Faces of Justice Denied - Jessica Gonzales

Document Date: December 10, 2010

Jessica Gonzales, a victim of domestic violence who was shut out of court after the Colorado police failed to protect her children from her abusive husband

In June 1999 Jessica Gonzales’ three young daughters, ages seven, nine and ten, were abducted by her estranged husband and killed after the Colorado police refused to enforce a restraining order against him. Although Gonzales repeatedly called the police, telling them of her fears for her daughters’ safety, they refused to respond. Ten hours later, Gonzales’ husband drove his pick-up truck to the police department and opened fire. He was shot dead by the police. The slain bodies of the three girls were subsequently discovered in the back of his pickup truck.

Gonzales filed a lawsuit against the police, but in June 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she had no Constitutional right to police enforcement of her restraining order. The Supreme Court refused to recognize her right to relief, holding that the government had no duty to protect its citizens from privately inflicted violence despite the existence of a valid protective order, the police’s knowledge of imminent harm to her children, and ample opportunity for the police to act to prevent the harm to the three girls. As a result of the Court’s ruling, there is also now no federal remedy to compensate for the failure of state actors to protect women from and/or prevent domestic violence. In some states, including Colorado (where Ms. Gonzales and her children lived), there are no avenues for holding law enforcement officials accountable when police officers fail to provide the protection mandated by state law.

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