Thursday, October 4, 2007

Joyce Tempongco Remembered

On October 22, 2000, seven years ago, Claire Joyce Tempongco was having dinner with a friend when her ex-boy friend, Tari Ramirez, called her on her cell phone. As he had done in numerous calls before, Tari begged for another chance to get back together again. If she didn’t say yes, he would kill her, he promised. Joyce said no, no more please, as she had pleaded with him many times before.

Later in the evening, when Joyce returned with her two children to her 22nd Avenue home in San Francisco’s Richmond District, she saw Tari was waiting for her inside the apartment he had broken into. She quickly ran for the phone to call the police but Tari ripped the phone off her hands and smashed it. Then, in front of Joyce’s children, Tari stabbed her in the breast with a kitchen knife.

Joyce may still be alive today if the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) had done its job. Joyce had called 911 at least six times to report Tari’s numerous acts of violence against her but her pleas for help seemingly fell on deaf ears.

The first time she called the police, in April of 1999, she had reported that Tari broke a window to get back into the apartment, grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the hallway where he beat her up savagely before leaving the scene. When the police officers arrived, Joyce narrated a long history of abuse that reached a point the week before, when she broke off with him and asked him to leave her apartment. She told the police that Tari's violence was escalating and that she seriously feared for her life and for her children.

Later that evening, Tari was picked up by the police for unrelated drunk driving and hit and run charges. While in the police car, however, he told the police that he got drunk after beating up Joyce. San Francisco police officers were clearly aware from their first encounter with him that Tari Ramirez was a very violent man. But District Attorney Terrence Hallinan chose to file only drunk driving charges against him, not domestic violence, not breaking and entering, not making terrorist threats.

The police knew that Ramirez had injured Joyce Tempongco and terrified her and her children, and yet no domestic violence charges were brought against him. The police did not even bother to obtain a restraining order to protect Joyce.

After his release on the drunk-driving charge, Tari Ramirez continued to harass and abuse Joyce. When the police was called a second time, the police reported it as dog barking incident because the officers were too lazy to write a full police report. Finally, on the third 911 call after another savage beating two months later, the police arrested Ramirez and charged him with five felony counts of spousal abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, terrorist threats, false imprisonment and kidnapping.

Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s office plea bargained the five charges into just one count of domestic violence for which Tari was sentenced to probation and counseling. He did not even have to spend time in jail for beating up Joyce. After that conviction, whenever Joyce called the police to report that Tari had abused her again, he was simply charged with violating his probation and his probation term was routinely extended.

On September 1, 2000, when police officers responded to Joyce’s sixth 911 call they found her lying in bed with her kids, shaking and terrified with fright. There was blood on her mouth and red marks around her neck and face. Tari had strangled her until she momentarily lost consciousness when he finally let go of her neck. “I opened my eyes and I was still alive,” she later told her brother, Leo.

Tari should have been arrested and charged with attempted murder. Instead, when the case went to Sgt. Al Lum, the chief investigator of the domestic violence unit of the SFPD, he decided to process it, once again, as a simple probation violation and to send it over to the probation department. Tari was again charged with probation violation.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Sgt. Lum explained that he decided not to file new charges against Tari because Joyce had been drinking, had not been hospitalized and had not called the police to inquire about the progress of the case. “It’s up to her to call or come in for a follow-up,” Sgt. Lum explained, “She didn’t call, so we couldn’t do a work-up.”

Joyce’s mother, Clara, believes that perhaps it was because they are Filipino, the police did not take Joyce seriously before she was killed. Even after her murder, the police did not seem to care too much about capturing Tari.

The family had suggested to police officers that because Tari stole Joyce’s cell phone, they could track the calls made from the cell phone and interview the people he spoke with, to determine his whereabouts. The police ignored this suggestion. Joyce’s family members knew Tari’s hangouts, where his relatives live, but the police didn’t care to find out. It took months for them to produce a wanted poster for Tari Ramirez and though it had his photo, it misidentified his race as “W” and even omitted mention of an identifying tattoo.

It also took four months for the police to visit the school of Joyce’s children to counsel them about what they should do if Tari showed up, especially since they were witnesses to their mother’s murder. In a press conference on the Tempongco murder, District Attorney Hallinan lamented Joyce Tempongco’s failure to follow up on the prosecution of Tari and opined that this was “an example of the ideology of the disease.”

Hallinan was blaming the victim and calling domestic violence a disease, not a crime, and a disease of the victim, and not of the murderer. When Hallinan ran for reelection in 2003, he was soundly defeated by his chief opponent, Kamala Harris, who made Joyce Tempongco’s murder a crusade and a campaign issue.

In January of this year, Tari Ramirez was captured in Cancun, Mexico and extradited to San Francisco where he was charged with first degree murder. At his arraignment on April 18, 2007, District Attorney Kamala Harris said that the Tempongco tragedy provided a necessary “wake-up call” that helped San Francisco become more responsive to victims of domestic violence.

According to the statistics compiled by the Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA), every nine seconds in the US, a woman is abused. Anywhere from 3 -10 million children witness domestic violence every year. Each year, upwards of 1-M incidents of domestic violence occur. A third of all Americans know a woman whose husband or boy friend has physically abused her in the past year.

Most shocking statistic of all: more than three women are murdered by their former or current husbands or boy friends daily. Claire Joyce Tempongco was one of them.

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