Suit Over Murdered Baby Advanced in New Jersey
(CN) - A mother whose abusive ex-boyfriend threw their infant into an icy river can sue police officers who refused to intercede because of the President's Day holiday, a federal judge ruled.
Venetta Benjamin said her former boyfriend of several months, Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem, started assaulting her in 2008 by threatening, spitting on, punching, kicking, slapping, and choking her "too many times to count."
Months after Benjamin became pregnant and gave birth to Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem on Nov. 19, 2009, she told the father that she was leaving him.
When Abdur-Raheem responded by assaulting and threatening to kill Benjamin, the woman fled to her 60-year-old mother's home.
After the man's threats started to multiply and involve the baby, Benjamin and her sister went to get a temporary restraining order for domestic violence from the East Orange Police Department.
Benjamin said she spent about 45 minutes giving front desk staff details of Abdur-Raheem's abuse, like how two weeks prior he "grabbed [her], threw her up against the wall, slammed her head against the wall, and choked her while telling her 'you'll be better off dead.'"
Abdur-Raheem "then pinned [her] to the ground and choked [sic] while telling her 'I should kill you because you're trying to take my family away from me,'" Benjamin said.
Her ex then allegedly told her "things are going to come to an end for you and Zara."
But police personnel allegedly "turned her away" because it was President's Day. Claiming that they could not help, they told Benjamin to file a report the next day with the Superior Court of New Jersey Family Division-Essex County, according to the complaint. Benjamin said they never contacted the on-duty judge and that she went to the courthouse the next day, leaving Zara with her mother.
Abdur-Raheem soon "forcefully kidnapped" the nearly 3-month-old baby, stopped his car on a bridge, and tossed her into the frigid Raritan River below, killing her, the ruling states.
The man was ultimately convicted of murder and multiple other counts and sentenced to life in prison in late 2012.
Abdur-Raheem, East Orange and its police department are among the defendants to Benjamin's February 2012 lawsuit .
U.S. District Judge William Martini refused last year to dismiss negligence, wrongful death and other claims, but did toss emotional distress and Section 1988 claims.
After Benjamin amended her due process claim, Martini declined to dismiss the amended suit.
"In this case, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a policy or custom," the Feb. 20 ruling states. "The first amended complaint states that the front desk personnel told Venetta that 'under the way the law worked on a holiday such as President's Day, no resources were allocated for the consideration of a temporary restraining order.' They also informed her that 'the way the law worked, individuals such as Venetta had to report to the Superior Court on the day following a holiday to seek a temporary restraining order.' These allegations suggest that turning away domestic violence victims after hours was a permanent and well-settled practice. The court will therefore deny the motion to dismiss."
Benjamin cannot file a second amended complaint to add a factual allegation to the Section 1983 claim, however, Martini said, calling such changes "unnecessary."