How Will Immigration Law Affect This Silicon Valley Domestic Violence Case?

April 24, 2017, 12:45 AM UTC

Sexual harassment, criminal sentencing, and immigration have been hot button issues in the news of late. There are the allegations against Fox’s Roger Ailes, and questions over how the Trump administration will approach criminal justice. There are debates over federal funding for sanctuary cities, not to mention the problem of H1B visas after various iterations of Trump’s travel bans. And then there is one story in particular that blends all three national conversations in a complex and urgent legal case. That would be the allegations of domestic abuse levied by Apple alumna Neha Rastogi against her husband, former Cuberon CEO Abhishek Gattani.

According to the Daily Beast, Gattani and Rastogi seemed to have a fairly ordinary life in Silicon Valley. Both Indian American, the pair had entered into an arranged marriage—something Rastgoi felt connected her with the “romance” of Indian culture. They shared a modest Sunnyvale home and traveled back to India occasionally to see family. Each has successful careers, and Rastogi in particular has worked for household name companies like Adobe, Cisco, and Flip Video. But, according to Rastogi, it was only a few months in to their marriage that Gattani’s anger issues surfaced.

In 2013, Gattani was arrested for beating Rastogi on the sidewalk outside their home when a postal worker called the police. He was given a felony assault charge, but Rastogi stayed in the marriage afterwards. It wasn’t until Rastogi had accumulated a series of videos capturing audio proof of the abuse and photographs of her bruises that she worked up the courage to go back to the police and try to get out of her marriage. She says she was afraid her husband would kill her.

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The Daily Beast obtained the audio recordings Rastogi made, which capture verbal abuse including death threats, which escalated into audible physical attacks, some witnessed by their daughter. In one recording, Gattani can be heard telling Rastogi, “Yeah, I would like to see you murdered.” In the same video, Gattani describes to Rastogi in detail how he imagined stabbing her body “with a knife 45 times.” In one video, their daughter says she is afraid of her father.

Despite having more evidence than many victims, and despite her husband’s prior felony conviction, Rastogi’s case quickly hit a series of roadblocks. The Daily Beast details how Gattani was arrested after Rastogi took her recordings to the police, but was almost immediately released without bail. It was only thanks to her familiarity with the iPhone that she was able to track his location and see he was headed to their home, giving her an opportunity to hide and avoid another altercation.

After Gattani’s release, Rastogi held out hope for strong sentencing against her husband, until the prosecutor pressed for “a lesser form of a felony.” That was because the Santa Clara District Attorney was concerned a harder conviction would put Gattani in danger of being deported back to India. A lesser felony charge means that Gattani could spend as little as two weeks in jail, and would be able to expunge his record after completing certain probationary measures.

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In a victim impact statement read in court and published by the Daily Beast, Rastogi decries the ruling’s preference for her husband’s immigration status over her safety.

I feel disgraced by the charges – 3 years of abuse towards our child and 10 years of abuse towards me has equated to 15 days of his life in jail. The system has shown me that concerns over Abhishek’s immigration status has completely trampled rights of my daughter and my own. Between the prosecution and defense, I’ve been marginalized and honestly insulted. What I have suffered at Abhishek’s hands has become insignificant in favor of considerations for Abhishek’s job, immigration status. What about our child, what about me? We both experienced domestic violence from Abhishek, yet our voices cannot reach the authorities.

Rastogi’s statement raises an interesting point about not only the rights of immigrants versus the rights of abuse survivors, but also how gender dynamics and race come into play. In February, Irvin Gonzalez left a domestic violence shelter to go to the courthouse and was arrested by immigration agents. It was her abuser who tipped them off. Her arrest made the national news, and highlighted other instances of women who dropped their domestic violence cases for fear of deportation. Rastogi’s case illustrates the odds domestic abuse survivors are up against, especially when other legal matters are involved such as child custody or immigration status. It also differs in that, in this case, the criminal justice system is actively working to avoid Gattani’s deportation.

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Rastogi also expressed concern in her statement about what will happen when Gattani is released from his brief stint in jail—not an unreasonable fear given both their history and the outcomes of other battered wives. Take, for example, the not-dissimilar case of Monica Weber-Jeter, who was the subject of a 2015 Huffington Post article on an Ohio legal loophole that failed to account for signs of escalating violence that indicate homicide risk. Weber-Jeter’s husband served 11 days in jail for assaulting her in 2014 after years of other abuses, including strangulation. The couple resumed contact after his release, prompted in part by her hopes for reconciliation and not putting their children through a divorce. Eight months later, after further abuse, Weber-Jeter’s husband stabbed her almost 30 times in an attack that bears an eerie resemblance to the fantasy described by Gattani.

Of course, Rastogi’s story remains, thankfully, different from that of Weber-Jeter. Rastogi has filed for divorce, and another court date in her domestic abuse case is set for May 18th. In the meantime, Rastogi is railing against the potential long-term impact of the judge’s ruling, both on her own life and that of other women. In her victim impact statement shared by the Daily Beast, Rastogi wrote,

“[Gattani] preys on the mere perception of weakness and that’s what the system is exhibiting today. This to him isn’t equality or rights but sign of weakness, which he takes advantage of….He will do the same here and I stand terrified of the consequences of that as a mother, as again a future victim and for all those who he would prey on in the times to come.”

Only time will tell what the outcome might be, and what sort of precedent it might set for future domestic violence cases in which immigration status is a consideration.

Update: This article’s headline was updated a 9:39AM to more accurately reflect the ongoing nature of the case and that no sentence has been officially handed down yet.

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