Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report on Cas Jessica Lenahan of the United States

August 17, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) made public today its merits report on Case No. 12.626, Jessica Lenahan (formerly Jessica Gonzales), United States, related to the duties of the State to respond to situations of domestic violence with diligent protection measures.

Jessica Lenahan, a victim of domestic violence along with her daughters Leslie, Katheryn and Rebecca Gonzales, ages 7, 8 and 10, obtained a restraining order against her ex-husband from the Colorado Courts in May 21, 1999. Not knowing the whereabouts of her daughters, Jessica Lenahan had eight contacts with the Castle Rock Police Department during the evening of June 22, 1999 and the morning of June 23, 1999. In each of her telephone calls and discussions with the police agents, she requested efforts to locate her daughters and she informed them that she possessed a protection order against Simon Gonzales. Her contacts were met with a police response that was fragmented, uncoordinated and unprepared, and it did not respect the terms of the restraining order. That morning, Simon Gonzales drove his pick-up truck to the Castle Rock Police Department and fired shots through the window. There was an exchange of gunfire with officers from the station in the course of which he was fatally wounded and killed. The deceased bodies of the three girls were found in his truck.

The restraining order was the only means available to Jessica Lenahan at the state level to protect herself and her children in a context of domestic violence, and the police did not effectively enforce it. The state apparatus was not duly organized, coordinated, and ready to protect these victims from domestic violence by adequately and effectively implementing the restraining order. These failures to protect constituted a form of discrimination in violation of the American Declaration, since they took place in a context where there has been a historical problem with the enforcement of protection orders; a problem that has disproportionately affected women since they constitute the majority of the restraining order holders.

The Commission established that the State did not duly investigate the complaints presented by Jessica Lenahan before the death of her daughters. The State also failed to investigate the circumstances of their deaths once their bodies were found. Consequently, their mother and their family live with this uncertainty, and the law enforcement officers in charge of implementing the law have not been held accountable for failing to comply with their responsibilities.

The Commission encourages the United States to comply with the recommendations contained in the Merits Report, which include to conduct a serious, impartial and exhaustive investigation into systemic failures that took place related to the enforcement of Jessica Lenahan’s protection order, to reinforce through legislative measures the mandatory character of the protection orders and other precautionary measures to protect women from imminent acts of violence, and to create effective implementation mechanisms, among others.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 92/11