Mandatory arrest laws in domestic abuse cases subject to officer discretion

BROWN DEER -- Information about the numerous interactions between the Brown Deer Police Department and Azana Salon & Spa gunman Radcliffe Haughton was released days after he killed three women (including his wife) and injured four others. Court documents show a history of domestic violence incidents between Radcliffe and Zina Haughton, dating back nearly a decade. However, despite state laws on mandatory arrests in domestic violence incidents, victims' advocates say it's not always cut and dry.

Carmen Pitre with the Sojourner Family Peace Center has been an advocate for domestic violence victims for decades, and was part of the fight to require arrests in cases of domestic violence.

"Before mandatory arrest, law enforcement had different responses at different times. There was no uniformity, and what mandatory arrest did is brought everything to the same level," Pitre said.

Pitre says sometimes officers are hesitant to make arrests when the couple is married, and call the situation a private matter. She also says cooperation from the victim shouldn't affect arrest decisions, because victims will often deny the abuse out of fear.

"We're going to hold you accountable. It's not because of her that you're being arrested. The issue is now between the state of Wisconsin and you," Pitre said.

In order to make an arrest, the law says an officer should have reasonable grounds to believe the person is committing or has committed domestic abuse. The law also points out that the officer does not need the "consent of the victim," and that an arrest can be made in the absence of injury.

Pitre says she is disappointed there wasn't more help for Zina Haughton. She also points out the responsibility lies with the whole community, and not just police.

"Whoever you are in that circle, we need to be doing better to prevent this from happening in the future," Pitre said.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office says it is up to each department to develop its own protocol regarding how it enforces this law. However, when it comes to probable cause with any kind of arrest, the DA's Office says that can always be subjective.

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