Thursday, October 21, 2010
October is Domestic Violence Month. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis highlighted the problem this week. But she did so amid mounting questions about why her office didn't press charges against a man suspected of murdering the wife he had previously brutalized. The victim tapped into the very resources Dumanis touted.
SAN DIEGO October is Domestic Violence Month. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis highlighted the problem this week. But she did so amid mounting questions about why her office didn't press charges against a man suspected of murdering the wife he had previously brutalized. The victim tapped into the very resources Dumanis touted.
Diana Gonzalez met Armando Perez at a mall in 2007. She was 16. He was 34. They began dating the following year. Last December, they had a baby and got married. In July, they separated. By all accounts, Perez refused to accept the separation.
Last month, Gonzalez said her estranged husband kidnapped her from San Diego City College. For three days, he held her captive. She said he raped her. He threatened to kill her. And he choked her until she passed out.
"When you strangle somebody to unconsciousness, that's called attempted murder and when that dynamic has gone on, there should be a lot of things going on in a community to make sure the victim is going to be safe," said Casey Gwinn, head of the Family Justice Alliance, which advocates for domestic violence victims.
Immediately, following the attack, Gonzalez reported the alleged abduction to San Diego police. The 19-year-old told a detective Perez had battered her 20 other times. Based on her injuries and her story, the detective determined Gonzalez had been a victim of kidnapping, assault, rape, false imprisonment, spousal abuse and criminal threats. Perez was arrested. The police department submitted the case to the district attorney's office. Gonzalez also filed for a restraining order against Perez.
"When you read the police report, when you read her declaration she filed in family court, she did everything society expects her to do," said Gwinn. "She didn't recant. She provided all the information."
But the district attorney's office did not press charges. Perez was released. And authorities now believe he went back to San Diego City College for Gonzalez a second time last Tuesday. This time she died violently.
Perez has been charged with her murder and remains a fugitive.
"I think there's no doubt that if someone has been assaulted for a long period of time in a relationship and they've come forward for help from the system and they end up murdered, the system has failed. There really can't be any argument about that," Gwinn said.
Gwinn stops short of pointing the finger at District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis or her staff. He says there's additional evidence like photographs, forensics from the various crime scenes and the rape examination kit that have not been made public. "But given the information we do know, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered."
"We have more than just an original police report."
"In this case we were not able to file charges because there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt," explained District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Because of the pending investigation, Dumanis would not say what additional evidence was needed.
But former DA Paul Pfingst says the public has a right to know. "The public is entitled to know whether or not there was a screw-up with the government that ultimately resulted in the death of an innocent woman. The public is entitled to know whether this should have been handled differently. The reason we're entitled to know so that if it needs to be handled differently, the public can be assured that the proper changes are made."
Historically, domestic violence cases within the city of San Diego that were not pursued by the DA were turned over to the City Attorney's office for possible misdemeanor prosecution. That did not happen in the Gonzalez case. A DA spokesman said that's because legally, the burden of proof on a misdemeanor is the same as for a felony…beyond a reasonable doubt.
Dumanis, a former domestic violence judge, says there will be a review of how the Gonzalez case was handled. "You don't always know which batterers are the ones that are going to be really violent and those that aren't, and so you do the best you can in each and every case."
Gwinn welcomes the DA's review. But he says people should understand that domestic violence homicides are 100 percent preventable.
"There's too many indicators, too many predictors, too much information is available now about when someone is going to die to say that with all the information that existed, this was the best we could do."