Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, April 29, 2005

US Supreme Court: Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales, Jessica, et al

Do law enforcement agencies have a legal obligation to enforce restraining orders?

On March 21, 2005, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Castle Rock, CO v. Gonzales, Jessica, et al, Docket 04-278. The Court's decision in this case may determine whether law enforcement agencies can be held liable for their failure to enforce restraining orders.

An excellent summary of the relevant facts in this case and the previous courts' decisions in precedent cases are available in an online article by Jessica Young of the Medill News Service, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Ms. Young's article also has some excellent links to the preceding court cases that led to this case being presented to the US Supreme Court.

Briefly, the facts outlined in Ms. Young's article are:

In 1999 Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her estranged husband. On the evening of June 22, 1999, her husband, Simon Gonzales, violated the order and abducted her three children. Jessica Gonzales suspected her husband had taken them, and at 7:30 p.m. she notified the Castle Rock, CO, Police Department, asking the Department to enforce the restraining order. The police told her to call back about 10 p.m. if the children did not return. Shortly after that, Jessica Gonzales spoke with her husband on his cell phone. He confirmed he had the girls and had taken them to an amusement park in Denver. Immediately following that call, Jessica Gonzales recontacted the Castle Rock Police Department to demand the police locate and arrest her estranged husband and safeguard the children. The police refused and told her to wait until 10 p.m.

At 10 p.m. the children had not returned home, so Jessica Gonzales recontacted the Castle Rock Police Department. She was told by the dispatcher to wait another two hours.

At midnight, Jessica Gonzales once again contacted the Castle Rock Police Department to tell them her children were still missing. She had gone to her husband's home and found no one there. The police told her to wait there for officers.

At 12:50 a.m. Jessica Gonzales went to the police department personally. An officer took an incident report but made no effort to find the children or enforce the restraining order.

At 3:20 a.m. Simon Gonzales arrived at the Castle Rock police station, armed, and opened fire on the police station with a handgun he had purchased after abducting the girls. Simon Gonzales was fatally wounded in the exchange of gunfire with the police. In the cab of the truck Simon Gonzales had driven to the police department, police found the bodies of Jessica Gonzales' daughters. He had murdered them earlier in the evening.

In June 2000, Jessica Gonzales sued the city of Castle Rock and several police officers. She sought damages, alleging they had violated her constitutional rights by failing to enforce the restraining order. A federal district court judge dismissed the suit.

Ultimately in April 2004, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (6-5) that the restraining order gave Jessica Gonzales a legitimate expectation of police protection and that Jessica Gonzales' repeated pleas for help should not have been ignored without notification that the restraining order would not be enforce.

In its appeal to the US Supreme Court, Castle Rock argued that the 10th Circuit Court decision could cause "potentially devastating" lawsuits that "could bankrupt municipal governments."

The US Supreme Court agreed to review the case on November 1, 2004. A decision is expected by June 2005.

Here are links to the merit briefs on the US Supreme Court website:

Petitioner's brief

Respondent's brief

Petitioner's reply brief

Historically the US Supreme Court tends to narrow rather than expand the issues presented for its consideration. This particular case is limited to whether or not the police can be held legally liable for failing to enforce a restraining order. If the Court were to expand the question, the issue, it might well ask, "If the police (law enforcement) fail to perform their duties at the level they've promised their publics, can they be held liable?"


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