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Fatal Flaws

Photos by Janet Orsi

Speaking out: Thanks to a growing number of disenchanted victims, the ranks of Women Against Rape have swelled.

Critics say the murder of Maria Teresa Macias reveals basic problems with the handling of domestic violence, rape, and child abuse cases

By Greg Cahill

The dark clouds hung low that stormy spring morning. In the back of her mind, housekeeper Maria Teresa Macias probably knew something might go wrong as she eased her gray Ford Taurus into a client's driveway on a quiet, tree-lined street outside of Sonoma. In just four days, the 36-year-old mother of three planned to move to Ukiah in a last desperate bid to rebuild her life and rid herself of her estranged husband Avelino, 37, a batterer who for years also had sexually molested their children.

Frustrated that her numerous pleas for help--18 contacts with county sheriff's deputies, according to Teresa's meticulously kept diary--had been all but unheeded by authorities, Teresa wrote prophetically a few days earlier: "If I die, I don't want other women to suffer what I am suffering. I want them to be listened to."

As her mother, Sara Hernandez, unloaded a vacuum cleaner from the car trunk that Monday, Avelino suddenly appeared. He held a single flower. He tried to keep Teresa from leaving the car. But she pushed past him, walked to the front door, and unlocked it. Avelino followed. Teresa told her mother to go inside, that she would talk to Avelino in the front yard. Moments later Hernandez heard arguing. She stepped into the yard and saw Teresa sitting on the curb. "Mom, you know what to do," Teresa said in Spanish, a signal to call 911 for help. Hernandez went back inside and dialed. Avelino appeared. He ripped the phone out of her hand, tossed it across the room, and stepped briskly into the yard.

While Teresa sat crying, Avelino knelt in front of her in the roadway, a hand on one of her shoulders. They didn't speak. He reached under his black leather jacket and took out a .357 magnum revolver. He pressed the barrel to the back of Teresa's head and pulled the trigger. Her body slumped face down on the

Hernandez, who had heard the shot, opened the front door to look outside. She saw Avelino walking toward her, the gun still in his hand. She closed the door and locked it. "I already killed your daughter," Avelino shouted. He fired twice through the front door, hitting Hernandez in both thighs. He walked back to where Teresa lay mortally wounded. He fired the revolver several times, raising his hand in a sweeping motion until the barrel rested against his left temple. He shot once more, falling lifeless over his dying wife's body.

State Assemblywoman Valerie Brown, a resident in the neighborhood, was one of the first people on the scene. She called for help on her car phone. When police searched Avelino's yellow Olds Cutlass, parked a couple of blocks away, they found a copy of the court protective order requiring him to stay away from his estranged wife, the same court order that sheriff's deputies failed to file a couple of weeks earlier.

It was on the seat of the car beneath an empty box of bullets.

Part of a Pattern

The murder of Maria Teresa Macias on April 15 has sent a shock wave through the community, alerting women's rights activists, Sheriff's Department officials, the District Attorney's Office, and the courts alike to the shortcomings of the legal system. The heads of those public agencies have called the Macias case an aberration, a tragic example who how someone slipped through the cracks of the complex system designed to protect women and children from domestic violence, rape, and child abuse.

But such local grassroots women's rights groups as Women Against Rape and the Purple Berets--who are both responsible for bringing the official mishandling of the Macias case to the public's attention--argue that Teresa's many unheard pleas are part of a pattern that reveals fundamental flaws in the way these types of cases are handled by sheriff's investigators and county prosecutors.

Sadly, women who have stepped forward in the wake of the murder to make their own cases known show that Teresa Macias was just one of a grim parade of female victims whose cries for justice sometimes are falling on deaf ears.

Family members say that for three months before her death authorities ignored Teresa's repeated complaints about Avelino's behavior and the Sheriff's Department never completed the initial investigation of his alleged child abuse required a year earlier by Child Protective Services. Sheriff's Department officials at first denied any mistakes were made in the Macias case, arguing that a search of their computerized records showed only nine contacts (at first they acknowledged just two, then four contacts). They said none of those incidents suggested to deputies that Teresa was in grave danger. Assistant Sheriff Gary Zanolini later admitted in published reports that a copy of the permanent restraining order against Avelino delivered Feb. 28 by Teresa to the Sheriff's Department substation in Sonoma Valley apparently had been misplaced.

A female former deputy sheriff trainee has accused the Sonoma County Sheriff of endorsing a systematic policy of sexual harassment against women who join the force.

Under pressure from critics, Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Ihde on May 24 asked state Attorney General Dan Lundgren to review the department's handling of the Macias case and to examine procedures used to investigate local domestic violence cases. While Ihde has declined to comment specifically about any mistakes, he admits "there may not have been enough information included in the crime reports for the district attorney to have made a finding." He also acknowledges that "there seems to have been a breakdown somewhere in the system where the communication about documents in existence did not occur."

Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins--who earlier had blamed incomplete police reports for his failure to prosecute Avelino--now says that the investigation may have been dropped because someone in his office failed to check the proper box on a complaint form requesting more information, so that deputies handling the investigation didn't know that the District Attorney's Office had rejected the case. However, a supplemental crime report obtained this week shows that sheriff's investigators had recommended on Feb. 23 that the District Attorney's Office file a stalking charge against Avelino, contrary to Mullins' claim last week that prosecutors lacked any "apparent" reason to file those charges.

Last week, Ihde and Mullins held a joint press conference to announce policy changes and procedural reforms designed to improve the system. "While much has been done to address the issue of domestic violence, the recent tragic murder of Maria Teresa Macias clearly illustrates that more needs to be done," Ihde said, reading nervously from a prepared statement. "I returned from a jail managers' conference last Friday to find an atmosphere of fingerpointing and placing blame.

"I do not believe this serves the best interest of the public."

Ihde said he will reassign two detectives to oversee deputies' investigations of protective order violations and will create new policies to ensure that evidence and witness statements are properly gathered to foster speedy prosecutions. He estimated that the department handles about 800 to 900 domestic violence-related crime reports a year, including violations of restraining orders.

"We are forced to work within available resources," he said, apparently alluding to the assertion made by some deputies that the department is understaffed and underbudgeted. "We hope that will be sufficient."

Protective orders are now being entered directly into a statewide criminal information database that sheriff's deputies can access readily in the field.

Mullins added that he will seek approval from the Board of Supervisors to assign a new chief deputy district attorney to coordinate all cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. He added that his prosecutors soon will receive "remedial" training in the proper handling of paperwork related to those cases.

"In all of human endeavor . . . mistakes can and will be made, but it's important to remember that we can learn from them," he said solemnly.

Both Ihde and Mullins said they are working to establish a special blue-ribbon panel, which will include Assemblywoman Brown, to review the findings of the attorney general's investigation and to make recommendations for additional policy and procedural changes. Women's rights activists, who often find themselves at odds with Ihde and Mullins, aren't being invited to participate.

Ihde then held up a bumper sticker that read "No Excuse for Domestic Violence," like one that has been placed on all of the department's patrol cars. He said it illustrates the department's commitment to getting tough on crimes against women. Tanya Brannan of the Purple Berets and other protesters in the audience snickered and later said they see that as proof that the sheriff offers only a shallow, bumper-sticker approach to violent crimes against women and children.

Brannan doesn't think that changes in policies and procedures will improve the system significantly. "The real problem is that they simply won't do their jobs," she says. "They already have policies that should have put Avelino in jail. Teresa should still be alive."

There is no shortage of women who complain about the handling of their own domestic violence, rape, and child abuse cases. Over and again, victims report encountering the same apparent indifference from authorities. And victim's advocates say the worst offender is the Sheriff's Department, the target of more than a dozen complaints lodged in the past 18 months by Women Against Rape on behalf of victims.

Neither Ihde nor Mullins could be reached for comments on the women's complaints.

'Lazy Police Work'

On the evening of April 5, 1995, 28-year-old blonde, blue-eyed Evelyn was walking her dog along a path at Santa Rosa's Southwest Regional Park, heading toward a baseball game. The parking lot was full of cars. As she approached the ball field, two male teens confronted her. "They were muttering at first and then they started yelling, 'Hey, bitch, I'm talking to you,' and that sort of thing," she recalls, nursing a cup of hot tea at a Healdsburg coffee shop. "I've never been one to cower, so I told them to fuck off."

She turned to run through a drainage ditch and back to her car. On the other side, two other men stopped her. They dragged her down into the ditch. For 45 minutes, the four male teens--watched by two female companions--raped, robbed, and roughed up Evelyn at knifepoint. She kicked and struck back, cutting one man across the cheek with her car keys. The attack ended only when a passerby startled the assailants.

Evelyn fled in her car to a nearby gas station, where, scared and shaken, she sat for 90 minutes. She later phoned her fiancé to pick her up. At 9 p.m., she contacted sheriff's deputies. Since there was no vaginal penetration, Evelyn declined a medical exam. However, deputies did take her semen-stained pants for evidence. She gave detailed descriptions of two of the attackers. "I was told that I'd be contacted by a detective within a couple of days," she says. "Three days went by without any word." She phoned the Sheriff's Department and was told that nobody knew who was handling the case. "I was flabbergasted by that," she explains. "After I made a stink, I was told that they'd look into it."

The next day, Sheriff's Detective Lorenzo Duenes phoned and apologized for the delay. He said the department was preoccupied with the fatal shooting a week earlier of Sheriff's Deputy Frank Trejo. "I'm not one to be shoved under the rug," Evelyn says, "but at that point I was so stripped of any self-confidence that I just took it. He promised to look into it. He didn't ask me a damn thing about the attack. When he finally called back, all he had to say was that it's almost impossible to solve these kinds of cases. He said, 'Do you know how many guys look like the ones you described?'

"I was outraged. I mean, there was a witness!"

After a couple of weeks, investigators finally met with Evelyn to visit the crime scene. She says Duenes never asked about the attack. At Evelyn's insistence, investigators agreed to have a police artist sketch two of the suspects. Three weeks after the attack, the sketch and a press release were issued to the public.

Angered by what she calls "lazy police work," Evelyn sent a letter to Ihde asking for his help. In response, Sheriff's Lt. Mike Brown, chief of criminal investigations, contacted her. He described the work that had been done on the case, Evelyn says, but conceded that the investigation had not been handled correctly.

"He asked me, 'Bottom line, what do you want?,' like he expected me to sue the department," she recalls in a shaky voice. "You know, the deputies would basically say, 'Oh, that's too bad you were raped, but at least you'll probably get your purse back.' I'd say, 'You don't understand, they didn't just take my purse, they took my soul.'

"It's real hard to get that back."

'Appalling' Treatment

Becky gazes out a kitchen window lined with knickknacks and looking out over a neatly manicured lawn in front of her modest three-bedroom townhouse on the outskirts of Santa Rosa. From the patio, wind chimes dance in the warm spring breeze. But the serenity belies both the terror she endured during a brutal rape at her home and the anger she feels in its wake.

She characterizes her treatment at the hands of sheriff's investigators and county prosecutors as "appalling." According to Becky, Ihde has acknowledged that the investigation should have been handled better. Detective Tom Werner told her during the first contact with the sheriff's investigators that he was "too busy" to come to her house a couple of blocks from the sheriff's substation, she says, choosing instead to conduct the initial interview over the phone.

Her ordeal began Jan. 21. Jeff, who worked with Becky's 26-year-old daughter, Syd, and was a casual friend of Syd's, spent the night at their house after getting too drunk to drive home. The next morning, Becky returned home from church to find that Syd had gone to work, leaving Jeff to "sleep it off" until someone came by to pick him up.

"I had met this guy just once a couple of weeks earlier," Becky recalls.

Jeff arose and struck up small talk with Becky. But at 2 p.m., while Becky was making her bed, Jeff entered the room and started asking about Syd's supposed sexual hang-ups. "I explained to him that if she did have any it was none of my business and told him he should get ready to go." He apologized and asked Becky to sit at the kitchen table to talk. He told Becky that his grandmother was dying. He cried. Then he grabbed Becky and hugged her. Becky, a surrogate mom to teens in the neighborhood, tried to console him. "He stuck his hands down my pants. I was shocked as hell and asked him what he thought he was doing," she says. "He started to deliver a spiel about being attracted to older women."

Becky told him to leave. He tried to apologize. She again asked him to leave, walked over to the sink, and started to wash dishes. He stepped behind Becky, reached under her sweatshirt, and grabbed one of her breasts. Becky struggled. He dragged her into the bedroom and raped her. She tried to get to the phone a couple of times to call for help. He threw it across the room. She screamed. No one heard.

"When he finished, he was very angry because he couldn't come," Becky says. "I was crying. He took my shoulder and slammed me against the door as hard as he could. Then he told me, 'I swear to God, I know where Syd works, I know her hours, I know what car she drives, I know when you're home, I know you have a granddaughter, and if you tell anyone about this I will maim your daughter for life."

For the rest of the day, he held Becky captive in her own home. When Syd returned that evening, Becky didn't tell her about the rape, saying only that she didn't feel comfortable with Jeff in the house. The two left. What Becky didn't know was that Jeff had raped Syd in her car the night before. The attack had been so brutal that it left deep hand print-shaped bruises on her thighs. Jeff had warned that if Syd told anyone about the attack he would harm her mother.

Both women later discussed the rapes separately with friends, but it took four days for them to talk to each other about them.

On Jan. 26, Syd called the Sheriff's Department and reported the assaults. Deputy Duenes set up a successful phone trap in which Syd got Jeff to admit to her rape. Duenes told the women that, with Jeff's admission coupled with the physical evidence, deputies would make an arrest by the following Monday. They never did.

Officials at the District Attorney's Office later told the women they had waited too long to report the rapes, and complained that the women hadn't gotten medical exams. Also, they had allowed Jeff to spend the night on the evening after the alleged assaults. "Well, it wasn't a matter of 'let,' believe me," Becky says. "He did what he wanted; he had both of us pretty scared. I don't think prosecutors understand what a woman goes through after a rape."

Meanwhile, Jeff--who has a prior conviction for spousal abuse and still lives in the neighborhood--allegedly has made threatening phone calls to Becky and Syd, and as recently as April 6 was spotted rollerblading at 5:45 a.m. near their house. The women say they have given tape recordings of his threats to the District Attorney's Office. But despite considerable evidence in this case, Deputy District Attorney Stephen Passalaqua told Becky last month that the district attorney wouldn't take a rape case to court unless prosecutors "had a 110 percent chance" of winning a conviction.

Shortly afterward, sheriff's deputies started to ignore the women's phone calls. Two weeks ago, another deputy district attorney contacted Becky to inform her that "the rape team" had decided not to prosecute.

Women's rights activists were outraged, but not surprised. In an April 3 letter, Marie De Santis, community services coordinator of Women Against Rape, complained to Mullins about Passalaqua's "practice of shirking prosecution of perfectly solid rape and felony domestic violence cases." She outlined what she calls, "highly unethical" ways in which he goes about this: attempting to intimidate victims from testifying, splitting victims from their advocates, pleading the defendant's case with the victim, grossly misinforming victims on the viability of their case, handing give-away deals to the defense on "perfectly good" cases often before holding a preliminary hearing, lying to other officials about the victim's willingness to testify, and creating intolerably long and unnecessary delays in making his decision to file.

Becky and Syd say they witnessed many of those practices in the handling of their case.

"If I ever get raped again, I don't think I will report it because of what I've been through with the authorities," Becky adds. "I feel like I've been through a second rape in the last four months by the people I've supported all these years with my taxes. I have no rights at all."

Syd agrees. "I feel absolutely raked over the coals," she says. "In many ways, I've been more victimized by them than by the rapist."

Failure to Protect

Sarah--a 23-year-old single mother with long sandy hair, an easy smile, and large, trusting, gray-blue eyes--is still recovering from a brutal New Year's Day rape, in which she was molested in her bed by an intruder while her 5-year-old son lay next to her. Since last November, Sarah has lived with her child in a tiny apartment in rural Guernewood Park, not far from the Russian River. Toys, bedding, and clothes are strewn about the cramped rooms. A roast chicken carcass sits on a plate under one window. An unlit wood stove dominates one room.

Sadness and then anger washes over her smooth, finely sculpted face as she describes her rape and the ensuing callous treatment by Sonoma County sheriff's deputies. "They don't want to deal with women--they don't want to handle their cases," she laments.

The alleged attack took place around 2 a.m. on New Year's Day, while Sarah was sleeping in the kitchen area that doubles as her bedroom. She says the suspect, who was a friend of her father's, arrived from a drunken New Year's Eve bash on the hillside and entered her home through a door that she'd left unlocked for some visiting friends who were asleep in a nearby building.

In the hours after the alleged rape, Sarah says she was in shock and didn't know how to express her feelings. Two days after the attack, she confided in her sister, who insisted they go to the police. Although Sarah reported the crime within the standard 72 hours recommended for a successful medical examination, sheriff's deputies ordered no such sexual assault exam. She was told "it was too late."

It was five days before a detective took her statement, a contact initiated only after the victim and her friend repeatedly phoned the department's violent crimes unit. "At first they wouldn't give me a restraining order because they didn't think I needed one," Sarah says. When the suspect later returned to her house, "it freaked the hell out of me," she says. "I slammed the door in his face. The cops showed up and asked, 'Is that him?' I said, 'Yes, that's him.' They asked, 'Do you want him to leave?' I said, 'Yes,' so they made him leave, but they didn't arrest him. The police treated me like shit. It was my word against his. They said they didn't have enough evidence."

Meanwhile, Sarah says, the detective assigned to her case attempted to dissuade her from using the services of Women Against Rape. "They told me not to deal with anyone else that wanted to help me," she adds. "I felt scared. I ran into [the alleged rapist] a couple of times in the town and felt like he'd taken my power away. I'm trying to get it back."

Four months later, the same suspect allegedly raped another woman in the same vicinity. "If they had believed me, it wouldn't have happened again," Sarah says. Arrested, he's now in jail in Los Angeles, where there was a warrant out for his arrest on a separate charge. The trial date for the second rape is June 6. Sarah hopes to testify for the victim in that rape case.

"I still have anger here," she says, gently touching her chest with a clenched fist.

Rude Manner

Eighteen months ago, the 14-year-old son of Helen's Sebastopol landlord showed pornographic videos to her 9-year-old son "about 20 times" to seduce the child. Another neighbor's son, age 6, also was a victim. On several occasions, "there was also oral copulation and masturbation," she says. "The suspect admitted more than my son told me."

From the beginning, Helen says, she had trouble with sheriff's investigators. It took 10 weeks for them to interview the alleged perpetrator. And when the women contacted Sgt. Craig Wiseman, the head of the department's violent crimes unit, he responded with rude and condescending remarks, they say. "He was pretty snide. He seemed skeptical and made minimizing comments," Helen says. "When I asked him if the evidence could be seized, he asked me, 'What evidence?' I said, 'The videos.' He just snorted and laughed."

The impression the women got was that investigators hoped they would just go away.

"The authorities were not helpful," says Helen, noting that investigators became receptive only when the women contacted a victim advocate for help. "I was made to feel out of line when I called to ask for information. It took forever and they didn't return my calls. It seems to me like they are overwhelmed with calls and the squeaky wheel gets noticed.

"You need a lot of perseverance."

Even though sheriff's investigators obtained a full confession from the youthful suspect and spoke to his parents, Helen says, the whole affair was put in a very informal context. In the end, the perpetrator was simply given a citation, even though he has easy access to other young children. The parents of the 6-year-old have filed an appeal, but no court date or hearing has been scheduled.

The episode has left Helen believing that the young pedophile might have been shown special treatment because of law enforcement connections. "I don't know if this means anything, but the father of the perpetrator was a San Francisco firefighter and knows all the local police and firefighters," she says, obviously disillusioned. "He tells us he knows them all."

Batterers with Badges

It may seem simplistic, but De Santis thinks she knows one reason sheriff's investigators often don't do their job. "It's too much work," she says. "What they want is felony convictions with as little work as possible. How do you get those? In a drug case, all you need is a little bit of drugs. In the case of child abuse and violence against women, you need to sit down with very emotionally distraught women and children, listen to their intrafamilial problems, and then, God forbid, you've got to take their side. Those cases are a lot of work.

"There are no high-speed chases, no whodunits. But there is a lot of sifting out of emotions. And they hate it. They didn't come into law enforcement for that. They like busting down doors. They like the hunt. But there is no hunt here. The fact is that most people are uncomfortable dealing with highly charged emotional situations. And you couldn't pick a worse group for that chore than relatively uneducated white males who selected to do something that involves physical action."

De Santis contends that by repeatedly failing to act on evidence and witness statements--such as those in the Macias case and the others described here--sheriff's deputies are routinely violating women's rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law. That provision was adopted to stop systematic discrimination of blacks, since the people under the Ku Klux Klan sheets in the Deep South were sometimes the same people elected or appointed to protect those who were being harassed.

"What we have here is the same thing: systematic, third-party violence against a group, and law enforcement systematically ignoring that situation," De Santis asserts.

That may seem far-fetched. But, she points out, that statistically in some instances law enforcement officials sent to uphold protective orders are batterers themselves, leaving little room for compassion toward victims.

"They don't want to arrest men that look just like them and that behave just like them," Brannan adds. "They look at those restraining orders and say, 'I do this. What's the big deal?' When you look at the incidence of domestic violence by profession, the highest percentage of offenders are in law enforcement. Those are the men that we have to turn to for help, and that's a fundamental problem here."

Dr. Wayne Light, a Sonoma-based police psychologist, refutes that claim. "That might have been true 10 years ago, but I would say the number of batterers in law enforcement is about the same as in the general population." He credits better screening of recruits and a get-tough stance toward convicted batterers for the change. "It's pretty much the kiss of death for a cop to get convicted of spousal abuse," Light adds.

"Anyone can make accusations."

Court records show that Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Lopez--who on several occasions was dispatched to help Teresa Macias and recommended that the district attorney file stalking charges against Avelino--has twice had temporary restraining orders issued against him. Before their 1992 separation, his ex-wife, Delia, sought a protective order from the Sonoma County Superior Court because Lopez allegedly was "emotionally abusive" to her while intoxicated. He was "quite violent" and would have "angry outbursts," according to her statement filed in court divorce papers.

Delia, who has two children by Lopez, emphasized that Lopez never physically struck her. He has never been charged with spousal abuse and in court records has noted that it was Delia, not he, who was abusive.

In April of 1995, Teresa Guerrero--a Sonoma County probation officer who had lived with Lopez for 15 months--filed a restraining order because of Lopez's "violent nature" and his "excess consumption" of alcohol. "During our relationship, Mr. Lopez made threats that he would 'make me pay should I hurt him,'" Guerrero noted in an application for a protective order. She alleges that on March 31, 1995, Lopez called her at work and said, 'It's not over yet, bitch. God is going to punish you.' Then a week later, he allegedly left a note on her car that said, "You will die, bitch."

Guerrero claimed that Lopez "is willing and capable of inflicting physical injury to me."

Those aren't Lopez's only brushes with the law. In January of 1995, he was convicted on a drunken driving offense in Placerville. He served two days in the El Dorado County Jail, was placed on three years' probation, and was fined $1,727.

Assistant Sheriff Gary Zanolini said he could not discuss specific cases that might have been handled through internal affairs. But Lt. Erne Ballinger, the head of the department's personnel division, says that any deputy found guilty of a spousal abuse charge would be dismissed.

Those problems are not confined to the Sheriff's Department, however. Last December, Sonoma police officer Ron Ekas was placed on paid administrative leave for five months after being arrested for alleged spousal abuse. The charges were reduced to misdemeanor battery and will be dropped if Ekas completes a 32-week diversion program, which is being phased out by changes in state law. Ekas has said he is innocent of the charges. On April 15, the same day as Teresa Macias' murder, he agreed to go on unpaid leave.

Last week, Petaluma police officer Garrett Faddis, 32, was arrested at his Santa Rosa home on a charge of felony spousal abuse. According to police, Faddis had been drinking when a fight broke out with his spouse. Faddis allegedly choked the woman, who also suffered a bruised left eye, cuts and scratches, red marks on her neck, and a bloodied lip. She reportedly refused medical treatment.

Close to Home

More troubling to women's rights advocates is the fact that Sheriff Ihde may have known about a "no contact order" issued Nov. 29 by Sonoma County Municipal Court Judge Frank Passalaqua against Ihde's 24-year-old son, Sean, following a conviction for spousal abuse. That restraining order still was in effect when the Probation Department wrongly granted Sean an early release from a residential drug treatment program in January before completion of his 90-day sentence. It barred Sean from having direct contact with his ex-girlfriend during visits with their two children.

If the sheriff knew of the restraining order but chose to disregard it, critics say, then what kind of message is that sending to deputies in the field?

"What does that tell you about Ihde's capacity to understand the situation that the department is in right now--facing an investigation by the state Attorney General's Office and a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in federal court--or his ability to correct it?" De Santis asks.

She wants the Board of Supervisors and Ihde to "democratize" the Sheriff's Department by hiring more women deputies. Nationwide, 9.6 percent of law enforcement personnel in the field are women; of the 98 active duty patrol deputies on the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department's roster, three are women--or about 2.8 percent.

"I just don't think that the highest-ranking officials in the department understand what's happening here," De Santis adds. "The top brass just don't get it when it comes to understanding the true nature of the problem. They don't understand that the handling of violent crimes against women and children is different from other police work. I think they need to promote some of those deputies who are good at handling these cases, because the frontline patrol officers probably have a better understanding of the problems than the top brass.

"You encounter some real Neanderthal attitudes at the upper echelon."

The experiences of those victims interviewed for this story echo that sentiment. More disturbing is the fact that the women contend they have been failed by law and order. In the future, they would take matters into their own hands. Two already have purchased handguns.

How would things have changed for Evelyn if the four assailants in her rape case had been brought to justice through the courts? "I wouldn't feel so screwed over," she says, tears welling up in her eyes. "I mean, not only was I fucked by those four guys, I was fucked by the Sheriff's Department, too. That hurts 100 percent more because these people are supposed to be there to help you, but they didn't do anything. I still have nightmares, especially since Teresa's death. I've never felt this jilted. I just feel totally bitter. Those four guys are still walking around. And I don't want anybody else to get hurt.

"At this point, I'd just as soon kill someone who was hurting me or my family rather than call the police," she adds. "And that really stinks."

Correspondent Paula Harris contributed to this article.

Persons identified solely by a first name have had their real name changed to protect them.

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From the June 6-12, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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