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SAN GABRIEL VALLEY / COVER STORY : Stealing Into Our Lives : Unsensational Crimes Often Take Biggest Toll

December 22, 1994|VICKI TORRES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Maria said that within two months after they met, her husband, charming and attentive at first, had moved her from her family's El Monte home into an apartment where he kept her isolated and jealously monitored her every move. He put a block on the phone so she couldn't call outside her area code. He outlawed her studies at a community college and at a dancing school. He beat her if she glanced out the apartment window at a male neighbor's apartment or if she looked sideways on the freeway at a male motorist, she said.

Planning their 1990 marriage had been a refuge of sorts. After a year of violence, Maria said, she was left alone if she busied herself with marriage plans. But once married, the abuse began again. Shame and embarrassment kept her silent and in denial, she said.

During one fight at her parent's home, where Maria had sought some escape, her husband beat her 65-year-old grandmother. Maria finally recognized her plight. "Until I saw him do it to someone else, I didn't really know how bad it was," she recalled.

It took a 45-day stay at a women's shelter, a temporary restraining order that was repeatedly violated by her husband, divorce proceedings and assault charges against him--eventually dismissed--before Maria permanently freed herself from her husband.

Now the articulate 26-year-old is raising two sons, ages 10 and 3, as a single mother. A worker at a women's shelter, she helps other women, like herself, recognize abuse and take steps against it. She hasn't seen her ex-husband in more than two years, but Maria adds, "I'm not entirely free of the fear of him. I don't know what he's capable of doing."

In the San Gabriel Valley, assaults made up 13% of serious felony crimes, or 11,559, in 1993. Police do not keep separate statistics on how many of the assaults involve domestic violence, but officials estimate that it accounts for up to half of the assault cases they log. Indeed, even as gang violence increases, patrol officers still spend much of their time answering calls between arguing couples.

"If anyone understands the horrors of domestic violence, it's the average foot soldier police officer," said Alana Bowman, chair of the county's Domestic Violence Council. "They know women are not crying wolf on this."

In Pasadena, officers in January will receive special training on domestic violence, said Sheila Halfon, executive director of Haven House, a Pasadena shelter for abused women.

Meanwhile, in West Covina, the county in October began a pilot program with a separate domestic violence courtroom, in part because such assaults make up a sixth of the courthouse's caseload. Municipal Judge Dan Thomas Oki, who presides over the domestic violence courtroom, handles all misdemeanor domestic violence cases and preliminary hearings on felonies before they are transferred to Superior Court for trials. Plans are afoot to also have felony trials heard in his courtroom, Oki said.

Despite new police procedures and the new courtroom, victim reluctance to testify in court or even report the violence to police remains an obstacle to helping women, Halfon said. "If police do intervene, it just creates more problems," she said. "That's why so many of them won't follow through."

For domestic violence victims needing shelter or counseling, there are three shelters in the San Gabriel Valley with 24-hour help lines: YWCA Wings in Covina, (818) 967-0658; the House of Ruth in Pomona, (909) 988-5559, and the Haven House in Pasadena, (213) 681-2626.

THEFT

On a Monday evening last April, a man strolled into J.C. Penney store on Pasadena's Green Street. Clerk Carol Beggy asked him if he needed help, but he said he was just looking. Minutes later, the man pulled out wire cutters, snipped the cable securing a $1,000 designer Raiders jacket to the rack, put the jacket on and walked casually out the door.

Employees and store security spotted the thief outside as he left in a 1977 Chevy Malibu. Pasadena police traced the license plate to the man's house in Pasadena, where officers recovered the jacket stashed behind a sofa and found the thief hiding in a bedroom closet. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 28 months in state prison.

The FBI's statistics for larceny cover a broad category of crime, including shoplifting, theft of goods from inside a car, theft of vehicle parts, and employee theft of goods and cash from their workplaces. The annual toll for all such thefts came to $3.8 billion in 1992, according to national crime statistics.

Scams are also logged by the FBI under the category of thefts. In the San Gabriel Valley, the FBI is investigating a phony operation that promised to provide consumer loans in return for a processing fee, said Lisa Altmar, a special agent in the West Covina FBI office. The loan group previously operated out of Orange County. But when enforcement toughened there, they moved to offices in West Covina, Alhambra, Glendora and South Pasadena.

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