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Issues of immigration, domestic violence surface in Oceano death

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Humberto Jacobo Chavez, 27, was still in the hospital recovering from self-inflicted stab wounds when SLO County Sheriff’s investigators arrested him in connection with the Aug. 16 death of his wife. According to a Sheriff’s Office press release, deputies were called to the couple’s home on the 2600 block of Warner Street just after 12:20 a.m. that morning. There, they found 26-year-old Patricia Jacobo dead of knife wounds, and Chavez, hurt but still alive. 

In the wake of the brutal attack, SLO Sheriff’s officials fielded multiple questions from the media on Chavez’s immigration status, likely sparked by recent, high-profile violent crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants. Those include a Mexican national accused of beating and severely injuring a 2-year-old girl in Paso Robles, an undocumented immigrant who allegedly sexually assault a 64-year-old woman who later died from her injuries in Santa Maria, and the shooting death of Cal Poly SLO graduate Katie Steinle, who was allegedly killed by a man deported from the U.S. five times. 

“The Sheriff’s Office has received numerous inquires regarding the immigration status of [Chavez],” the press release stated. “We have information that he is a legal resident of the U.S.”

Tony Cipolla, a spokesperson for the office, said four to five news outlets asked about Chavez’s immigration status.

“Yes, the Sheriff’s Office has noticed an increase in these types of requests from the media, especially with the two most recent cases: the homicide in Oceano and the child-abuse case in Paso Robles,” Cipolla wrote in an email response to questions from New Times.

Such crimes are du jour topics in American media and politics, even becoming talking points for politicians like Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. But Jacobo wasn’t the victim of an undocumented criminal. Instead, her death was likely caused by something far more ubiquitous and less likely to be mentioned by radio pundits, newspaper columnists, or presidential candidates: domestic violence. 

Female murder victims are often killed by a spouse or partner, according to Jennifer Adams, executive director of RISE, a SLO County-based nonprofit that also provides counseling, legal assistance, and other programs for victims of domestic abuse.

“In our country and in our state one third of all women who are murdered are murdered by their intimate partners,” she said.

According to the FBI’s supplementary homicide report, 2,037 women were murdered by a family member or acquaintance in 2013, the most recent year with data. That number accounted for 90 percent of the total females murdered that same year. The statistics remained much the same in California, where the FBI’s data showed that 199 of the 224 reported murders of women were committed by a family member or acquaintance in 2013.

“Unfortunately, it’s far more common than we would like to believe,” said Beth Raub, director of volunteers and outreach for the SLO Women’s Shelter Program, an organization that provides housing and other resources to domestic violence victims. Raub said it was uncommon for one spouse to murder the other without some prior incidents of violence.

“There’s usually a pattern of violence,” she said. “I’d say 99 percent of the time, you see a pattern of abuse leading up to [a murder].”

According to law enforcement officials, Chavez hadn’t had any run-ins with SLO County Sheriff’s deputies prior to the murder. Court records did not reveal any prior record of domestic abuse or violent crimes in SLO County either. While both Raub and Adams said they couldn’t speak to specifics of the case, both noted in separate interviews with New Times that not all abuse victims report abuse to law enforcement.

“There lots of factors,” Adams said. “It could be economic, it could be religious, sometimes it’s because they have children. ... Usually when the police are called, it’s because the victim wants the violence to stop in the moment.”

According to data from the California Department of Justice, SLO County law enforcement agencies—including SLO police, the county Sheriff’s Office, CHP and several city police departments within the county—reportedly received 551 domestic violence related calls for assistance in 2014. Adams said RISE received 736 calls on its domestic violence crisis hotline last year. The SLO Women’s Shelter Program provided safe housing for 365 adults and 42 children in the last fiscal year, Raub said. 

Unfortunately, Jacobo isn’t likely to be the last victim to die at the hands of a spouse or loved one. Raub said that the community could help fight domestic violence by becoming more educated about the issue, offering support to victims, and most importantly speaking up when they see a domestic violence situation.

“If you’re a neighbor and you hear battering going on next door, call the police,” she said. “So often we’re more inclined to call the police when our neighbor is playing the radio too loud, but when it comes to domestic violence, we stay silent.” 

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