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Brown Deer police ask state for domestic violence training

Oct. 30, 2012

Brown Deer Police Chief Steven Rinzel has asked the state Department of Justice for training on how to handle domestic violence situations - a request that comes as his department deals with sharp criticism for how it responded to calls involving Brookfield spa shooter Radcliffe Haughton and his wife.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen announced Tuesday that Rinzel made the request not just for Brown Deer police but also for all law enforcement in the Milwaukee area.

The training won't be the first for the Brown Deer police force.

Nearly half of the force attended comprehensive training in 2006, including officers and a supervisor who investigated domestic violence twice at the Haughtons' Brown Deer home, according to records obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

On one call, in January 2011, officers saw Radcliffe Haughton point what appeared to be a rifle at his wife. Officers set up a tactical perimeter, told him he was under arrest and ordered him to surrender. He refused. A supervisor ordered officers to leave the scene 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.

Lt. Jonathan Schmitz, the supervisor at the 2011 standoff, attended training on domestic violence investigations, presented by the state's Office of Justice Assistance in 2006, according to rosters released by the office. Two officers at the standoff also attended the training. In all, nine officers and five supervisors from Brown Deer attended, records show.

Schmitz also was the supervisor on a 911 call this month when officers found Zina Haughton barefoot with a bruised face and her shirt torn. Officers, one of whom also attended the 2006 training, saw Radcliffe Haughton in the couple's house, but he didn't answer the door. They left without arresting him, even though state law says officers must arrest a suspect when they see evidence of domestic violence and an injury.

The standoff and the call this month were among nearly two dozen times Brown Deer police officers were called to the 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, it was for a crime he committed in another city. He slashed his wife's tires in Brookfield this month. Brown Deer arrested him at the request of Brookfield police.

Village Manager Russell Van Gompel said Brown Deer officers have received additional training since 2006, but he said he didn't have details. Asked why more training was needed, Van Gompel said, "I am not going to discuss that at this point in time."

Van Gompel noted the Brown Deer Police Department's practices and policies were reviewed by the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group in May. The department received a three-year accreditation.

The police chief did not return a call for comment Tuesday - just as he has repeatedly refused Journal Sentinel interview requests since Haughton killed three women, including his estranged wife - and wounded four before committing suicide at the Azana Salon & Spa.

The state domestic violence training attended by Brown Deer officers in 2006 included information on the state's mandatory arrest law, which requires officers to make an arrest if they have grounds to believe someone has committed domestic violence and the abuse is likely to continue or if there is an injury, according to the training materials.

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 the materials.

Officers who attend the training also are taught about the effects of trauma on the brain, which could be the reason victims' statements to police officers might not make sense.

"This law is called mandatory arrest. It's not a choice," said Patti Seger, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "This department is now caught in a situation where they were not complying with the law, and it's been exposed because of all of the events that happened."

Seger said additional training for Brown Deer police is a good first step, but it isn't enough.

"Even if we have a law, even if they have had training, if the message internally is that this is not that serious, then all of the training in the world is not going to help those officers or support those officers to do their jobs in the way that the law dictates," she said.

She and the coalition on Tuesday continued their call for an independent review of the department's actions involving the Haughton family.

Neither the U.S. attorney's office nor the state Department of Justice responded to questions about whether they would be willing to conduct such a review. Another option would be for officials in Brown Deer to work with advocates to hire a private consultant or investigator, Seger said.

Van Gompel said the village is considering having an independent review of how the department responded to the 2011 standoff. Last week, the president of the village's Police Commission, Jim Jiracek, said such a review was coming but would not offer any specifics. Jiracek said he might convene a Police Commission meeting on how the standoff was handled after an outside review is done.

The commission, which has the power to hire and fire the chief, largely has been invisible to the public in Brown Deer. There was almost no mention of the commission on the village's website, including notice of its meetings and minutes, a description of what they do and who the members are. In contrast, the village lists meetings and minutes of bodies such as the Beautification Committee on the website.

Van Gompel said that was a mistake. The Police Commission's meetings have always been posted at Village Hall and three other locations, he said, but not online. They will be in the future, he said.

'We didn't do enough'

Van Hollen said there are many questions about what could have been done to avert the shooting and whether there were missed opportunities to intervene earlier. He said he did not know all the facts to offer an opinion but added that domestic violence is a complex issue, where victims might not cooperate in an effort to protect themselves.

"Victims know best what their abuser is capable of and should never be blamed for the criminal actions of a batterer," Van Hollen said. "Often a victim's actions may appear confusing or unexpected, but we know that a victim's survival instincts may lead them to do what is necessary in the immediate moment in order to protect themselves and others from ongoing violence."

Separately, Gov. Scott Walker's office issued a statement saying his staff is researching domestic violence laws here and elsewhere.

"Ultimately, Governor Walker's goal is to ensure state laws prevent events like the recent tragedy in Brookfield. Our office is conducting a review of Wisconsin's domestic violence statutes and how our laws compare to other states, in an effort to see if there are areas of the law we need to strengthen or clarify," said Cullen Werwie, speaking for Walker.

On Sunday's "Meet the Press," Walker addressed the enforcement of laws already on the books.

"We didn't do enough in this state, apparently, at least on the local level, to adequately enforce those laws. We didn't do enough to stand up for domestic violence victims in our state at the local level. We need to do more than that."

Zina Haughton received a restraining order against her husband three days before the shooting. Her husband could not buy a firearm from a federal dealer because of the order, but he bypassed that requirement by purchasing a handgun from a private seller on the Internet. The case has brought a call from some to require background checks on private gun sales.

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