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South Bay DV review includes same-gender case

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Cindy<br>Hendrickson. Photo: Courtesy Santa Clara County DA's office
Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Cindy
Hendrickson. Photo: Courtesy Santa Clara County DA's office  

Santa Clara County's Domestic Violence Death Review Team is calling for improvements in the way police and others recognize domestic violence in same-gender and gender non-conforming relationships.

The suggestions come as the panel releases its 2016 report, which highlights one case where a San Jose man beat to death his male partner.

Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson, who chairs the domestic violence panel, said in a news release announcing the report, "We all have a responsibility to speak up when we see the signs of domestic violence. It is a destructive crime that strikes within all our communities regardless of age, money, ethnicity, or gender. It's vital that we identify it before the coroner gets called. Delay can be deadly."

Seven people died from domestic violence-related incidents in 2016, according to the report, which was released July 19. All seven were in San Jose. Five of the dead were victims, and two were perpetrators who killed themselves. The report refers to those deaths as a suicide and the other as a "blue" suicide, where police killed a perpetrator who was armed with a knife.

In 2015, there were 13 domestic violence-related deaths in the county.

Same-gender case

The domestic violence team said that at about 4:30 a.m. March 3, 2016, a man called 911 "reporting that his friend was dead."

The man "said he had gotten into a fight with the victim some time before and probably hit him too hard. The victim had significant bruising on many parts of his body. An autopsy concluded that the victim died of blunt force trauma," the report stated.

Progress has been made in addressing domestic violence in heterosexual relationships, but "we need to do a better job addressing domestic violence in same-gender relationships and in relationships involving one or more gender non-conforming individuals," the report noted.

According to the domestic violence team, evidence at the murder scene suggested that the men had been together off and on for years, and that police had been called to their home for a disturbance at least once before.

"However, the couple were not open about their relationship, the incident was not identified as having involved domestic violence, and no domestic violence referrals were ever made to either party," the report stated. Hendrickson declined to share the men's names.

Officers "acted reasonably given the information available to them," but "with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, we now see a need to look for clues beyond the statements of the parties regarding the existence of an intimate relationship."

The report recommended that officers responding to domestic violence disputes shouldn't let the parties' apparent genders "affect their judgment as to whether domestic violence has occurred."

Officers should also look for clues that could show the parties are in "an intimate relationship," such as a single bed in a shared room or photos of the people together.

Police should "err on the side of making referrals for domestic violence services," the domestic violence team said.

Finally, the report recommends, officers shouldn't assume which party is the victim and which is the suspect "based on their gender appearance."

In the domestic violence-related death cases that occurred last year, there had previously been domestic violence in at least three of the five relationships. Other people had seen or known about violence or controlling behavior in the relationships, and police had been called at least once. Two of the victims in the three relationships had denied that there was domestic violence.

In an interview, Hendrickson said a domestic violence-related death could be a relative who intervenes in the situation or "an innocent bystander."

There were 5,101 domestic violence cases referred to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office last year for review. Of those, 2,314 – or 55 percent – supported criminal charges being filed. Hendrickson didn't know how many of the cases involved same-gender partners. She also didn't know of any same-gender domestic violence-related deaths that occurred in 2015.

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