The Supreme Court ruled today that police cannot be sued for decisions they make in enforcing domestic abuse no-contact orders. This decision ends a lawsuit by a Colorado woman who claimed police did not do enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing her three young daughters. The mother alleged that police did not do enough to stop her husband who took their three daughters from the front yard of her home in June 1999 in violation of a restraining order. Later that day, the husband died in a gun fight with officers outside a police station. The bodies of the three children were in his truck. The mother argued 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. The case is Castle Rock, Colo., v. Gonzales, 04-278, available here.
The decision of In re Marriage of Ihns provides some much needed clarification about what types of conduct constitute domestic abuse under Iowa Code Chapter 236. Like many domestic abuse cases, the evidence is often contradictory and of the &;he said, she said&; variety with no uninvolved, objective witnesses. The ultimate decision often rests on the credibility of the parties’ determination made by the trial court.
Of note beyond the facts of this particular case is the following aspect of the court’s decision, which will no doubt engender considerable discussion about its meaning and scope:
One final matter deserves note. [Husband]’s use of offensive language toward his wife (whether or not in front of the children) may be worthy of condemnation. Additionally, such language is a common precursor to domestic abuse. Offensive language alone, however, does not give rise to a claim for relief under chapter 236, absent evidence of an assault as defined in section 708.1. Similarly, a claim of &;fear,&; standing alone and absent an assault, does not give rise to a claim under chapter 236. Remedies for such conduct may be available; however, they do not find their bases in chapter 236.