domestic violence, the 5th highest in California.”
“Pamela Motley called the police no fewer than 8 times and sought services of the police and not on a single one of those occasions was she afforded all of the things the Violence Against Women Act says she was entitled to as a victim of domestic violence,” said Little. Motley sat nearby, quadriplegic and nearly blind after her abuser shot her before shooting himself.
Little added, “Cindy Raygoza called when she desperately needed the police’s help as well and she was re-victimized…re-victimization is when people who have been abused contact the police only to be abused, or berated or maligned. Therefore, discouraged from going forward and asserting their rights… as a result [Cindy] no longer sought the services of the police and was murdered by her abuser.”
The Violence Against Women Act is a federal law passed in 1994 that protects women against violence, holding their abusers accountable to the full extent of the law throughout the United States. It provides more than $1 billion in investigation, prosecution and training for “over 500,000 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and other personnel every year.”
According to Little, under the Act, the law requires the police to take immediate and effective action. For example, if police have probable cause to make an arrest they are supposed to make the arrest there. Police are supposed to issue an emergency protective order to the victim and stand by in case the victim wants to relocate. Police are supposed to provide information on the available places to go to for help and to inform the victim that she has a right to a domestic violence representative to help her through the process.
“If the officer feels [they] can’t make an arrest or take effective action, they’re supposed to inform the victim that she herself has a right to make a citizen’s arrest. Where she herself can require the officer to take action…victims have a right to request directly from the District Attorney’s office to file charges. [Victims] are supposed to be advised that there are funds available to help them relocate,” Little added.
Furthermore, under the Act, there is a rape shield law preventing rapists from using a victim’s past sexual conduct during trial and victims do not have to pay for rape exams and protection orders. All of which apply to undocumented women too.
Again, despite all these laws, Little noted that even Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer knows his officers “just don’t get it.” “Chief Dyer spoke at a symposium regarding violence against women in November and he himself admitted, despite all the advances in the law, despite all the advances in technology, a lot of officers from his department that ‘just don’t get it.’ Well, what do you do as a woman if you call the police at a crucial time and you’re unfortunate enough to receive a response from an officer who just doesn’t get it. These are life or death instances often times.”
The dates for deadlines and the trial will be scheduled in September and, because it is a federal lawsuit, it could take up to a year for the trial to happen.
“We’re trying to get justice for all women by having the police ‘get it,’” said Gloria Hernandez, community activist with Stolen Lives Fresno.
“My hope is for awareness, education and prevention of domestic violence and educating the police department,” said Motley.
The Law Offices of Kevin G. Little are encouraging victims of domestic violence and the lax enforcement of the Fresno Police Department to contact them at 559-708-4750 or kevinglittle@ yahoo.com.