When Law Enforcement Fails to Protect: Protective Orders without Law Enforcement
Our office has worked with or in conjunction with a number of agencies in our county and surrounding counties to make sure that victims have the assistance they need to prevent further victimization by an abuser. Unfortunately, not every system is perfect. Law enforcement, just like the every other profession, is comprised of individuals. Officer can and sometimes become lax in their approach to victim safety. Unfortunately, more than one victim of physical abuse has knocked at our door after someone in law enforcement or the DA’s office told them they did not qualify for help. It’s a helpless feeling knowing that the agency you support with taxes refuses to “serve or protect.” Our message to you is that you are not without options.
Many people call the police department or the DA’s office to find out what can be done. Either in person or over the phone, they are told they simply don’t qualify. A young woman last year was told by a DA’s office clerk that she did not qualify for a protective order because the two incidents of her husband choking her and holding a gun to her head “simply didn’t qualify”. She assumed that this was the final say in the matter, until the municipal judge that issued her emergency protective order suggested that she obtain a second opinion. Many people assume that law enforcement has the final say. In reality, the judge in your area has the final say. Until a judge receives, reviews, and rejects your request for a protective order, then the matter can still be reviewed. If your DA’s office cannot or will not assist you, you can make an application for a private protective order. Any attorney licensed in Texas can file the application. The application does not require a “stamp of approval” by law enforcement or your local prosecuting attorney. If your facts qualify, any attorney can prepare the application and submit it to a judge for the judge’s decision. If granted by the judge, a private protective order, has the same effect as a protective order obtained through a government agency, like a DA’s office.
Some victims are denied protective orders by the court or prosecutors because the actions of the abuse are just “threats”. Some judges believe and do require some decree of physical assault with injury before they will grant a protective order. In these jurisdictions, you can include a request for alternative relief in the form of a restraining order. A restraining order is not as strong as a protective order, but it will be at least some relief against an abuser. A restraining order sets ground rules that the abuser is expected to abide by. If they violated the restraining order, then the court can hold the abuser in contempt for their violations.
The process of obtaining a protective order or restraining order can take as little as a couple of hours or as long as a couple of days. With the new e-filing systems in place, we have seen a log jam in the processing of emergency requests within the legal system. If you are in immediate danger, reach out to your local municipal court and try to obtain an emergency protective order. This protective order will last anywhere from 30-90 days and give you time to obtain a regular protective through a DA’s office or private attorney.
Again, there are some awesome officers that will investigate facts, interview witnesses, review documents, and take all the necessary measures needed to protect someone in an abusive situation. If we could clone these officers, the system would function all the time. Unfortunately, abusers can and often do capitalize on weak officers who never talk to witnesses, tell you to go to civil court, or who simply don’t care. After encounters with weak officers, abusers remind their victims that law enforcement doesn’t believe them and can’t do anything for them. They are wrong. The legal system simply hasn’t held them accountable “yet.” The protective order laws and procedures are still available. It’s just a matter of finding the right person, agency, or attorney to help you use these laws for your safety and protection.