(MCT) — MILWAUKEE — Radcliffe Haughton's deadly rampage at a spa Sunday came after years of sidestepping Brown Deer, Wis., police on domestic violence incidents, including a January 2011 confrontation when officers saw him point what looked like a rifle at his wife, but then did not arrest him.
Police were back at the house just three weeks ago, on Oct. 2, after officers found his wife, Zina Haughton, at a gas station, barefoot with her face bruised. Officers went to the Haughtons' house and spotted Radcliffe Haughton inside. He refused to answer the door. Again, they left without making an arrest.
Both times, their failure to arrest Haughton damaged possible criminal cases, in which identification of a defendant is fundamental.
Brown Deer police finally did arrest the 45-year-old Haughton on Oct. 4 — two days after he wouldn't come to the door to answer for the bruise on his wife's face. But this time the department was making an arrest for police in Brookfield, Wis., where he had slashed his wife's tires outside the Azana Salon and Spa, where she worked as a stylist.
Last week, Zina Haughton received a restraining order against her husband. On Saturday, Radcliffe Haughton purchased the .40-caliber handgun he would use to shoot seven women, killing three Azana workers, including his wife.
The injunction prohibited Haughton from buying a gun from a dealer. But Haughton sidestepped federal law by purchasing the gun privately, which meant a background check is not required. Private sellers also do not have to follow a 48-hour waiting period, required for gun dealers in Wisconsin. The waiting period was intended, in part, as a cooling-off period in domestic violence cases.
Brown Deer Police Chief Steve Rinzel initially agreed to an interview with the Journal Sentinel on Monday but later canceled it and instead issued a news release. In it, the department defended its decision not to arrest Radcliffe Haughton in January 2011, saying officers were not certain he was armed.
"And, although officers believed they may have seen Radcliffe Haughton with something that appeared to be a long gun, they could NOT substantiate this, especially given the conflicting statements made by the victim," the statement said.
Police officers on the scene of the 2011 incident certainly acted like they thought Haughton was armed, according to police reports.
They set up a tactical perimeter, shut off traffic and barred neighbors from entering their homes from the street. An officer used a bullhorn to notify Haughton he was under arrest and ordered him to come out. He refused.
Then officers saw Haughton through a window with what looked like a handgun. Officers raised their rifles and ordered him to drop it. He did not and walked out of sight.
Rather than ordering an entry, Lt. Jonathan Schmitz told officers to "tactically open the perimeter." After a 90-minute standoff with Haughton, officers retreated.
The department statement Monday said, "Because the suspect was home alone at the time, and any potential victim(s) had already left, and due to the fact that Zina claimed her husband did not have any weapons in the home, officers did leave the scene."
Despite not making an arrest, Brown Deer police still requested charges, including a felony count that required officers to believe Haughton was armed while he was in the house.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said prosecutors were limited in what they could charge because police did not make an arrest. He could not recall many cases that unfolded in the same way.
"It put the case in an unusual posture from the beginning," Chisholm said. "The DV (domestic violence) people pursued it aggressively, trying to hold him accountable."
Haughton ultimately was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct/domestic abuse. The case was dismissed when Haughton's wife and a police officer on the scene did not show, according to records.
That officer was on vacation when the trial was scheduled, and had asked for an adjournment, records show. The prosecutor didn't realize until the trial date that the officer was the only one who could identify Radcliffe Haughton, Chisholm said.
Wisconsin law requires officers to arrest domestic violence suspects under certain circumstances. Officers must make an arrest if they have grounds to believe someone has committed domestic violence and the abuse is likely to continue or if there is an injury.
An officer is not supposed to base the decision to arrest on the victim's cooperation, according to a guide from the attorney general.
Brown Deer police said officers were not required to arrest Haughton under the mandatory arrest law. Police noted Zina Haughton was uncooperative, denied she feared for her safety and had no injuries.
"We understand that domestic violence victims are not always willing to cooperate with the police and are fearful of further retaliation. However, without key information, the police are limited in their ability to make a forced entry into a private residence or pursue appropriate charges," the statement said.
Tony Gibart, policy coordinator at the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the department mischaracterized the mandatory arrest law. Even if the mandatory arrest law didn't apply, officers could have arrested Haughton for pointing what appeared to be a rifle, he said.
"The officers were clearly fearful for their own safety and the safety of the victim," he said. "There were pressing and imminent safety concerns. Arrest was certainly warranted."
Gibart also took issue with the department noting that Zina Haughton did not cooperate.
"I think we need to consider all of what happened from the victim's perspective," he said. "It is unfair to the deceased victim and her family and not productive at this point. Victims are often reluctant to be cooperative and risks outweigh the benefits, and they see their abuser disregarding the law. Rather than second-guess or blame the victim, we should focus on responses that are productive."
Brown Deer police were repeatedly called to the Haughtons' home on W. Glenbrook Road since 2001, including at least a half-dozen times for domestic violence calls.
Neighbors said the home was chaotic. Ernest Polk said Radcliffe Haughton was verbally abusive, but he didn't see physical violence.
In 2003, Zina Haughton reported to police that her husband beat her. The case was referred to prosecutors, but resulted in no charges. Chisholm did not have details on Monday, and police reports don't provide information.
Police were called to the house in 2004, 2006 and 2008, according to reports — all on domestic violence calls. No arrests were made.
Those incidents were followed by the most serious conflict to date, the January 2011 call to 911 in which Zina Haughton said she and her husband were fighting. He had thrown her clothes and bedding into the yard and on her vehicle, and poured tomato juice — which can damage paint — on her vehicle, according to the criminal complaint and police reports. She ended the call with "Send help, hurry up!"
Once officers arrived, Zina Haughton told police she called because her husband would not move his car to let her out of the driveway. However, an officer noted that his car was not blocking her from leaving.
"I thought it unlikely that Zina called 911 asking for officers to 'hurry up!' in order to get Radcliffe to move his vehicle," officer Jill Zeise wrote.
Zina Haughton told police her husband had no guns, but one of the officers on the scene knew from past calls that he was a Marine veteran, who may have had a gun and knew how to use one.
That's when officers spotted Radcliffe Haughton standing in a window.
"He slid open the curtains," the complaint says. "The defendant pointed a long-barreled black object out the window. He aimed this long-barreled object at Zina Haughton who stood three feet away from officers outside."
Officer Zeise wrote in her report: "I yelled to Zina to move away from the house. P.O. Hahn took control of Zina and moved her to the west. I took cover behind my squad car."
Police gave orders to Radcliffe Haughton to come out. He refused. He again appeared near a window and opened the curtains. This time he had what is described as "an unidentified silver and black object" in his hand.
"I pointed my rifle directly at Radcliffe in the window because I believed the object in his hand could have been a gun," Zeise wrote.
After police left, Haughton was ordered into court on the disorderly conduct charge, appearing seven weeks after the stand-off. He was arrested and booked after that first court appearance, records show. The case was set for trial but was dismissed when officer Zeise did not appear.
The next contact with police was on Oct. 2 of this year, after Zina Haughton called from a gas station on N. 51st St. and W. Brown Deer Road. When officers arrived at 10:30 p.m., they found Haughton barefoot with her shirt torn and her makeup running, as if she had been crying, according to their report. She had scrapes and swelling on the left side of her face, the officer reported.
Zina Haughton denied she was injured, that the scrapes were actually makeup. She said she didn't mean to call 911. She was trying to call 411 to get a phone number. She said her husband accused her of cheating on him. There was a struggle, as he took away her cell phone, which she kept in her bra, the report said.
Police went to the couple's home. As in January 2011, Radcliffe Haughton refused to come to door. Officers left and the department later requested an arrest warrant from the district attorney's office. Chisholm said the warrant request was denied because police had not arrested Radcliffe Haughton and identified him as the defendant.
Just two days later, the couple argued about getting a divorce. He took their daughter to school, and Zina Haughton went to the Brown Deer police and asked them to come back to the home with her so she could get her items out. They did so, and then she headed to the spa to work. Her husband was there, and slashed the tires on his wife's car with what looked like a steak knife before driving away.
Brookfield police put out a request for Haughton's arrest. Later on Oct. 4, Radcliffe was arrested by Brown Deer police.
The Brookfield police reports do not indicate if Brown Deer police questioned Haugthon about the incident just two days earlier — the one in which he refused to answer the door for officers regarding the injuries to his wife.
Haughton denied slashing the tires. He was booked in the Waukesha County jail on criminal damage to property, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct, and released on a $350 bond.
Brad Schimel, Waukesha County District Attorney, said a criminal complaint was done on Oct. 16 and needed to be signed and a summons mailed.
Schimel said his office sometimes gets accused of over-reaching in such cases but prosecutors know a shooting like Sunday is a possible outcome.
"We recognized we also have cases on a spectrum and it's hard to know what to believe," he said. "Some victims recant. Some don't. Mrs. Haughton was not recanting. She was quite serious about being frightened by his behavior and had every reason to be."
(Georgia Pabst, Annysa Johnson and Crocker Stephenson contributed to this report.)