On July 20th, the American Civil Liberties Union joined the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and other groups in submitting an amicus brief in support of a domestic abuse survivor who was severely injured by her abuser after police officers failed to enforce her order of protection (commonly known as a restraining order). Carmen Valdez had obtained an order of protection against her former partner, Felix Perez. Subsequently Perez called Valdez to threaten her life in 1996 which violated the order, and she called the police to report the violation. The police officer said that authorities would take Perez into custody and that she could return home. Tragically, Perez was not immediately arrested and he shot Valdez in the presence of her twin sons when she opened her apartment door the next day.
Valdez sustained multiple severe injuries but survived the attack. She sued the police department for failing to enforce her restraining order and a jury found in her favor. However, an appellate court overturned the verdict, “stating that Carmen was not justified in relying on police.” The case now moves to New York’s highest court which “should recognize that police must be held accountable when they do not enforce domestic violence laws and increase the danger victims face.”
Police officers must be held accountable for not enforcing restraining orders. Unfortunately, it is not only Valdez’s restraining order that police have refused to enforce. Another example of this injustice is when police officers refused to act after Jessica Lenahan’s former husband, Simon Gonzales, kidnapped their children in violation of a protection order. For hours Lenahan pleaded with authorities to save her children before her three daughters were murdered. In 2005, the Supreme Court found that Jessica Lenahan had no federal constitutional right to enforcement of her restraining order.
Enforcement of restraining orders has been shown to be a cost-effective means to enhance public safety but recent court cases have denied justice to women who just wanted their court-ordered protection to be defended by authorities. Let us hope that New York’s highest court affirms Valdez’s right to have her protection order enforced. Like the ACLU noted, “in a state where 43 percent of the adult women murdered in 2009 were killed by their intimate partners, victims must have access to a remedy when police fail to respond to domestic violence.” You can read the amicus curiae brief on behalf of Valdez’s case here [PDF].