DENVER -- In a case that could open the door to lawsuits against local governments across the country, a Colorado woman is asking the US Supreme Court to back her $30 million lawsuit claiming police didn't do enough to prevent her estranged husband from killing their three daughters.
Jessica Gonzales contends police in the community of Castle Rock ignored her calls for help after Simon Gonzales took the girls -- ages 10, 9, and 7 -- from her yard in June 1999 in violation of a restraining order she obtained as part of her divorce.
Hours later, Simon Gonzales fired shots through a police station window. He was killed in the resulting gunfight, and officers found the girls' bodies in his truck.
At issue in the Supreme Court appeal is whether the 14th Amendment obligates police to protect residents from violence when a local government issues a restraining order and promises it will be enforced. Oral arguments are scheduled for tomorrow.
Gonzales's federal lawsuit was dismissed in 2001, but it was reinstated by the US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which said police had a duty to respond to her calls for help. In Colorado and about 20 other states, law enforcement agencies are required to enforce restraining orders.
Brad Bailey, assistant city attorney for Littleton, Colo., who filed a brief opposing the suit, said the 10th Circuit's decision marked the first time any court has given such status to a restraining order. ''Given the sheer numbers of orders out there, potentially the liability is just staggering," Bailey said.
When Gonzales reported her husband had taken the girls, two officers -- half the town's on-duty police force -- were sent to her 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," police chief Tony Lane said.
States often allow legal relief for police neglect. But Colorado bars negligence claims, leaving Gonzales without options if the high court rules against her.
''I don't lose three children and not do something about it," Gonzales told ''60 Minutes" for a report scheduled to air tonight.