In California, there’s no mandatory arrest policy in domestic violence cases. Officers are supposed to make an arrest if they believe domestic violence has taken place – even if the alleged victim is uncooperative and says they don’t want to press charges.
It’s left to individual police agencies to develop their own policies on the handling of domestic violence cases and in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the police department’s written policy on domestic violence runs seven pages and includes the following: “Officers should take appropriate enforcement action when there is probable cause to believe an offense has occurred.” Factors they’re not supposed to consider if they decide not to make an arrest include the use of drugs or alcohol by either party and the social status, community status or profession of the victim or suspect.
In other words, if there seems to be compelling evidence that you’ve physically abused your domestic partner, you’re supposed to get locked up, no matter how rich, drunk or well-connected you are.
That no arrest was made in a May 14 incident in Carmel, then, is confounding, because based on the written narrative of one of the officers on scene, an eyewitness called 911 to report the alleged victim’s husband had grabbed his wife by the throat, lifted her off the ground and began beating her. The alleged victim had obvious fresh injuries to her face and legs, her sweater had been torn and she was found semi-conscious in the bathtub and vomiting when police arrived; they noted she appeared “severely intoxicated.” The alleged perpetrator, meanwhile, greeted the police at the door, also appearing to be intoxicated and with an abrasion and dried blood on his face; the police report states he didn’t want to get into what had happened.
But something happened that night, and it happened at the home of Michael Bernal, brother of Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal, and Michael’s wife, Maureen Bernal, whose mother, San Ardo rancher and oil lease holder Margaret Duflock, has helped fund the sheriff’s campaigns to the tune of six figures. That Carmel PD called the sheriff’s office to assist at the scene that night may be the least weird thing about the entire story – small city departments often call the sheriff’s office in to back up officers during events like these. There isn’t any evidence that the sheriff tried to intervene on his brother’s behalf.
What’s weird is that no arrest was made, despite an eyewitness who called 911 to report what she had seen after driving Maureen home after a night out on the town and the obvious injuries to both Michael and Maureen Bernal. What’s weird is that no arrest was made despite both the officer who wrote the report and the sergeant who was on the scene agreeing “an incident may have occurred between Michael and Maureen, although neither would state what happened.”
They left after both stated they felt safe being in the home with each other.
Why no arrest was made that night at the Santa Fe Street home is now the subject of an internal affairs investigation at the Carmel PD, where Chief Paul Tomasi says he can’t say much because it’s now a personnel matter. In a statement Tomasi sent, he writes that the department has hired an independent investigator to determine whether proper policies and procedures were followed.
“We hold ourselves accountable for our actions and therefore initiated this investigation to ensure we are meeting not only our own expectations but those of the community,” the statement reads. In a voicemail, Tomasi says his investigation started immediately after he read his officer’s report; it’s unclear when the independent investigator was brought in.
It’s not the first time, as my comrade journalist Royal Calkins noted last week when he broke this story, that the police have been out at the Bernal home on a domestic violence call. As the Weekly reported then, police arrived to find Michael Bernal with injuries to his face and Maureen Bernal with injuries to her hand; sources said Michael Bernal had made a disparaging, racist comment about his daughter’s friend. In that instance, Maureen Bernal was handcuffed, arrested and taken to jail, but the District Attorney’s Office dropped the case after the victim declined to cooperate.