Cleveland kidnappings: Was Ariel Castro record of abuse a red flag?

What if Ariel Castro’s past record of domestic violence had resulted in legal action? Could it have led authorities to discover that he was holding three women in his house? Could it have prevented the kidnappings?

Tony Dejak/AP
A woman places a balloon outside the home of Gina DeJesus in Cleveland. Ariel Castro, the man accused of raping and kidnapping Ms. DeJesus and two other women, who were missing for about a decade before being found alive at his home, may face charges of murder as well.
Cuyahoga County/AP
Cuyahoga County Corrections Center booking photo of Ariel Castro.

What if Ariel Castro’s past record of alleged domestic violence had resulted in legal action against him?

Could it have led authorities to discover sooner that the Cleveland man was holding three kidnapped women in his house? Could it have even prevented the kidnappings?

Those questions are emerging after details have surfaced that the Ohio kidnapping suspect had several run-ins with the law regarding alleged domestic violence.

The incidents involved the woman, Grimilda Figueroa, with whom Mr. Castro fathered four children.

Now Castro has been arrested and stands accused of kidnapping and abusing three other women and keeping them locked in his house since 2002, 2003, and 2004 respectively.

The Reuters news agency reported Saturday that Ms. Figueroa’s accusations against Castro began as early as 1989 and spanned through 2005. The most recent case involved a request by her for a court order of protection.

The effort by Figueroa raises that “what if” question.

“If he had violated the order he could have been investigated by police and possibly arrested,” the Reuters report said. “That could have been an opportunity to find the women he allegedly held captive, or it could have made things worse if they had been abandoned without him and unable to leave the house.”

But the story of the tension-filled relationship between Figueroa and Castro is also a reminder of how difficult it can be to make charges of domestic violence stick, or to win such court orders of protection against potential abuse.

More than once, Figueroa backed off in her legal efforts. That’s a common challenge when it comes to holding batterers accountable, experts in domestic violence say.

Michael Dvorak, the prosecuting attorney for St. Joseph, County, Ind., is one of many who have publicized the problem.

“Financial dependencies, pressure from the abuser and fear of retribution to themselves or their children are some of the obstacles that victims face” in making charges, he wrote in 2011.

Such factors frequently cause people to recant allegations, never file charges, or refrain from seeking a court order.

And even if Figueroa had won a court order, it’s only possible – far from certain – that it would have ultimately led police to discover Castro’s connection to three unsolved abductions.

Castro is being charged with kidnapping Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight as teens or young women. Additional charges included rape and possibly murder (in connection with allegedly abusing Ms. Knight and depriving her of food during pregnancies that led to miscarriages).

Here’s the timeline for the Figueroa-Castro relationship, as recounted by Reuters:

In 1989, Castro pleaded no contest and was given a year of probation after Figueroa made a domestic violence complaint against him.

On Dec. 26, 1993, Castro was arrested after he came home drunk and began beating Figueroa, police said. Police gathered a detailed report, but when a grand jury considered the incident, Figueroa said she could not remember the abuse.

By 1997, Figueroa had been granted full custody of her and Castro's four children. And by then, she was in a new relationship with another man.

In 2005, Figueroa sought an order of protection against Castro, saying he had threatened to kill her and her children during the previous year and had "abducted" the children.

But that happened about the same time that two of her daughters accused her new partner of sexual abuse. The charges may have come about at the prompting of Castro, some sources say, but they resulted in a sentence of supervision for her partner.

Figueroa decided not to proceed with the request for a protection order, and decided to move to Indiana with her children.

She died last year, with a coroner saying the death was caused by an accidental overdose of painkillers.

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