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Woman arrested in abuse case says S.F. police violated policies

Updated 5:32 pm, Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dora Mejia said her ex-partner sexually assaulted her in her Mission District apartment in May, then called police, saying she had attacked him. When officers arrived, Mejia said, they refused to provide her with a Spanish-language interpreter and told her to communicate in English the best she could. They then provided an interpreter by phone to her ex-partner, heard his account and arrested her, leaving her three children with him.

“I felt discriminated against. It’s not fair that the police refused to provide me with language access or listen to what I was trying to tell them,” Mejia, a 36-year-old housekeeper and custodian, said through a translator after filing a damage claim Thursday that accused the police of violating their own policies on interpretive services and domestic violence.

Such incidents are commonplace despite San Francisco’s official policies of providing interpretive services for limited-English speakers and investigating suspected abusers before leaving children in their custody, said Ana De Carolis of the advocacy group Mujeres Unidas y Activas, which is working on Mejia’s case.

“Lack of language access is one of the main barriers to breaking the cycle of violence,” De Carolis said.

The complaint, a precursor to a possible lawsuit, seeks compensation for the $3,500 Mejia paid to a bail bondsman to get out of jail early the next morning, more than $900 in lost wages, $700 for food and clothing she had to buy because of a restraining order that kept her out of the apartment for a week, plus additional costs and pain and suffering.

She also wants discipline for the two officers who came to the apartment in addition to improved police training and monitoring.

Asked for comment, the Police Department did not mention Mejia’s complaint, but instead listed the multiple services and training programs it provides for officers who contact limited English-speakers. The department said it is “committed to the continued efforts to ensure that all citizens have the ability to report and provide information in their native languages.”

According to the complaint, filed by attorney Angela Chan of Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, Mejia, who had been with her abusive partner for about 10 years, told him to move out late last year, but he refused, and they started sleeping in separate bedrooms. After an argument in May, she worked the night shift, came home, fell asleep and was awakened when he tried to rape her, the complaint said. She said she defended herself and, in the process, apparently scratched him in the eye.

She fell asleep again and was awakened an hour later when the police arrived. Mejia said she told the officers her English was not good and requested a Spanish interpreter, but they said none was available. She said she tried to explain the history of abuse, but the officers weren’t interested and she was arrested.

Chan said Police Department policies, adopted in 2007, require officers to identify the person’s primary language and provide interpretive services, either through a bilingual officer or by telephone. Another policy, enacted this year, required police to give Mejia a chance to speak to her children and to check her partner’s history before leaving the children with him, Chan said.

“The problem is compliance. Not all officers get the message,” the attorney said. She said Mejia was never charged with a crime and is back home with her children, while her former partner has left.

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Andrea Lee

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