A Colorado tragedy takes center stage Monday at the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of a Castle Rock woman.
Jessica Gonzales said police didn't do enough to enforce her restraining order against her estranged husband, who took the couple's three daughters and killed them in 1999.
She told the CBS news program "60 Minutes" that all she can do is give it her "best shot, to make a change, to make the world a little safer."
Gonzales wants the right to sue the Castle Rock Police Department, claiming authorities ignored her 911 calls for help after her ex-husband took the couple's daughters. Simon Gonzales later murdered the three children before being killed in a police shootout in front of a police station.
After the gunfight, officers found the girls' bodies in his pickup truck. The girls were ages 7, 9 and 10.
At issue is whether the 14th Amendment obligates police to protect residents from violence, when a local government issues a restraining order and promises to enforce it.
Gonzales said if the nation's highest court rules against her, then at least she'll know she tried.
A ruling may not come for several months.
Gonzales obtained the restraining order as part of the couple's divorce, and said her ex-husband violated that order when he took the girls from her yard in June 1999.
Two officers -- half the town's on-duty police force at the time -- were sent to the Gonzales home to investigate and learned the restraining order gave the father limited child-visitation rights.
"There was absolutely no indication at all that those girls were in harm's way," said Tony Lane, who had been police chief for 13 years in the fast-growing town 25 miles south of Denver. "His previous history did not show he was ever violent toward those girls and he was in compliance with the restraining order."
The tiny police department came under heavy criticism from people who believed officers didn't do enough to enforce the restraining order.
The $30 million federal lawsuit was dismissed in 2001, but it was reinstated by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said police had a duty to respond to her calls for help.
The case could open the door to thousands of lawsuits against local governments across the country. It has drawn attention from numerous groups, including the National League of Cities, National Sheriffs Association and other groups.
Littleton Assistant City Attorney Brad Bailey, who filed a brief opposing the lawsuit, said the decision to reinstate the case marked the first time any court has given the status of a property right to a restraining order.
In Colorado and about 20 other states, law enforcement agencies are required to enforce restraining orders, which are often issued in divorce cases and -- in many states -- are routinely issued in criminal cases to protect witnesses from a defendant.
"Given the sheer numbers of orders out there, potentially the liability is just staggering," Bailey said.
Castle Rock officials contend the Supreme Court has never allowed lawsuits against public officials when alleged gross negligence permits a child to be harmed by a parent.
Legal relief for police neglect is often available under state laws. But Colorado bars the negligence claim, leaving Gonzales with nowhere to turn if the high court rules against her.
Lane, the police chief, said he doesn't know what motivated Gonzales to sue, but said he cannot imagine being in her situation.
"People do have a tendency to look for somebody to blame," he said. "There's no bitterness at all on our part. She's just doing what she thinks is appropriate. She just has a different opinion of the facts of the case."
The case is Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 04-278.
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