Rising abuse cases concerns officials
by Mindy Aguon
Guam - Last week a Dededo woman was murdered despite having a protective order that was aimed at protecting her and her three children. Her death left some in the public wondering if her death could have been prevented. While the woman's estranged husband is being held on $1 million cash bail for shooting her to death, the organization that she sought help from is asking police to investigate whether the force did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.
Guam Legal Services Corporation has seen a significant increase in victims of abuse seeking protective orders against their perpetrators. Among those, Emma Catapang Cepeda, who was found murdered inside her Dededo home last Sunday night. The organization is now asking the Guam Police Department to verify whether or not her pleas for help fell on deaf ears.
GLSC executive director Hank Parker is hoping to get some answers from GPD, telling KUAM News, "We've asked GPD to review the situation again because obviously it's very serious." The organization represented Cepeda, who was shot twice by her estranged husband, Emmanuel Cepeda. Back in November, Emma had sought the assistance of Guam Legal Services to obtain a protective order against Emmanuel, telling the court that he promised to kill her if he went to jail.
Parker has received unsubstantiated information that Emma had made calls to GPD seeking help to enforce the protective order, but there are claims that the calls fell on deaf ears. "Part of the problem," noted Parker, "is there is a certain depth of problem here when the victim goes in to see the police, if it's just, 'Oh, he's been texting threats to me', sometimes they don't take it serious enough. If they get something like that they may brush it off and not think it important enough to follow-up. But of course it is because if a person already has a protective order and they're still willing to make those threats then it is dangerous."
Parker says in the majority of cases police take action and intervene, but he says it all depends on the police officer who takes the call and the way the situation is presented to the officer. "If it is not deemed serious enough sometimes it's set off until later and later may be too late. In some cases, they follow-up right away and it wasn't really that serious," he said.
In her November affidavit to the court seeking the protective order, Emma Cepeda claimed she had contacted police but was told they were too busy to respond. Parker is asking the chief of police to follow up to determine if she had actually made calls to GPD and whether or not officers responded.
Cepeda's case is just one of hundreds that are filed each year. Parker says the number of victims coming forward seeking protective orders has increased significantly as well as the number of choking cases. "Over the last three months we've had over seventy cases," he quantified. "In a similar period we've had less than forty frequently, and last year January was a sparse month. And this year we had thirty cases, which is a lot more."
He attributes the increase to the sluggish economy and the inability of people to control their emotions. "A protective order is a piece of paper but it is a court order and the value of it is with most people they're willing to obey the law even if they are physically violent and such," Parker said. "Once they're served with the paper, most back off. There are a few that don't and we have to follow up either with a violation of a court order of contempt proceeding."
Guam Police Department spokesperson Officer A.J. Balajadia meanwhile confirms that the chief received a copy of Parker's letter and the matter is under review.
Emmanuel Cepeda meanwhile is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday for a preliminary examination.