The Way It Should Be - From the Start
so simple.... The Santa Rosa police officer pulled a card
from his pocket, picked up our office phone, and dialed
the Language Line. He gave the operator his account number,
and asked for a Spanish interpreter. In less than a minute,
a professional interpreter was on the line.
face-to-face, only a couple feet from the officer, 19
year-old Lorena sat tense to the breaking point on the
edge of her chair. It had taken all our effort before
the officer arrived just to calm Lorena to the point where
she could tell her story. Now Lorena fixed her stare on
the officer as if desperately trying to anchor herself
in an impossible emotional storm.
back at Lorena, the officer asked her in a language she
couldn't understand, "Can you tell me what happened?"
He paused, and passed the phone to Lorena. Lorena listened
intently to the translator. For a moment, she hesitated,
as if not quite convinced this was going to work; then
she poured her story out. Without prompting, Lorena passed
the phone back to the officer. It was then, as she watched
the officer take notes while listening to the interpreter
on the phone, that for the first time you could see the
terror visibly begin to dissipate from Lorena's eyes.
conversation between the officer and Lorena quickly set
into that slow, reliable rhythm of well translated conversations.
Conversations, that because of the rhythmic pauses, are
often calmer and more composed than conversations where
people are speaking the same language. It really is a
form of magic.
fifteen minutes the officer had obtained the accurate
information he needed to open a criminal case against
the husband, to get Lorena an emergency protective order,
and to open a search for the children the husband was
holding hostage, and to put them back in Lorena's arms.
as in so many other cases of Spanish-speaking victims,
that isn't what the officer had set out to do. Instead,
on first arriving at our office, he asked us for a brief
summary of the case, which was fine. We told him that
Lorena had fled the home following an attack by her husband,
and that the husband had taken the children into hiding,
and then sent a third person to tell her she would never
see the children again if she didn't come back to him.
The officer leaned over to us and said, "I'm sending
her to deal with this in family court."
effect, the officer was saying, 'I'm not going to waste
valuable police time on this case.' "No," we
said, "This is a criminal matter, and you're going
to do it right." That resolved, the officer then
asked us to translate. "No," we said, "You
know that since we're advocates, our translating makes
her statement assailable in court.". Only then did
the officer pull out his pocket card to the Language Line
and do it right.
we're standing at the woman's side, we can often make
it go right. But look what happens when a Spanish-speaking
woman calls for police on her own.
Story: "We Never Use
Children to Translate"
ten years, police throughout Sonoma County have sworn
up and down that they would never even think of using
children to translate in domestic violence cases. And
for ten years, we've been bringing them cases that prove
otherwise. Here's one more.
summer, when the Sheriff's deputy who responded to Corina's
call for help began to use her husband's 13- year-old
niece to translate, Corina protested immediately. As best
she could in her very limited English, Corina asked the
deputy for a real interpreter. The deputy outright refused.
He indicated that the 13-year-old girl could interpret
defeated, Corina went ahead anyway and told bits of her
story to police through her husband's niece; that she
was very afraid, and that her husband was making death
threats. But Corina also held back important parts of
her story. And she had no idea how much of what she was
saying was actually being translated to the officer.
to make matters worse, like a throwback to the dangerous,
discarded practices of thirty years ago, the deputy informally
told the husband to leave the home for 24hours. He made
no effort to obtain a proper emergency protective order
for Corina, nor to interview key witnesses, nor to investigate
further. Instead, as in so many cases of Spanish- speaking
victims, the deputy walked away.
Corina found her way to us. We protested the deputy's
response. A detective was dispatched to do things correctly.
The full story was obtained, witnesses interviewed, a
protective order was written, the husband was arrested
and is now charged with multiple counts of domestic violence.
But ask any officer today, and they're certain to tell
you again. They never use children to translate in domestic
Note : For more on Sheriff response to
Spanish-speaking victims see Andrea's Story, A Million
Dollars Wasn't Enough
He Says She's Crazy, So Take Her Away
the fact that Stephanie's husband was 28 years older than
her, despite the fact that he was a Sonoma County businessman
who naturally spoke English, and that he had bought Stephanie
when she was a homeless, single mother living in wretched
poverty in the streets of Central America, and despite
the fact that he had held her in virtual slavery since
bringing her back to the states, Stephanie dared to rebel.
when she began to disobey his orders and resist his attacks,
it was as if her husband knew instinctively that the police
would serve as his right hand man. Stephanie's husband,
himself, would call the police on her.
one occasion last fall, when Stephanie refused to obey
him, he called Santa Rosa police and told them Stephanie
was crazy and threatening suicide. Then, completely ignoring
Stephanie's attempts in Spanish to protest to police that
her husband was lying, police simply handcuffed Stephanie,
and carted her off to Oakcrest. It then took Oakcrest
a day and a half to get Stephanie an interpreter so she
could communicate her story to the doctors. They determined
she was fine and sent her home. The interpreter provided
by Oakcrest after a day and a half was the cleaning lady.
this summer, and again on her husband's word alone that
Stephanie had hit him, Santa Rosa Police kicked Stephanie
out of her home, opened a criminal 'assault with a deadly
weapon' case against Stephanie, gave her husband a restraining
order against Stephanie, and most unbearable to her of
all, gave full custody of her new baby to the husband.
the time Stephanie found her way to us she was buried
under the full weight of both her husband's oppression
and the justice system's immense power. As we worked to
get things corrected, the first action of the judge in
family court was to refuse to accept declarations written
in Spanish by Stephanie's witnesses, telling her she had
to get them translated herself. From police, to the hospital,
to the judge, these officials illegally turned the language
barrier into an impenetrable wall to keep Stephanie out
and strengthen the husband's abuse.
Story: Beneath Their Dignity
enforcement officers should use translators to translate.
They shouldn't use translators to take over the critical
work of the case investigation so that the officer can
wash his hands of the woman, and walk away.
Healdsburg Police went to Angelina's home in response
to her call, they interviewed her English-speaking husband,
and they had Angelina talk by phone to a bilingual civilian
employee back at the station. But instead of using the
civilian employee as translator, the officer turned over
the whole interview. Not only didn't the officer question
the victim through the translator, he didn't oversee that
interview , and the consequences to Angelina were devastating.
Angelina's husband was already on probation for domestic
violence. And the civilian employee wrongly told Angelina
that her husband's refusal to let her leave the home with
the baby wasn't a crime, so there was nothing police could
do. When the officer finally wrote a report on the case,
in the space designated "victim statement",
the officer wrote, "none".
the days between this incident, and when Angelina found
her way to us, her husband had now pulled a knife on Angelina
and their 4-year -old daughter, and threatened to kill
them. We called the probation department. But the probation
officer did the same as the Healdsburg officer. She had
a translator call Angelina, and then turned the interviewing
task over to the translator. This time, the translator
missed the critical new incident that had just occurred.
it was back to the Healdsburg Police, whose officer now
said he "can't find a translator", and, looking
at his watch, said "And it's too late" to call
the Language Line, (knowing full well the line operates
24 hours a day). It took days of hammering on the walls
of discrimination to get Angelina's statement properly
on the record. The husband has now been convicted of a
felony on the new crimes which, with proper police work
in the first place, would never have occurred.
A Million Dollars Wasn't Enough
in court at the end of June, Andrea still couldn't believe
the judge was setting her free of all charges, free to
go on with her life, with no conviction, no probation,
no court more dates, and no record. It had been a very
long road from the double dose of despair that had paralyzed
Andrea for months. Despair from living so long under domestic
violence, compounded by despair that when she called the
Sheriff for help, the deputy arrested her.
in so many cases of Spanish-speaking victims, even though
Andrea had made the 911 call, the deputy made no effort
to get her statement. Instead, he took the English-speaking
husband's word for what happened. Andrea asked for a translator.
The deputy refused, and then arrested her.
only did Andrea protest right there at the scene. She
tried again to communicate her side of the story when
the deputy took her to the Sonoma Valley substation. This
time, Andrea says, the arresting deputy and another deputy
at the sub-station were laughing at her efforts.
scene Andrea describes of being mocked by the Sonoma Valley
substation deputies is eerily like that described by witness
Marty Cabello in the federal civil rights case of Teresa
Macias v. Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept.. You may remember
that in that case, Teresa Macias was murdered by her husband
a matter of weeks after being belittled by the deputies.
And it was just two years ago, Sonoma County Sheriff was
ordered by a federal judge to pay a million dollars to
the Macias children for discriminating against their mother.
Andrea's case, when the deputy then took her from the
sub station to the jail, the mockery didn't stop. Andrea
says she again tried to tell the deputy her side of the
story. Again the deputy began taunting her again. "Come
on, Andrea," he kept saying, "Speak English!"
"You know you can speak English." "Come
on, Andrea., come on, speak English!"
wasn't until months of heartache later that the court
finally heard Andrea's side of the story, and set her
$$$$$$$$$ Too Expensive? $$$$$$$$$$$$$
fifteen minute Language Line interpreter to obtain a victim
statement costs police less than $50 and saves the community
immeasurable costs in more police calls, more oppressed
women, more youth violence, and more general social demise.