Is the city liable?
Thurman attacked Tracey Thurman at the home of Judy Bentley and Richard St. Hilaire in the city of
Charles Thurman went to the St. Hilaire–Bentley residence and took by force their son Charles J. Thurman, Jr. Tracey Thurman and Mr. St. Hilaire went to police headquarters to make a formal complaint. At that point, police officers of refused to take a complaint—even of trespassing.
Charles Thurman screamed threats to Tracey Thurman while she was sitting in her car. Officer Neil Gemelli stood on the street watching Charles Thurman scream threats at Tracey Thurman until Charles Thurman broke the windshield of Tracey’s car while she was inside the vehicle. Officer Gemelli arrested Charles Thurman.
Charles was convicted of breach of peace. He received a suspended sentence of six months and a two-year “conditional discharge,” during which he was ordered to stay completely away from Tracey Thurman and the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence and to commit no further crimes. Charles was informed of the sentence.
While Tracey Thurman was at the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence, Charles Thurman came to the house and threatened her again. She called the Torrington Police Department. Although informed of the violation of the conditional discharge, the officer who took the call made no attempt to find out where Charles was or to arrest him.
January 1-May 4, l983
took numerous telephone complaints from
May 4 and 5, l983
Thurman and Ms. Bentley reported to the Torrington Police Department that
Charles Thurman threatened to shoot Tracey. Officer Storrs took the written
complaint of plaintiff Tracey Thurman and her request that they get an arrest
warrant for her husband because of his death threat and violation of his
“conditional discharge.” Officer Storrs refused to take the complaint of Ms.
Bentley and he told her to come back three weeks later (
Tracey Thurman filed an application for a restraining order against Charles Thurman in the Litchfield Superior Court. That day, the court issued a restraining order forbidding Charles Thurman from assaulting, threatening, and harassing Tracey Thurman. The City was informed of this order.
Tracey Thurman asked for police protection to get to the Torrington Police Department, and when an officer brought her to the department, she asked for a warrant for her husband’s arrest. The officer told her she had wait until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend and was advised to call on Tuesday, May 31, to pursue the warrant request.
Thurman appeared once again at the Torrington Police Department to pursue the
warrant request. She was then advised by and officer that Officer Schapp was the only policeman who could help her and he was
on vacation. She was told that she had to wait until he got back. That same
day, Tracey’s brother-in-law, Joseph Kocsis, called
the Torrington Police Department to protest the lack of action taken on Tracey’s
complaint. Although Mr. Kocsis was told Charles
Thurman would be arrested on
Charles Thurman appeared at the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence in the early afternoon and demanded to speak to Tracey Thurman. Tracey, remaining indoors, called the police department asking that Charles be picked up for violation of his probation. After about 15 minutes, Tracey went outside to try to persuade him not to take or hurt Charles Jr. Charles suddenly stabbed Tracey repeatedly in the chest, neck, and throat.
Twenty-five minutes after Tracey’s call to the Torrington Police Department and after her stabbing, a single police officer, Officer Petrovits, arrived on the scene. Charles Thurman was holding a bloody knife. Charles dropped the knife and, in the presence of Petrovits, kicked Tracey in the head and ran into the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence. Charles came back holding Charles Thurman, Jr. and dropped him on his wounded mother. Charles then kicked Tracey in the head a second time.
Soon thereafter, Officers DeAngelo, Nukirk, and
From the first to the last of these
episodes, Charles Thurman lived in
Tracey Thurman sued the city for the violations of her rights under the U.S. Constitution. The City brought a motion to dismiss her claims. The City…argues that the equal protection clause [no state shall deny any person the equal protection of the laws] “only prohibits intentional discrimination that is racially motivated.” The City’s argument is clearly a misstatement of the law. The application of the equal protection clause is not limited to racial classifications or racially motivated discrimination…. Classifications on the basis of gender will be held invalid under the equal protection clause unless they are substantially related to strike down classifications which are not rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.
Tracey Thurman alleges that the city
uses an administrative classification that manifests itself in discriminatory
treatment that violates the equal protection clause. Police protection in the
City officials and police officers are under an affirmative duty to preserve law and order, and to protect the personal safety of persons in the community. This duty applies equally to women whose personal safety is threatened by individuals with whom they have or have had a domestic relationship as well as to all other persons whose personal safety is threatened, including women not involved in domestic relationships. If officials have notice of the possibility of attacks on women in domestic relationships or other persons, they are under an affirmative duty to take reasonable measures to protect the personal safety of such persons in the community. Failure to perform this duty would constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws.
Tracey Thurman alleges there is an
administrative classification used to implement the law in a discriminatory
fashion. It is well settled that the equal protection clause is applicable not
only to discriminatory legislative action, but also to discriminatory
governmental action in administration and enforcement of the law. Here the
plaintiffs were threatened with assault in violation of
A city may be sued for damages under § 1983 when “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by the body’s officers” or is “visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom’ even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body’s official decision-making channels.”
Some degree of specificity is required
in pleading a custom or policy. A plaintiff must typically point to the facts
outside his own case to support his allegation of a policy on the part of a
municipality. In the instant case, however, the plaintiff Tracey Thurman has
specifically alleged in her statement of facts a series of acts and omissions on
the part of the defendant police officers and police department that took place
over the course of eight months. From this particularized pleading a pattern
emerges that evidences deliberate indifference on the part of the police
department to the complaints of the plaintiff Tracey Thurman and to its duty to
protect her. Such an ongoing pattern of deliberate indifference raises an
inference of “custom” or “policy” on the part of the municipality. Furthermore,
this pattern of inaction climaxed on
For these reasons, the City’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to allege the deprivation of a constitutional right is denied...; the City’s motion to dismiss claims against it for failure to properly allege a “custom” or “policy” on the part of the City is denied.
[Note: Tracey Thurman was left partially paralyzed and received a $2.3 million in damages in 1985.]