Wisconsin needs a CLEAR alert system

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here you go:

October 29th, 2017, was a beautiful sunny day in San Antonio, Texas. Nineteenyear- old Cayley Mandadi took advantage of the weekend day to take a break from her studies at Trinity University to attend the Mala Luna music festival with her boyfriend, Mark Howerton.

The two young adults had a good time enjoying the music and partying with their friends. Then things took a turn. The couple ran into Cayley’s ex-boyfriend. Howerton grew visibly angry and the couple argued. Soon Howerton was seen aggressively leading Cayley to his car by her arm.

Cayley’s friends were concerned. They knew that Howerton had a violent history. In another angry altercation the previous month, he had trashed Cayley’s dorm room and threatened to throw her off a balcony, according to her sorority sisters. Howerton also allegedly slammed Cayley’s head into a car window and once brandished a gun.

Knowing Howerton’s history, one of Cayley’s friends tried to check on her that evening. She FaceTimed Cayley, but Howerton picked up, said Cayley couldn’t talk, and hung up. Cayley’s friends were at a loss to help.

Later that night, an unidentified woman was brought into a hospital in Luling, Texas, 60 miles northeast of San Antonio. She was unresponsive, nude from the waist down, had severe bruises around her neck, face, and thighs, and was bleeding. It was Cayley. Despite the best efforts of medical staff, Cayley was gone. She had suffered so much blunt force trauma that her brain no longer functioned. She was removed from life support two days later. Four months later, Mark Howerton was charged with Cayley’s murder and is awaiting trial.

Cayley’s father has been my friend for 27 years. The grief that he and his wife suffered over the death of their only child is the kind of grief that no person should ever have to endure. About a year after Cayley’s murder, they began a process to fix a hole in our emergency alert system that they believe might have saved their daughter’s life.

When Cayley’s friends observed her being led away by her violent boyfriend, there was little that they could do. Cayley was 19. She was too old to issue an AMBER Alert for her possible abduction and too young for a Silver Alert. There isn’t an alert system for regular

adults even if there is a strong indication that a person is missing and might be in danger. Adults in full control of their faculties are presumed to be competent and able to call for help if they need it.

To fill this gap in the alert system, Cayley’s parents set about navigating the Texas legislature to create an adult alert to cover people between the ages of 18 and 65. The end result was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot on June 6 of this year and will go into effect on Sept. 1. It is called the CLEAR Alert system. CLEAR stand for Coordinated Law Enforcement Adult Rescue, but the letters also honor some victims who might have been saved by it. The “C” is for Cayley.

As a general rule, laws should not be based on an emotional reaction to a traumatic event. And in a free country, adults should be able to move about without undue interference from law enforcement. That is why Texas’ CLEAR law sets forth strict criteria to be used. The missing adult must be in imminent danger of bodily injury or death or the disappearance was not voluntary. The person’s location must be unknown and the person must have been missing for fewer than 72 hours.

When the CLEAR Alert is activated, it will go to traffic signs, cellphones, the National Weather Service’s alert system, news outlets, the lottery commission’s signs in stores, banks, and all law enforcement agencies. It uses the same alert infrastructure as the AMBER Alert System.

Texas led the way in creating the AMBER Alert system that is now used in all 50 states and has saved nearly a thousand children. Wisconsin’s Legislature should pick up the ball and enact the CLEAR Alert System in our state. Let us not wait for a tragedy like Cayley’s murder to spur action. Let us act now.