(MCT) — CHICAGO — When Zina Haughton called police for help, she usually begged them to come quickly because she was scared of her husband — only to back off her claims once they arrived.
Family members and co-workers were concerned too. In July, Zina’s sister and brother called for police to check on Zina’s well-being at her home outside Milwaukee when she failed to show up for a family function in north suburban Skokie.
But nothing came of it because Zina later assured her family that she was OK — despite a pattern of violence that escalated for more than a decade, court records indicate.
On Oct. 21, Radcliffe Haughton shot and killed his 42-year-old wife and two other women at Azana Salon & Spa in Brookfield, west of Milwaukee. Haughton, 45, injured four others in the massacre before killing himself.
Some advocates for domestic abuse victims say the system failed Zina Haughton, given that there were multiple occasions where police in their Milwaukee suburb, Brown Deer, did not take her husband into custody despite claims or evidence that he committed violence against her.
Last Friday, the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence called for an external audit of Brown Deer police for what the group called the department’s failures in the case, including failing to follow the state’s so-called mandatory arrest law.
The circumstances that led to the rampage present a familiar pattern to police and social service workers. They describe domestic violence as complex and frustrating, yet unique to individual circumstances. And some detractors say mandatory arrest laws can do more harm than good to victims.
Some crime victim advocates also say that, although they encourage communities to address domestic violence through education, health and criminal justice systems, even the best policies don’t always stop offenders intent on doing harm.
“When situations like this happen, the gut response is, ‘This is so horrendous, what can we do so this doesn’t happen again?’ ” said Dawn Dalton, executive director of Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network. “The challenge in answering this question is, there isn’t one quick fix.”
The laws concerning domestic violence — and how police enforce them — vary from state to state, from county to county and from one police jurisdiction to the next, experts say.
Wisconsin has a law that requires police to take an offender into custody if “the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is committing or has committed domestic abuse,” according to the statute.
The law, on the Wisconsin books since the 1980s, says in effect that officers should not let a potential offender go without an arrest simply because a victim does not consent or does not show outward signs of injury.
Since 2001, Brown Deer police responded to calls concerning the Haughtons nearly 20 times, with at least seven calls in response to complaints of domestic abuse, arguments or well-being checks, police records show. Brown Deer police apparently didn’t arrest him until Oct. 4, after another police department reported that he had slashed his wife’s tires.
“It certainly is concerning with that many phone calls, that many trips out to the house, that they never deemed it was domestic violence and necessary for the law to kick in,” said April Zeoli, assistant professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.
Yet mandatory arrest laws have been controversial because, critics say, they could deter victims from calling police and limit authorities’ ability to choose an appropriate course of action.
“I would be pretty uncomfortable with having laws take the power away from somebody who already is having their control and power wrested away from them by an abusive person,” said Katherine Shank, supervisory attorney for LAF, formerly known as the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
Brown Deer police Chief Steven Rinzel declined a request for an interview. But in a news release, he stated that Zina Haughton had been uncooperative during prior incidents, including one in January 2011.
On that day, Zina Haughton called for police help but remained outside and refused to allow officers to enter the house. An officer observed Radcliffe point what appeared to be a long-barreled black object out the window at his wife, according to a police report. After a 90-minute standoff, officers left the home, the report states.
Rinzel stated in the news release that Haughton told officers she was not fearful for her safety, which he said is required when making an arrest.
“There was no threat that could be verified, no evidence of injury, the victim advised there were no weapons in the house,” the release stated.
Radcliffe Haughton was later charged with disorderly conduct and domestic abuse stemming from the incident, records show, but those charges were later dropped after an investigating officer could not attend a court hearing, officials said.
Then, on Oct. 2 at about 10:30 p.m., Zina Haughton called police from a gas station pay phone, but told Brown Deer officers once they arrived that she had intended to call 411. Her husband had accused her of cheating and had forcibly taken her cellphone, she said.
The officer observed that Zina was not wearing shoes, her makeup was running and she appeared to have been crying. Her shirt was ripped and she appeared to be intoxicated, according to the report.
“I also noticed she had scrapes and swelling on the left side of her face,” the officer wrote. “I asked Zina how she got the injury to her face. Zina said she was not injured. I told Zina I could see the injury on her face.”
“Based on the injury to Zina’s face, her ripped clothes, statements made by Zina that she struggled with Radcliffe over her phone, and her disheveled appearance, I believe she was physically assaulted by Radcliffe,” the officer wrote.
He drove her to her home and knocked on the door, but the lights were turned off and no one answered, the report shows. The police officer could see Radcliffe walking inside the residence but left without making contact with him, the report states.
At the police station, Zina refused to complete domestic abuse paperwork and declined a 27-hour no-contact order, according to police, who photographed her injuries.
The officer listed prior contacts with Zina and Radcliffe in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011.
Just two days later, on Oct. 4, Zina requested help from Brown Deer police in retrieving her belongings from her home, telling them she planned to move out. She then left for work, and upon arriving at Azana salon, found her husband was already there.
After she entered the building, Zina and co-workers watched as Radcliffe slashed her car’s tires. This time, Haughton was arrested and booked into the Waukesha County Jail on misdemeanor allegations of criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct-domestic violence, said the county’s district attorney, Brad Schimel. Charges had not yet been formally filed before Haughton went on his deadly shooting spree, Schimel said.
Zina Haughton did obtain a four-year restraining order against her husband on Oct. 18, three days before he killed her. The order required Radcliffe Haughton to turn in any weapons in his possession.
Authorities said he did not turn in any weapons, but the day before the shooting, he bought a .40-caliber gun from a private citizen.
Some questioned if there would have been a different outcome had Radcliffe been arrested for past offenses.
Mandatory arrest “is important because it opens the door for victims and is an attempt to hold an offender accountable,” said Carmen Pitre, executive director of Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee, a resource for survivors of domestic abuse.
“The more you use violence, the more you are not held accountable, the more emboldened you become — and that endangers all of us,” she said.
After the shooting, the father of another fatal victim, Maelyn Lind, 38, was angry and saddened.
Kevin Hanson said his daughter had complained that her car’s tires had been flattened outside the salon before. Now he believes Radcliffe Haughton could have been responsible.
“He hated Maelyn because she was a friend of Zina,” said Hanson, adding that his daughter had shared some of her concerns about the Haughtons’ rocky marriage with her mother.
“If I had any knowledge of this going on, I would have escorted her to work,” he said.
He has been told his daughter died trying to shield the eldest of Zina’s two daughters from the gunfire. The daughter was not injured, according to news reports. Brookfield police have not released the names of those injured in the attack. Haughton also killed Cary Robuck, 35, of Racine.
“Maelyn wasn’t afraid,” Hanson said.
On Oct. 18, when she was seeking the restraining order, Zina appeared ready to leave her husband for good.
“I never wanted him to be taken away, but things have gotten so bad,” Zina said, in an exchange with her husband, who represented himself in the hearing, according to a Milwaukee court transcript.
She described living in fear, suffering blackened eyes and bruised ribs, as well as threats that he would throw acid at her or kill her if she left him.
“I don’t want to die,” she said. “I just don’t want to die.”
(Chicago Tribune reporter Ryan Haggerty contributed to this report.)