City College murder victim sought help from Family Justice Ctr - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

City College murder victim sought help from Family Justice Center

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Wanted: 37-year-old Armando Gabriel Perez Wanted: 37-year-old Armando Gabriel Perez

News 8 extended interview with Casey Gwinn
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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- City College murder victim Diana Gonzalez was doing everything right but the system failed her anyway; that according to Casey Gwinn, president of the National Family Justice Center Alliance in San Diego.

"If somebody comes forward for help they shouldn't die," Gwinn said. "The DA failed. The city attorney failed. The Family Justice Center failed. We all failed."

Gonzalez's body was found October 12 in a bathroom on the campus of City College. Prosecutors have filed murder charges against her estranged husband, 37-year-old Armando Perez, who is believed to be hiding in Mexico.

Gwinn confirmed Thursday that Gonzalez, 19, was a client of the city-run Family Justice Center, and that Gwinn's non-profit, partner agency was helping Gonzalez with domestic violence issues.

Gwinn, a former San Diego city attorney, said Family Justice Center attorneys filed a restraining order on Gonzalez's behalf weeks before her murder.

"Everything was filed in court by a lawyer from the Family Justice Center legal network and that lawyer filed a restraining order application based on a police report and a declaration from Diana Gonzalez saying what happened to her in September when she was kidnapped, raped and strangled," Gwinn said.

Three weeks before her murder, Gonzalez filed the police report alleging Armando Perez kidnapped her from a parking lot near City College, choked her to unconsciousness, and sexually assaulted her in motel rooms over a three day period.

Police arrested Perez September 24, but the district attorney's office declined to file charges citing insufficient evidence. Perez walked out of jail five days later.

Gwinn said there is no doubt in his mind that Gonzalez wanted to move forward with kidnapping and sexual assault charges against Perez.

"She was scared. She was concerned. She was confused as most victims of domestic violence are – particularly in such a serious case – where they literally have been strangled almost to death by their partner," Gwinn said. "But as far as changing her story or recanting, we're not aware of anything like that in this case."

Gwinn said prosecutors had concerns about filing kidnapping charges in the case because at one point during the three-day ordeal, Perez left Gonzalez alone in her car and she did not run away. There were also questions about whether Gonzalez had consented to sexual intercourse with Perez, Gwinn said.

Still, Gwinn said felony charges should have been filed because Perez allegedly threatened Gonzalez's life -- and the life of her infant daughter -- during the alleged kidnapping incident.

"You can't consent to strangulation," Gwinn said. "And, if you're threatened with death or the death of your family, you can't consent to sexual assault under those circumstances. That's not consent. That's a rape."

"Based on the evidence we had and based on the evidence I've seen, and as 20 years as a prosecutor, it appears to me that charged should have been filed in this case," Gwinn said.

District attorney Bonnie Dumanis has declined to answer questions in detail about why her office did not file charges in the alleged kidnapping case.

At a news conference Wednesday, Dumanis said, "We don't file cases where there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt."

Dumanis said discussing the case publicly might jeopardize the open murder investigation against Perez; although she has agreed to meet privately with the victim's family to answer questions and address concerns.

In her police report, Gonzalez also alleged a long history of more than 20 domestic violence incidents involving Perez.

"Somebody should have been interviewing her about those," Gwinn said. "If they were misdemeanors, the city attorney could have filed them."

In light of the Gonzalez murder, Gwinn says agencies need to review their actions, admit mistakes and move forward to prevent this from happening again.

"I have nothing but respect for Bonnie Dumanis," Gwinn said. "I think she cares deeply about domestic violence cases. She was a domestic violence court judge. But nobody can look at this and say there's nothing else we could have done. We clearly could have done a lot more – all of us – the Family Justice Center agencies included. We didn't do everything we could have done and now Diana Gonzalez is dead."

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