1996 to June 2002
1996: Macias Case Filed
$15 million federal civil rights case of Macias vs. Sonoma County
Sheriff's Department claims that the Sheriff's Department repeatedly
denied Maria Teresa Macias' constitutional right to equal protection
in its response to Teresa's more than 22 calls for help before she
was finally murdered by her physically and sexually violent husband.
The suit claims that the Sheriff's Department discriminated against
Teresa as a woman, a Latina, and as a victim of violence against
women, by never once arresting or even citing her husband despite
a county mandate to do so, by failing to write reports, by dumping
investigations, ignoring evidence, by discouraging Teresa from calling,
1999: Macias Case Dismissed
District Court Judge Jensen dismissed the Macias case siding with
Sheriff's Department arguments that police cannot be held responsible
for another person's violence. This dismissal was in line with previous
legal precedent which has consistently denied women legal remedy
when police ignore women's pleas for help with domestic and sexual
The Macias family appealed
Judge Jensen's dismissal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The
Macias family appealed because they believe legal remedy must be
established for women, or too many police will continue to ignore
violence against women with impunity.
20, 2000: Unanimous Landmark Appellate Decision Declares Women's
Constitutional Right to Non-Discriminatory Police Protection.
most unambiguous language to date, the 9th Circuit Federal Court
of Appeals unanimously declared women's constitutional right to
non-discriminatory police protection and provided women a constitutional
basis for holding police accountable for inferior police protection.
The 9th Circuit Court decision also reversed Judge Jensen's dismissal
and revived the Macias case in the Federal District Court.
Even if the Macias case
were to lose on its particulars back in the district court, this
overarching, historic decision laid down by the 9th Circuit Court
will remain binding law throughout the nine western states and two
U.S. territories of the 9th judicial district.
2001: District Court Judge Jensen Recuses Himself from Macias Case.
the 9th Circuit Appellate Court decision, when Judge Jensen delayed
new action on the case, Macias Attorney Rick Seltzer accused Judge
Jensen of overwhelming prejudice against the case and requested
that Jensen recuse himself from the case. Stunningly, without further
ado, Judge Jensen, whose rulings on the case had been archaic and
anti-woman, announced that he was recusing himself from the case.
U.S. District Judge Susan
Illston was chosen by an automatic assignment process to replace
8 and 11, 2001: Judge Illston Sets Trial Date and Rules in Macias'
Favor on Key Case Issues
first set of rulings on the Macias case, Judge Susan Illston set
April 22, 2002 for the trial date of Macias vs. the Sonoma County
Sheriff's Department. In addition, Illston ruled that Judge Jensen's
earlier ruling that police can't be held responsible for Macias'
murder is null and void. Illston also ruled that the Macias family
can ask money damages for Teresa's pain and suffering before her
death resulting from Sheriff's denial of equal protection.
Taken together, Judge
Illston's June 11th rulings signal her willingness to explore the
larger, uncharted legal territory that the Macias case presents.
In particular, Illston has opened the door to the possible finding
that Sonoma County Sheriff's conduct was, indeed, a significant
cause of the murder of Maria Teresa Macias. The second part of Judge
Illston's ruling opens legal and financial remedy to all women victims
of violence against women who receive inferior police response,
even if it didn't end in murder. These women, too, can hold police
accountable for denying their constitutional rights.
18, 2002, Unprecedented Million Dollar Settlement:
Sheriff Held Accountable in Domestic Violence Homicide of Maria
On June 18, 2002, in the first ever monetary award by law enforcement
for their failure to protect a domestic violence victim leading
up to her homicide, the Sonoma County Sheriffs Department
agreed to pay a million dollar settlement in the landmark federal
civil rights lawsuit of Maria Teresa Macias vs. Sonoma County
Sheriff Mark Ihde.
The announcement came
mid-trial at the close of dramatic testimony by Sara Rubio Hernandez
detailing more than 20 attempts by her daughter, Maria Teresa Macias,
to get help with her violent estranged husband, Avelino. Hernandez
outlined her daughter's repeated reports to the Sheriff Dept. of
Avelinos multiple felony crimes including his sexual assaults
of Teresa and her children, his constant obsessive stalking, repeated
threats to kill and restraining order violations. The Sheriff's
Department never once arrested or cited Avelino Macias. After deputies
ignored more than twenty reports in just the last few months of
her life, Avelino fatally shot Teresa, then shot and seriously wounded
her mother, Sara, on April 15, 1996.
This landmark federal
civil rights lawsuit, filed in October 1996 claimed that Sonoma
County Sheriff's Department violated Teresa's constitutional right
to equal protection of the laws. A July 2000 9th Circuit Appellate
Court decision in the Macias case established for the first time
and in the most unambiguous language to date, women's rights to
sue law enforcement when they fail to act.
With todays testimony
and the historic damages award, Sara Rubio Hernadez said, I
have fulfilled my daughters wish. Shortly before her
death, Teresa told her mother, If I die I want you to tell
the world what happened to me. I dont want other women to
suffer as I have suffered. I want them to be listened to.
The settlement sends
a resounding message to law enforcement around the country that
they can no longer ignore domestic violence victims with impunity.
And it sends an equally forceful message to women everywhere, that
they have a constitutional right to hold law enforcement accountable
when law enforcement refuses to act.