This case raises the question of when, if ever, a victim of domestic violence who obtains a court order of protection can sue for damages caused by the failure of police officers who ignore repeated pleas to enforce that order.

In 1999, a court granted Jessica Gonzales a protective order barring her estranged and unstable husband from contact with her and her three daughters. A month later, the husband violated the order and abducted the three children, ages seven, nine and ten. Under Colorado law, police were required to enforce the court order by arresting the husband. Nevertheless, the Castle Rock police refused numerous separate requests to take any action to find the children or arrest the husband. Even after Ms. Gonzales had made contact with her husband by phone and learned that he had the children at a local amusement park, the police failed to take action. The episode finally ended when the husband arrived at the Castle Rock police station and started shooting. After police shot and killed him, they searched his van found the bodies of three children, whom he had murdered.
Ms. Gonzales filed suit against the Castle Rock police whose failure to respond to her pleas led to her children’s death. The district court dismissed the suit, and a panel of the Tenth Circuit affirmed. In an en banc opinion in 2004, however, the Tenth Circuit held that Ms. Gonzales can sue the Castle Rock police on a due process theory. Gonzales v. City of Castle Rock, 366 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2004) (en banc). The Supreme Court granted Castle Rock’s request for review. The Colorado ACLU joined an amicus brief filed by the ACLU Women’s Rights Project and other organizations. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled against Ms. Gonzales. Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005). The ACLU subsequently filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, asserting that the failure to enforce the restraining order; the failure to protect Ms. Gonzales and her children; and the failure to provide a legal remedy, violates the obligations of the United States under international treaties guaranteeing human rights.

ACLU case number



Areceli Martínez-Olguín, Lenora Lapidus, Emily Martin (ACLU Women's Right Project); Steven Watt, Ann Beeson (ACLU Human Rights Program); Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director

Case number

No. 04-278, U.S. Supreme Court; No. P-1490-05, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights