Thursday, November 1, 2012
Twelve state legislators have sharply criticized Brown Deer Police Chief Steven Rinzel for his department's failure to hold Brookfield spa shooter Radcliffe Haughton accountable despite multiple domestic violence calls to the Haughton home. The legislators wrote a letter, released Wednesday, that says Rinzel's department appears to have violated the state's mandatory arrest law in cases of domestic violence. It also criticizes the chief's statements after the shooting, which the legislators characterized as blaming the victim, Zina Haughton, for not cooperating with police. The letter - signed by 10 Democrats and two Republicans - calls for an outside review of the department's interactions with the Haughtons. "Your department's duty to uphold the law should not, and does not, hinge on the actions of the victim. You must stop implying that the victim was to blame for the failure of your department to make an arrest, and for the sake of other victims in Brown Deer and throughout Wisconsin, you must correct your inaccurate and damaging statements," the letter states. "Given both the flagrant nature of the errors and your department's inaccurate and counterproductive public response, we believe you must open the department's actions, policies and practices for a thorough and independent evaluation." Rep. Andre Jacque (R-Bellevue) said he was troubled that the Brown Deer police had apparently disregarded state laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence. "It's disturbing to have violence stemming from what hopefully could have been preventable," he said. "This already has had tragic consequences. You can't just hope for the best when dealing with an emergency situation where the police have come." Wisconsin's mandatory arrest law requires officers to make an arrest in a domestic violence case if they believe the abuse is likely to continue or if there is evidence of an injury. An officer is not supposed to base the decision to arrest on the victim's cooperation. Officers are not even supposed to ask a victim whether she wants to press charges or file a complaint, according to a training guide used by the state's Office of Justice Assistance. The Brown Deer Police Department - which sent 14 members to state domestic violence training in 2006 - has been criticized for failing to arrest Radcliffe Haughton during two separate incidents. In January 2011, officers saw Radcliffe Haughton point what appeared to be a rifle at his wife, according to incident reports. Officers set up a tactical perimeter, told him he was under arrest and ordered him to surrender. He refused. A supervisor who had attended the statewide training ordered officers to leave 90 minutes into the standoff. Police experts told the Journal Sentinel that leaving without making an arrest was a breach of basic police protocol and created a risk to the public. In October, police responded to a 911 call from Zina Haughton, who was at a gas station barefoot with a bruised face and a torn shirt. Officers saw Radcliffe Haughton in the couple's house, but he didn't answer the door and they left. The two incidents were among nearly two dozen times Brown Deer police officers were called to the Haughtons' home in 11 years, never making an arrest. At least seven calls were to investigate domestic violence, records show. The one time Brown Deer arrested Haughton, they did so at the request of Brookfield police after he slashed his wife's tires there last month. Rinzel issued a statement last week saying the mandatory arrest law did not apply. He said Zina Haughton failed to assist police in both of those situations by denying she was afraid and saying her husband didn't have guns. He discounted his own department's reports, saying officers were not sure they saw a gun. "We understand that domestic violence victims are not always willing to cooperate with the police and are fearful of further retaliation. However, without key information, the police are limited in their ability to make a forced entry into a private residence or pursue appropriate charges," he said. Rinzel did not return a call for comment Wednesday - and has repeatedly refused Journal Sentinel interview requests since Haughton killed three women, including his estranged wife, and wounded four others before committing suicide at the Azana Salon & Spa on Oct. 21. District Attorney John Chisholm said in other domestic violence cases handled by his office, Brown Deer generally has investigated aggressively. "Our impression of their work is very good," he said Wednesday. "This is one that just presents some complicated questions." 'It's just bizarre' The lead writer of the letter from legislators, Rep. Terese Berceau (D-Madison),, said she was concerned by Rinzel's statements and by those of attorney Lisa Martin, who earlier this week released a video defending the department's handling of the case. Martin represented Zina Haughton at a hearing to get a restraining order just days before her death. "It's just bizarre that they are worrying more about their public image than about the fact that there are dead people as a result of possible misjudgments and the possibility that they were not educated on the mandatory arrest law," Berceau said. "It seems to be more about, 'How can we look less bad?'" On Tuesday, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said Rinzel had asked him to help provide domestic violence training for Brown Deer police and other departments and prosecutors in the area. Berceau said Rinzel's comments about the case show that is necessary. "I have been kind of stunned with regard to the understanding of domestic violence psychology here," Berceau said. "I really thought we were getting there in terms of educating the public and family members in terms of domestic violence. This certainly shows that we've got work to do in terms of educating law enforcement and maybe some attorneys." The legislators' demand for an independent investigation follows a call from the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It has been asking for such a review since last week. Brown Deer Village Manager Russell Van Gompel said Tuesday the village is considering an outside review but no decision has been made. He did not return a call Wednesday. If Rinzel does not agree to work with advocates and legislators, the next step would be a request for the state or federal Department of Justice to review the matter, according to Berceau and Patti Seger, executive director of the coalition. Legislative hearings also may be an option. Dana Brueck, Wisconsin DOJ spokeswoman, said the department always seriously considers requests from legislators. U.S. Attorney James Santelle did not return a call this week. In addition to Berceau and Jacque, the letter was signed by the following: Sen. Spencer Coggs (D-Milwaukee) and Reps. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton), Tom Larson (R-Colfax), Chris Taylor (D-Madison), Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee), Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Cross Plains), Kelda Roys (D-Madison), Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood), Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) and Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee). Two state legislators who represent Brown Deer, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Daniel Knodl (R-Germantown), did not sign the letter and did not return calls for comment.