Just a little more than three months after Seattle police increased the priority given to misdemeanor domestic-violence cases, the city has won a conviction and four-year sentence against a man who repeatedly violated a restraining order while behind bars.
“This was a team effort and a fantastic example as to why we need misdemeanor detectives,” said Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes. “There was no way this case could have even been filed without this resource.”
Assistant City Attorney Lorna Staten Sylvester said she would have “literally had no case without the detective,” Suzanne Ross.
Gabriel Hernandez was arrested Oct. 5 after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend at the hotel where they were living, and a restraining order barring him from contacting the woman was issued, according to Sylvester.
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But while he was in jail, the 44-year-old Seattle man who once served 11 years in prison for second-degree murder began calling the woman, according to Sylvester and court documents.
First, he did so directly by calling his own cellphone, which she answered on a few occasions. After that, he called a number of bail-bond companies asking them to call the woman to ask her to help make bail, Sylvester said.
The bail-bond employees complied, unwittingly helping Hernandez to violate the restraining order, Sylvester said.
Sylvester said she learned of the violations after requesting the recordings of his phone calls and conversations and turning them over to Ross, one of the Seattle Police Department’s three detectives assigned to misdemeanor domestic-violence assault cases.
Ross listened to the calls, visited the hotel and talked to the manager, went to the bail-bond companies and had them identify the voices of the employees, and wrote up a report for a case that could be prosecuted, Sylvester said.
Hernandez was convicted last week by a Seattle Municipal Court jury of 10 counts of violating a restraining order or attempting to violate a restraining order and sentenced to four years and 40 days in prison.
The designation of a detective to handle misdemeanor domestic-violence cases, which do not rise to the level of felonies for a variety of reasons, occurred in the wake of a warning letter from King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg.
In the October letter, Satterberg said he was concerned that domestic-violence cases were receiving inadequate attention because Seattle police had pulled detectives off misdemeanor cases and shifted the cases to patrol officers. He said the change hindered misdemeanor investigations and made it more difficult to determine which ones rise to the level of felony cases.
“Misdemeanor domestic-violence investigations are often just as important as felony investigations, and misdemeanor-domestic-violence-prosecution teams recognize this connection and call themselves ‘homicide prevention units,’ ” Satterberg wrote in the Oct. 22 letter to Tim Burgess, chairman of the Seattle City Council’s budget committee.
Satterberg said the lack of misdemeanor detectives has made the work more difficult for a felony prosecutor to decide whether a case should be prosecuted as a felony by the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office or as a misdemeanor by the city.
Then-Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel responded by reiterating his department’s longstanding commitment to domestic-violence cases and announced he was taking immediate steps to bolster such investigations. Pugel created a policy that routed all misdemeanor domestic-violence cases through the domestic-violence unit and assigned detectives to work them.
Pugel said at the time that police had originally begun to focus on felony cases of domestic violence, elder abuse and family protection in 2012 in response to a spike in serious domestic-violence assaults.
The original assault charge against Hernandez was ultimately dismissed because the woman did not come to court, Sylvester said.
She said that without the work of Ross, Hernandez would have likely gone free.
“She was fantastic. I would literally have had nothing I could do without her,” Sylvester said of Ross.
“Before, when we didn’t have our own dedicated detectives, we had to ask the felony detectives to please help us if they had time and they didn’t always have time.”
Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report, which includes information from Times archives.
Christine Clarridge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8983.