Castle Rock Case Heads to International Tribunal

October 8 2007, 4:38 PM

In 2004, Jessica Gonzales (now Jessica Lenahan) sued the Castle Rock police department for money damages for failing to follow up on a restraining order violation she reported to them. Hours after she made the report, Simon Gonzales, her estranged husband, killed their three daughters.The case went to the United States Supreme Court which ruled against Ms. Lenahan. The issue was whether local governments are obligated to protect citizens with restraining orders. The Court ruled that Colorado's law on restraining orders requires only that officers make "reasonable efforts" to enforce restraining orders. Background on the case is here and here.Ms. Lenahan is still fighting. Her case has just been accepted by a human rights tribunal, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, based in Washington, D.C.

While the commission doesn't have the authority to award Lenahan any money or overturn the Supreme Court's action, her attorney said the commission's rulings carry weight internationally."There's no enforcement authority, but what there is, is a lot of moral authority," said attorney Caroline Bettinger-Lopez. The commission will make a ruling in six to 12 months on whether the U.S. violated Lenahan's human rights, Bettinger-Lopez said.

The decision to accept the case was made after a hearing.

Last March, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which is the human rights arm of the Organization of American States, held a hearing on Lenahan's case. The federal government was represented by the U.S. State Department.

It sounds like the defendant in the law suit is not the Castle Rock Police Department or the State of Colorado but the United States, which Ms. Lenahan alleges, violated human rights.I'm torn by the continued pursuit of the lawsuit. If the goal is to prevent future killings and provide greater protection to those who obtain restraining orders, wouldn't lobbying the state legislature for a change in the law be the better place for Ms. Lenahan to invest her time and energy?What am I missing?

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