WASHINGTON- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police cannot be sued for how they enforce restraining orders, ending a lawsuit by a Colorado woman who claimed police did not do enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing her three young daughters.
Jessica Gonzales did not have a constitutional right to police enforcement of the court order against her husband, the court said in a 7-2 opinion.
City governments had feared that if the court ruled the other way, it would unleash a potentially devastating flood of cases that could bankrupt municipal governments.
Gonzales contended that police did not do enough to stop her estranged husband, who took the three daughters from the front yard of her home in June 1999 in violation of a restraining order.
Hours later Simon Gonzales died in a gun fight with officers outside a police station. The bodies of the three girls, ages 10, 9 and 7, were in his truck.
Gonzales argued that she was entitled to sue based on her rights under the 14th Amendment and under Colorado law that says officers shall use every reasonable means to enforce a restraining order. She contended that her restraining order should be considered property under the 14th Amendment and that it was taken from her without due process when police failed to enforce it.
"The restraining orders are not worth anything unless police officers are willing to enforce them. They are just paper," said Brian Reichel, the attorney for Gonzales. "If nothing else this case has shined the spotlight on a very important issue."
Castle Rock, Co., police contend they tried to help Gonzales. Police twice went to the estranged husband's apartment, kept an eye out for his truck and called his cellular phone and home phone.
Gonzales reached him on his cell phone, and he told her that he had taken the girls to an amusement park in nearby Denver. Gonzales contends that police should have gone to the amusement park or contacted Denver police.
The case is Castle Rock, Colo., v. Gonzales, 04-278