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COVER STORY | Vol. 5, No. 23, June 9, 2005
(To Protect and Serve?)

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To Protect and Serve?

by Duwayne Escobedo

Lucille Young wanted protection.

"In the past few months he has beat me up several times, choked me, punched me and destroyed home. This is not the first time showing his violence in front of others and fear he is not finished," the Pensacola woman hand wrote in her April 17, 2002 application for a restraining order against her abusive husband, Sebastian Young.

A week later she withdrew the petition because he promised to leave town and never return. She thought his probation on previous domestic violence charges also would prevent him from contacting her.

But he did come back and Lucille Young returned to court June 11 to file a Petition for Injunction for Protection Against Domestic Violence.

This time Young wrote, "I am in great fear of what he might do to me, if there is a next time. I called the sheriffs dept. and they would not help at all."

Despite the restraining order, Sebastian Young left a message on her answering machine Oct. 31 of that year saying, "I'm coming for you."

He woke her up early on the morning of Nov. 22, 2002 and stood over her bed with a knife in his hand. He had slashed her car tires and poured sugar down the gas tank. She told an Escambia County Sheriff's deputy he threatened to "finish this once and for all," before leaving her trailer. Young said she feared for her life.

Between July 6, 2000 and Dec. 23, 2002 dispatch records and police reports obtained by the Independent News show she made at least 20 calls to the Escambia County Sheriff's Office for domestic disputes, restraining order violations and other related incidents.

Finally, a S.W.A.T. team arrived to Young's home on Hobson Lane in northwest Florida about 5 a.m. March 14, 2003. This time authorities found her lying dead on her back on her bed with a gunshot wound to the head.

Another deputy found her teenage son, Jon Juliusson, at the nearby Winn-Dixie parking lot bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to the back, a beating with the butt of the shotgun until it broke off and from stabbings. He faded in out of consciousness as he told the officer that his step-dad, Sebastian Young, broke into the home, shot his mother and then shot him, as he tried to flee out the back door for help.

Last month, a Pensacola jury convicted the 5-foot-10, 270-pound offshoreman of murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.

"She obviously was a woman who lived in constant fear of this man," says prosecutor David Rimmer. "He was stalking her. She saw him several times and always called the Sheriff's Office. She kept a loaded gun and had burglar alarms installed by her brother."

YOUNG'S FAMILY FIGHTS ON

Now, Young's brother Robert Mosco and her son, Jon, are alleging the Sheriff's Office and Escambia County Department of Probation and Parole among others failed to do enough to protect her. Their lawsuit claims the agencies failed to properly act on restraining orders, failed to properly follow up warrants for arrest and failed to properly supervise probation among other charges of negligence.

The case is one in a growing number across the country holding cities and police departments liable in domestic violence tragedies because they failed to enforce restraining orders.

The Pensacola case pursued by Young's family is one of the first of its kind in Florida coming after similar cases in 1997 in Miami and 2003 in Gadsden County, domestic violence legal experts say.

"This case needs to be brought and Mr. Mosco and the family want to do whatever they can to help others," says Chris Vlachos, a Levin Papantonio attorney who's heading the case. "This is about accountability. It will not bring her back but maybe it will protect other women."

The Young lawsuit comes as women rights advocates across the country await a potentially landmark Supreme Court decision this summer on the liability of law enforcement agencies in domestic violence cases under federal civil rights law.

As in Young's claim, Jessica Gonzales charges that Castle Rock, Colo., police ignored her repeated pleas to enforce a restraining order, after he took their three daughters. She contacted the police six times over an eight-hour period, once even pleading in person at the police station.

The police took no action, even going to dinner, until her estranged husband pulled up the following day in front of the police station and began shooting. Officers returned fire and killed him. Then, in his truck they discovered the three girls, who he had murdered earlier that evening.

Margaret Drew says the pending Supreme Court decision is crucial. The American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence chairwoman points out that one of the most effective tools available to victims of domestic violence to ensure their safety and to reduce violence is the legal system, particularly the civil protection order.

"Although we do not yet know the outcome of this case, it demonstrates the dire need for enforcement of protection orders and the availability of civil remedies for any inexcusable failure of law enforcement to enforce orders of protection," Drew says. "Without the availability of civil or other remedies to hold law enforcement accountable in any inexcusable failure, there will be no incentive for police departments to change their policies and their de-facto practices of non-enforcement."

A BIG TEDDY BEAR?

Vlachos calls non-enforcement of protective orders in Escambia County a "systemic problem." But he puts most of the blame in the Young case on the county probation and parole department, which failed to put him in jail when he violated his probation on a previous domestic violence charge by crossing her path.

"She did everything necessary to protect herself," says Vlachos, who spoke on behalf of the family for this story. "The fact is the probation department did not act as a deterrent as it should have. She made several calls to Sebastian Young's probation officer. He stated she was just making problems for him and that he was just a big teddy bear. He was a big teddy bear capable of shooting her and shooting her son in the back. She wasn't making trouble for him. She was calling out for help and never got it."

Joe Ward, senior deputy court administrator for the probation department, did not return an Independent News phone call asking for a response to allegations about negligence in the Young lawsuit. Ward and Allen Travis, probation department director, were both named as plaintiffs in the suit.

An Escambia County Sheriff's Office spokesman maintains that deputies did nothing wrong in their responses to numerous domestic disturbances at Young's home.

"We are responsible for him being in jail on more than one occasion," says Capt. Joel Mooneyham, a department spokesman. "It appears all our policies and procedures and Florida statutes were followed. There is nothing this agency could have done to prevent Lucille Young's death."

Sue Hand, FavorHouse of Northwest Florida executive director, says that after working with domestic violence victims in the region for nearly 25 years she believes local law enforcement agencies don't do enough to help.

"I'm sorry to see Lucille Young's family go through this litigation," Hand says. "But this is very important. I hope it spurs changes we need for these victims."

IMPORTANCE OF ENFORCEMENT

In fact, studies have found many victims wait until they are desperate to end the abuse to seek a protective order, with 25 percent suffering for more than five years.

Still, about 60 percent of orders are violated within one year and one-third of those involve severe violence.

A study conducted by the National Center for State Courts found that in Denver, where 87 percent of those who violated protective orders were arrested, only 2 percent of women experienced re-abuse within six months of obtaining the order. But in Washington, D.C., where police arrested batterers for violating protective orders only 41 percent of the time, 11.9 percent of victims reported re-abuse.

Penny Crandall, Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence legal director, says restraining orders must be enforced strongly and swiftly or they're just meaningless pieces of paper. And she says research shows violence may escalate.

"If word gets out in an area that you won't be protected, women feel like they have no options," Crandall says. "They feel totally trapped. They may stay at a high cost to themselves and their children. So, it's very important the judge, probation officer, police officer and everyone involved take a restraining order serious and enforce it. It does increase protection. If an abuser is allowed to go back, go back and go back and then the police say, 'Joe we're serious this time,' he's not going to take it seriously."

Domestic violence advocates say a restraining order provides crucial information to the police. It tells them that an offender has already been determined by a court of law to be a dangerous threat to the victim's safety. It also is a signal to law enforcement of the heightened risk of future harm to the victim when an offender violates an order.

"When offenders thumb their noses at the court, this is an indicator that you've got high lethality on your hands," says retired Nashville Police Department Lt. Mark Wynn, a domestic violence expert.

Hand adds that in training she gives to police officers she says, "You can be held liable for not enforcing a restraining order but you can't be sued for false arrest."

CALL FOR BETTER PROTECTION

After Pennsylvania and D.C. created protective orders to prevent domestic violence in the 1970s, every state followed with their own legislation by 1989.

An ABA Commission on Domestic Violence report due out in August points out: "Thirty-one states require the police to arrest an offender who violates a protection order.  The federal government and every state have passed full faith and credit provisions requiring recognition and enforcement of civil protection orders issued in other states. Moreover, with the passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, Congress recognized the potential of protective orders to help protect battered women. Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice has also indicated support of enforcement of protection orders by requiring that applicants for one of its grant programs demonstrate commitment to protective order and other domestic violence law enforcement in order to qualify for funding."

The ABA Commission on Domestic Violence plans to call on the association in August to adopt recommendations to reduce domestic violence by urging law enforcement agencies to:

• Ensure enforcement of laws providing for arrest for violation of protective orders (civil or criminal); and

• Ensure that law enforcement officers respond to domestic violence calls, conduct complete investigations, and prepare written reports; and

• Support the development of law enforcement policies, and procedures that will ensure enforcement of protection order laws and provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence and their children.

"Most individuals will not let an abuser know that his behavior is not acceptable," the ABA's Drew says. "Apparently, police are no different. We do not know if they have not dealt with their own abuse histories whether as victim or perpetrator or if officers, both male and female, are afraid to counter a culture of misogyny. Whatever it is, these officers are not appropriate to serve if they are not ready and willing to enforce a civil order of protection. Human nature being what it is, victims must have remedies against non-enforcement available to them or it is unlikely that the culture of non-enforcement will ever change."

Mary Lou Leary is executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime and a former prosecutor. She previously oversaw the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Community Policing and Office of Justice Programs, which included the Office on Violence Against Women.

"We are not asking law enforcement to provide bodyguards for victims, but we are asking them to enforce the law by arresting people who violate protective orders rather than turning their backs," she says in a statement on the Castle Rock v. Gonzales case before the Supreme Court. "We know this can be accomplished without over-burdening police, because many police departments across the country are doing it everyday."

Leary points out, for example, the Colorado Springs Police Department created a Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team, which tracks violations of protective orders and consistently arrests violators. The Orange County Sheriff's Department in Florida credits similar measures with a 38 percent reduction in the proportional rate of homicides related to domestic violence.

Vlachos says he considers Lucille Young's family courageous for standing up to her ex-husband, especially her son, Jon, who now lives in Iceland with his father, Jon Julius Hafsteinsson, his brother, his girlfriend, Kaylene Lake, and their 7-month-old son, Mason.

"She was my best friend. She was everything I had in my life," Juliusson testified through tears during the criminal trial last month. "She's a grandmother now, and she'll never live to see him."


CALLS FOR HELP

Lucille Young called the Escambia County Sheriff's Office at least 20 times mainly for help in domestic violence disputes with her ex-husband, Sebastian Young, records obtained by the Independent News show. Sebastian Young was convicted in her shotgun slaying and sentenced to life in prison in May. Following are the date and reason for each Sheriff's Office call between July 6, 2000 and March 14, 2003.

07-06-00 Fire.

10-13-00 Domestic disturbance. S. Young kicking L. Young.

10-20-00 Missing person.

10-29-00 911 verification.

12-29-00 Armed disturbance. S. Young took out knife and tore up house.

12-30-00 Domestic disturbance.

02-06-01 Sheriff's Office check.

04-11-01 911 verification.

06-01-01 Disturbance family.

12-21-01 Prowler.

01-25-02 Domestic disturbance. S. Young hit L. Young and tore up house.

04-16-02 Disturbance family. S. Young pushed step-son and argued with him.

04-16-02 Assist citizen. S. Young calls police for escort to remove his things from home.

04-17-02 Assist citizen. L. Young calls to report restraining order violation.

05-21-02 Battery. Son calls says L. Young hit him in arm with a bat.

06-10-02 Burglary residence. L. Young says S. Young broke into house and violated restraining order.

06-20-02 Enforce court order. L. Young reports restraining order violation.

10-27-02 Disturbance family. L. Young reports S. Young keeps calling her on phone and making threats.

10-31-02 Domestic violence injunction-restraining order violation. L. Young plays answering machine message to deputy with S. Young threat, "I'm coming to get you."

11-22-02 Armed disturbance. L. Young reports S. Young wakes her and is standing over bed with a knife in his hand and threatens to kill her. He slashes her tires and pours sugar down her car's gas tank.

11-25-02 Domestic violence injunction-restraining order violation.

12-23-02 Prowler.

03-14-03 Fight. Escambia County Sheriff's Office finds L. Young lying dead on her back in her bed with gunshot wound to the head. L. Young's son is found in Winn-Dixie parking lot bleeding profusely and fading in and out of consciousness from gunshot in the back, beating from butt of rifle and stab wounds.

Source: Escambia County Sheriff's Office Call History Records.


Domestic Violence Recommendations

In August, the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence hopes the association will adopt these recommendations that urge federal, state, local and territorial governments to reduce domestic violence by enforcing orders of protection as required under federal, state, local and territorial law including:

1. Ensuring enforcement of laws providing for arrest for violation of protective orders (civil or criminal); and

2. Ensuring that law enforcement officers to respond to domestic violence calls, conduct complete investigations, and prepare written reports; and

3. Supporting the development of law enforcement policies, and procedures that will ensure enforcement of protection order laws and provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence and their children.

The recommendation further urges that state and local governments enact civil remedies for the inexcusable failure of law enforcement to enforce the terms of civil and criminal restraining orders.

Victims of domestic violence should not have to visit multiple courts multiple times in order to enforce protective orders or obtain remedies for failure of police to enforce those orders. The rights of victims to enforcement should be clear. The remedies for lack of enforcement must be available not only to individual complainants, but to communities who recognize that the safety of all is enhanced when domestic violence protection orders are strictly enforced.

This recommendation is necessary to ensure the safety of victims of domestic violence. Orders of protection can be an effective way to prevent future domestic violence if they are enforced.  

Source: American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence


A FIRST

In 1985, Tracy Thurman successfully sued the town of Torrington on the legal argument that Torrington police responded differently to victims of domestic violence than other crime victims. Thurman v. Torrington is the first Federal case in which a battered woman sues a city for police failure to protect her from her husband's violence.  Thurman won a $2 million judgement against the city.

As a result of the lawsuit, considerable attention was given to the police response to domestic violence and the Governor of Connecticut appointed a Task Force to study the systems of response to domestic violence. In 1986, the Connecticut General Assembly passed the landmark Family Violence Prevention and Response Act, creating clear public policy that family violence was a crime and that victims need next-day access to the court for protection and information. The law, among other things, established mandatory arrest policies; ensured next day arraignment; made criminal protective orders available for victims; and established the Family Violence Intervention Unit.

A television movie was made of the landmark case, "A Cry for Help: The Tracy Thurman Story," in 1989. Thurman remains scarred and partially paralyzed from stab wounds inflicted by her husband.

duwayne@inweekly.net