After the city of Fresno settled a lawsuit with two domestic violence victims and their families, civil rights attorney Kevin Little said Tuesday that police didn’t do enough nearly nine years ago for the late Pamela Motley and Cindy Raygoza, and have still not done enough.
The $500,000 settlement between the families of both women ends litigation initially filed in 2015 in federal court.
Motley became a quadriplegic and Raygoza was stabbed to death in 2014 “as a result of inaction on the part of the Fresno Police Department in the face of multiple complaints that they made regarding their abusers that went unresponsive, unanswered, unaddressed. That is what motivated these brave people to sue the Fresno Police Department,” Little said at a news conference.
Motley died of COVID complications in December 2020, Little said.
News of the settlement only came to light because of Little’s news conference, which included family members of the deceased plaintiffs. As has become the Fresno City Council’s practice, no information about the settlement appeared on a council agenda.
Little says he’s not convinced things have improved in the way Fresno police handle domestic violence situations.
“I think slowly but surely change is coming, but it needs to be much quicker,” Little said. “There are thousands of women in the city of Fresno that continue to live in fear, and don’t feel that they will be helped in any meaningful way if they call law enforcement. And that has to change.”
A spokesman for Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama deferred comment to the city attorney’s office. No one from the city attorney’s office or the mayor’s office immediately responded to a request for comment on Little’s allegations. Mayor Jerry Dyer was police chief in 2014.
The settlement does not require any changes in policy or training for the police department. The lawsuit listed seven different Fresno Police officers.
Two Victims of Domestic Violence
Motley and her husband, Paul Motley, were going through a divorce in 2014. Paul Motley already had run-ins with law enforcement for domestic violence.
After another violent incident between the Motleys, police allegedly did not tell Pamela about her rights to make a citizen’s arrest or be informed of other rights intended to protect domestic violence victims.
The lawsuit accused police of missing several chances to arrest Paul Motley for violating court orders. Responding officers were “rude” and generally uncaring, the lawsuit alleged.
On April 12, 2014, Paul Motley shot Pamela at her parents’ home. Paul then shot himself to death.
The lawsuit stated that if police arrested Paul Motley when they should have, the results would likely be different.
“No one took her seriously and she feared for her life for months. And it just makes me sad,” said Motley’s daughter Amanda Sylvester. “But I’m glad to put this behind us and hope to see change, that women against domestic violence are taken seriously and they know (about the available) resources because my mom didn’t know … we didn’t know about any of that until it was too late, until she was in the hospital fighting for her life.”
The lawsuit also provided a similar narrative for Cindy Raygoza, who was a victim of the actions of her former boyfriend Michael Reams. Police missed multiple opportunities to arrest Reams, and inform Raygoza of her rights. One officer allegedly told her if she kept reporting Reams, “she would be ‘crying wolf.'”
Reams stabbed Raygoza to death on July 14, 2014. Police shot and killed Reams at the scene.
Marjaree Mason Center Responds
Nicole Linder, CEO of the Marjaree Mason Center, said her group works closely with Fresno PD on domestic violence calls. She said that “death by domestic violence is a tragedy.”
“Patrol officers of all law enforcement agencies can call the Marjaree Mason Center hotline when at the scene and talk with a victim advocate or, if one is available, ask the victim advocate to come to the scene,” Linder said.
Via a state grant, MMC also provides domestic violence training for officers and detectives.
“These same victim advocates can also respond out to an incident per officer request. The Marjaree Mason Center contact information is provided as a referral service to victims after making a police report,” Linder said. “We also have regular meetings with domestic violence detectives and conduct training for officers, including attending shift-change briefings at the different district hubs.”
Linder said that MMC services are confidential and not reported to law enforcement.
Judge Initially Ruled for City
A federal judge ruled in the city’s favor for summary judgment in 2017, essentially dismissing the case, but it was reinstated on appeal.
Little said some of the settlement funds will be used to establish a fund to advocate for domestic violence victims.
“These families have been through enough. And this is a case where the family interprets the city settling this case for a significant amount of money as an admission that the police department needs to do better. This case was never about money for them. It was about an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on behalf of the city,” Little said.
A tentative settlement was agreed to on Oct. 16, 2023, and completed on Dec. 7, federal court records show. The deal avoided a trial that was set for Jan. 23, 2024. A search of Fresno City Council records shows the last time the case was discussed in a closed session was May 25, 2023. No announcement was made at the time.
City Attorney Andrew Janz said he would provide the vote count and date but did not have that information at time of publication. He said that “Government Code section 54957.1(a)(1)(B) only makes this a mandatory report ‘upon inquiry by any person’ after the agreement is finalized.”
The pertinent section fully reads: “If final approval rests with the other party to the negotiations, the local agency shall disclose the fact of that approval and the substance of the agreement upon inquiry by any person, as soon as the other party or its agent has informed the local agency of its approval.”
It has been the Fresno City Council’s practice to adhere to waiting until someone, such as GV Wire, inquires about a settlement before publicly revealing the information.