Tamra Wimler has been forced to place her trust in a San Diego judicial system that has repeatedly let her down.
"When you've gone through what I have," she said, "it's hard to ever feel safe again."
Last summer, she was kidnaped at gunpoint and raped in an abandoned warehouse in Chula Vista. Charged in the attack is her ex-boyfriend, Jerry Gallo, who, she had repeatedly warned officials, was harassing her and threatening her life.
It was only when Gallo was placed in San Diego County Jail under $500,000 bail in the rape case that Wimler, 26, finally believed she was safe.
But now, her fragile sense of security has been shattered once again.
A Superior Court judge recently slashed the bail to $75,000 and gave Gallo the opportunity to post 10% and walk out. Charges of drug possession against him in a separate case were also recently dismissed.
Once Gallo was arrested, Wimler and her friends called the jail daily to make sure he was still in custody. But when the bail was reduced, she wrote letters to officials criticizing the judicial system. Officials then agreed to call her if he was released from from the jail--just a couple of blocks from the downtown bank where she works as an administrative assistant.
Court Orders Failed to Keep Him Away
She found herself wondering why she should trust the judicial system now, after two written court orders failed to keep Gallo away. She questioned whether she should trust the system after police were called to her home but found themselves powerless to stop the harassment. She asked herself why she should trust the system after a judge lowered Gallo's bail and renewed her worst fears that he would be released.
All she can do is sit and wait and hope they'll call.
"If he gets out and I get killed, the blood is on their hands," she said.
Under the Sheriff's Department policy, victims must check daily with jail officials to find out whether their alleged assailant (among the more than 3,300 inmates in the six county jail facilities) has been released. That often means a 20-minute phone call in which jail officials, overburdened by a mammoth jail population, slowly check records to determine an inmate's status. Jail officials say they get hundreds of calls a day.
And unless the victims call, they will not be notified.
It was this part of the judicial system that perhaps most upset Wimler. She recently wrote the mayor, the chief of police, the county district attorney's office and a rape crisis center, protesting the policy and demanding that the system be changed to accommodate victims and witnesses.
"I believe the very least I should have is the right to a phone call," she wrote in her Nov. 16 letter. "After all, the criminal has the right to one in jail."
Agreed to Tell Her
County officials did agree to notify her if Gallo is released. Not so for the vast majority of other crime victims.
San Diego police statistics show that 50% of all women who are raped know their attacker. Because their assailants know them, these women worry constantly that he will return.
"I work with violence like this every single day of my life," said Laurie Mackenzie, coordinator of the rape crisis program at the Center for Women's Studies and Services. "I'm really aware of how the crime of rape affects a woman from the moment it happens to the rest of her life. It's an ongoing fear.
"So yes, I think the justice system has to protect people."
Mardy Ellison, vice president of WATCH (Women's Alternatives Through Christian Help), said, "The jails are already too crowded, and they're going to see her case as just a little old domestic problem.
"So what else is she supposed to do now? Live in terror? She can't trust the system. The system continually lets victims down. Continually. And nobody cares."
Officials at the jail and in the district attorney's office said they are trying their best to keep victims and witnesses well-informed.
Sgt. Steve Annibali, victim assistance project coordinator for the Sheriff's Department, said his office recently surveyed victims to learn ways they could improve the system. One of the key suggestions, he said, was having the jail notify victims whenever inmates are released.
Special Cases Flagged
Currently, he said, only cases with special circumstances, such as Wimler's, are flagged for jail officials to notify victims. In every other case, the jail is not even provided with the names of victims and witnesses.
"It's purely numbers," Annibali said. "When we're talking about staff trying to operate in a facility that's way over capacity, and additionally trying to notify victims, you can see right away that's a big task to take on.
"So we don't as a matter of routine notify all victims of all releases. But we're looking at ways to do that. We're looking at ways to do it on a more routine basis. Hopefully, in this age of computers, we could get this information and provide it."