SPARKS, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) -- The Sparks Assistant City Attorney has resigned following an On Your Side investigation into a case of alleged domestic violence that never made it to trial. News 4 is digging deeper to find out what really happened.
In the legal system, we expect cases to be decided based on facts and the evidence. But a recent case involving a charge of domestic violence in Sparks was dropped, and it had nothing to do with either of those.
"I couldn't believe that this person who had committed domestic battery against me was now a free man to go."
When Destiny and her 16-year-old daughter showed up at Sparks Municipal Court in March, they were ready to testify against Destiny's husband Mynor Estrada, who had been arrested on a charge of domestic violence. Destiny claimed in the police report that her husband was "yelling profanities" at her, and that he "hit her four times in the stomach". The report also said the suspect sped off in a car, and "nearly struck one of Destiny's other children" as he left.
But the case never made it to trial. Destiny was informed by an advocate in the City Attorney's office at the eleventh hour. "She just called me at 4:30 at work, and said the case had been dismissed, because the judge had dismissed it."
It turns out the trial got bumped by another case that day. But instead of continuing the case, the charge was dismissed with prejudice, which means the case cannot be re-tried.
"I understand why victims don't come forward," said Destiny. "People are empowered when cases slip through the cracks."
"I don't think the judge was interested in giving the victim her day in court," said Sparks City Attorney Chet Adams.
But while the City Attorney's office is pointing the finger at the judge, the official court docket clearly states it was the Assistant City Attorney who dismissed the case.
It turns out the City Attorney's office had been warned by the judge not to allow witnesses or victims, like Destiny, to leave the courthouse while their cases are pending. When Destiny and her daughter were allowed to leave because of that day's crowded court docket, City Attorney Chet Adams claims the judge decided then and there to drop the case and send a message.
"I heard the judge say 'look, I've told you not to do this before. As a consequence of you doing it again, I'm going to dismiss the case,'" said Adams.
News 4 contacted Judge Barbara McCarthy for an interview to get her side of the story. First, she said through a court spokeswoman that she is not allowed to comment. But according to the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission, there is nothing to prevent the judge from commenting on a case that has been dismissed with prejudice. When News 4 contacted Judge McCarthy again, she said through the same court spokeswoman that she was still not going to comment.
The case was officially closed on March 27. Five days later, on April 1, the then-Assistant City Attorney Wendy Chavez sent out a letter informing Destiny of what had happened. News 4 called the City Attorney's office on April 8 to request an interview for our story. Two days later, a full two weeks after the charges had been dropped, Wendy Chavez resigned.
"The first thing I did was I asked for, and received, the resignation of the prosecutor involved," said Adams.
Adams, who is in the middle of a campaign for Justice of the Peace, said he blames the judge, but he also said his assistant dropped the ball in this case. "My prosecutor should have objected and, at the very least, simply asked that the case be dismissed without prejudice, which would have given our office the ability to refile the criminal charges again."
When News 4 asked Adams if he felt added pressure to take responsibility, due to his campaign, Adams responded, "No, that has nothing to do with it."
Whoever was behind the decision the dismiss the case is not entirely clear. What is clear, is that Destiny, the alleged victim, was forced to endure more pain and anguish after the system that is designed to protect her broke down.
"I just don't see how a criminal or someone facing criminal charges can be let go because a judge and city attorney don't agree," said Destiny. "They're there to prosecute a case."
Again, this case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it cannot be re-tried. Adams said his office handles thousands of cases per year, and this one, unfortunately, fell through the cracks. He insists his office takes domestic violence cases very seriously.