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Our Boys in Beige

Purple Berets charge cover up in CHP domestic violence case

By Stephanie Hiller

The few drivers moving along Labath Avenue in Rohnert Park on a quiet Saturday afternoon were surprised to see some 50 women and men picketing the offices of the California Highway Patrol. Behind the speakers was a big sign identifying the Purple Berets as "Turning Up the Heat on Patriarchy," with a picture of a woman grimacing while firing a blow torch. Many of the people assembled wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Stop Violence Against Women."

The July 26 demonstration was directed toward the CHP's handling of charges made by Mitzie Grabner against officer Curt Lubiszewski. On repeated occasions, as Grabner recounted in her sworn statement, her former live-in boyfriend Lubiszewski grabbed her by the arms and shook her, pushed her, sat on her chest and yelled, threw her down stairs, took her keys, and broke her phone.

After Grabner came forward, Lubiszewski's ex-wife Bonnie Garrett decided to support Grabner's case by reporting her former husband's attacks during their marriage. Grabner and Garrett had become acquainted while making childcare arrangements for Bonnie and Curt's three boys. Both ex-wife and ex-girlfriend spoke at the protest.

In the 15 cases she has handled involving law-enforcement officers, this is the first where women have come forward, said Purple Beret founder Tanya Brannan, addressing the crowd. Partners do not usually report the violence because abusive policemen, aware that conviction could mean the end of their job, often threaten them.

Mitzie Grabner did not report the violence until after she left Lubiszewski. Scared that he would attack her when she returned to his apartment to pick up her things, she reported previous incidents to the Rohnert Park police, and a civil standby was arranged.

Protesters also heard strong statements from Bonnie's mother, Rose Schloming, and Bonnie's present husband, Jim Garrett.

"What kind of message are we giving to our youth," asked Schloming, "if we don't rise up and object to violence against women?"

Because of Grabner's and Garrett's sworn testimony and the testimony of a witness, Bonnie Leslie, an internal investigation was launched by the CHP in February, as well as a criminal investigation by the Rohnert Park Police Department that was sent on to the district attorney's office.

The district attorney decided that there was insufficient evidence to bring the case to trial, and CHP Capt. Larry O'Shea told Brannan that without a court conviction, Lubiszewski could not be disciplined.

Grabner called on the Purple Berets, who demanded a new hearing and a new investigation.

In a letter charging mishandling of the case by law enforcement, Brannan accused the departments of intimidating Grabner during previous interviews and also of failing to interview all the witnesses. A new hearing was held May 28 and the case was reopened.

Cases of wife beating by law-enforcement officers are not unusual. Police are two to four times more likely to be guilty of battering than the rest of the population, and, according to two separate national studies, fully 40 percent of male officers report that they have hit their wives in the past year, compared with 10 percent of the general population.

Why are police officers more likely to be abusers than other men? Possession of a gun appears to be correlated with violence against women. A study reported in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health shows that access to firearms increases the risk of gynocide by more than five times. Abusers who possess guns also "tend to inflict the most severe abuse."

An intensive five-month investigation by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of 41 officers who have been accused of assaulting, stalking, threatening, or harassing their wives, girlfriends, or children, found that "police departments are falling short on a number of fronts in the way they handle domestic-violence allegations against officers."

District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua insists that "domestic violence is a very serious matter, and we are investigating this case very closely, as we do any allegation of domestic violence." Citing new evidence since the May 28 hearing, Passalacqua repeated that the case is being taken "very seriously."

Lt. Dan Moore of the CHP did not mention any new evidence. He did the first-level review of the initial investigation by Sgt. Scott Bartelson and considered it adequate. Asked whether the department censured domestic violence by officers, Moore replied, "I can't say the statement of ethics covers domestic violence in great detail," though he didn't see how officers could fail to be aware of the problem, "given the status of this issue in the legal system." Officers are not stupid, he said, "they know the issues that are happening to their fellow officers."

In response to the question of whether it was necessary, as Capt. O'Shea had told Brannan, to have a court conviction before the department would discipline him, Lt. Moore said, "Give me a good reason why we should fire an employee that has not been convicted."

However, according to Assistant Chief Bonnie Stanton in the Sacramento CHP office, CHP discipline depends on the evidence--and does not require a court decision.

Across the street from the protest, Curt's brother Mark stood with his wife and Lubiszewski's current girlfriend, passing out a purple sheet composed by a friend of Curt's saying that the Purple Berets were making a mistake--though with little more information.

Asked whether it took courage for her to stand up on the street to state her case, Mitzie Grabner shook her head. "I have no reason to fear when I'm telling the truth," she said.

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From the August 7-13, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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