Professor Fagan's Expert Report at Gonzales Merits Hearing


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November 11, 2008 (NEW YORK) – The frequent failure of United States police departments to enforce protection orders increases the danger domestic violence victims face, according to an expert report submitted by Columbia Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. United States of America.  Professor Fagan also testified at the Commission’s hearing of the case on October 22, 2008.

In the report, Fagan discusses social science research showing that domestic violence is rampant and widespread in the U.S. and that police departments regularly fail to protect victims adequately.  

Students from the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic assisted Fagan in preparing the report, which is available here.

The report recommends institutional changes for police departments, including close oversight of police officers’ responses to allegations of protection order violations, regular domestic violence training on the importance of and effective methods for enforcement, and the creation of easily accessible databases of prior domestic violence incident reports.  The report also stresses that police officers and their supervisors must be held accountable when they fail to enforce protection orders, whether by legal liability or by internal investigations with the possibility of discipline.  

“Institutional reforms and accountability mechanisms can help overcome U.S. police officers’ long-standing reluctance to enforce domestic violence protection orders,” said Fagan, whose scholarship focuses on the intersection of crime, law and social policy.

“Protection orders are toothless unless they are enforced,” said clinic student Jennifer Ryan ’09 LL.M.  “The report demonstrates that police must aggressively enforce protection order violations to ensure that domestic violence victims are protected,” she added.  Fellow clinic student Dana Kaufman ’09 said, “The United States has a responsibility to enact the report’s recommendations, because the under-enforcement of domestic violence protection orders is a serious problem throughout the entire country.”

“U.S. police departments’ deficient response to domestic violence violates American obligations under international law,” added Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and clinical professor at Columbia Law School.

Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) brought this case against the United States after police repeatedly refused to enforce her protection order against her estranged husband the night he abducted their three daughters, who later that night were found dead in their father’s truck after a shootout with the police.  Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2005 that she did not have a constitutional remedy, Lenahan filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that violence she suffered violated her rights under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.   

The Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union represent Jessica Lenahan. The Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic worked with Professor Fagan on his expert report.  The other Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic students involved were Nazneen Mehta ’10 and Abram Seaman ’10.

Jeffrey Fagan is a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
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Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic was founded in September 2006 by Professor Suzanne Goldberg. Students work on a broad variety of projects related to gender equality and LGBTQ rights.

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