I-Team: Victim's restraining order was never served
WARWICK, R.I. —
Evelyn Burgos's neat handwriting on the application for a restraining order tells a frightening story.
Just days before she and her 25-year-old daughter were killed in Johnston, Burgos knew the suspect, Daniel Rodriguez, was coming after her.
She wrote in court documents: "I fear for my life ... He may be waiting for me hiding," and "He told me he would kill me."
But because Rhode Island sheriffs couldn't locate Rodriguez, he was never served, meaning the order was never in effect.
Two weeks later, Burgos was dead.
"This woman clearly cried out for help for the system to protect her. It really is a wake-up call that we need to do a better job throughout the entire system," said Deborah DeBare of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
DeBare said the system failed the two women.
"We're getting numerous calls this week from other victims of domestic violence who have read about this or heard about it, and are quite worried that their cases will also slip through the cracks," DeBare said.
The NBC 10 I-Team learned that there are at least 3,000 restraining order requests filed each year in Rhode Island.
But the Rhode Island Division of Sheriffs typically has about six people available to serve the paperwork. That means at least 500 orders per deputy, which is an almost impossible workload.
"It's like a cat and mouse game between the sheriff's department and the defendant who's being served," Chief Sheriff David DeCesare said.
DeCesare has been in charge for four months, and he said he hopes to improve the system.
A big roadblock, he said, is the lack of technology. While state police and local police departments have on-board computers in their patrol cars, sheriffs do not. They have no way to do a full background check without driving to the Traffic Tribunal to use a computer.
"You've got to remember, a lot of our sheriffs are going out there with just paperwork. They don't even have a photo of the individual that they're going out and making service to," DeCesare said.
"It's mind-boggling to me today that in this world of such advanced technology that our law enforcement officers and court personnel cannot have immediate access to someone's criminal justice history," DeBare said.
Rodriguez's history includes an arrest for murder in 2003 and another for kidnapping an ex-girlfriend at knife point in 2007.
DeCesare said he didn't know that when he went to serve the order.
"I personally did not know that. It's my understanding that the sheriff may or may not have known that. I haven't had the opportunity to speak with him directly," DeCesare said.
Even if the order had been served, it's unclear if it could have stopped Rodriguez. The woman he allegedly kidnapped in 2007 already had an order in place, but it appears that only enraged him further.
According to Pawtucket police, Rodriguez told the victim: "That (expletive) restraining order ain't doing (expletive) for your now, is it?"
"Some people might take it a lot more seriously knowing that there's an active restraining order on them. Other people, it may be the fuel to ignite an even greater fire that is going on," DeCesare said.
Sheriffs said having access to criminal records and suspect photos would also improve officer safety because they could call for backup from local police when dealing with someone with a violent record.