CINCINNATI (CN) – The Sixth Circuit heard arguments Tuesday over whether Detroit and one of its suburbs should be held liable for a 2009 murder-suicide involving a homicide investigator and his wife, also a police officer.
Patricia “Katie” Williams was 33 when she was shot and killed by her husband, Ed Williams, who then turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
Katie’s estate filed suit against the city of Detroit and several Canton, Mich., police officers, claiming they failed to take action after several domestic violence incidents because of her husband’s status as a police officer.
The lawsuit sought damages for equal protection and civil rights violations.
According to court documents, on Sept. 19, 2009, just days before her murder, Katie was pushed to the ground during an argument with her husband and sustained a cut on her cheek.
She went to the Canton police station but refused to provide her name to police officers for fear that Ed would lose his job.
The next morning, Katie and her mother “had an altercation with Ed, which involved yelling and a scuffle. During this incident, Ed was holding a handgun and [was] intoxicated,” according to a March 2016 ruling in the case.
On Sept. 22, Katie agreed to meet Ed in the parking lot of the Canton public library.
The couple talked for an hour, at which point Ed got up, retrieved a gun from his car, shot and killed Katie, and then committed suicide by shooting himself.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled last year that the Canton police officers were entitled to qualified immunity, and granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.
While the defendants were aware that Ed was a police officer, Judge Goldsmith ruled that “the circumstances do not evidence any intent to discriminate against Katie or in Ed’s favor.”
On Tuesday afternoon, attorney Mark Granzotto argued on the estate’s behalf and said the defendants “never made an attempt to begin any prosecution against Ed,” and violated their own procedures and protocols in doing so.
Sixth Circuit Judge John M. Rogers interjected: “Departing from procedure does not make it discriminatory.”
“The point is … the officer came back and told Katie he wasn’t going to pursue anything after she told him her husband was a police officer,” Granzotto replied.
“My question is why,” the attorney asked the panel, “Why did these people deviate so far from their established policy?”
Sixth Circuit Judge Raymond M. Kethledge asked for evidence pointing towards discrimination, and asked why the lack of prosecution against Ed couldn’t be labeled negligence.
“There is no other explanation for it,” the attorney replied.
Granzotto added that the only piece of information that caused police to “minimize” the complaint against Ed was Katie’s statement that her husband was a police officer.
Douglas Curlew argued on behalf of Canton Township and two of its police officers, and characterized the situation as “unique.”
“We have a singular instance that is unique because there was initially no identification of the assailant,” he said, adding that, “By the time they knew [Ed Williams was the assailant,] the first priority was the [possibility of] suicide.”
Linda Fegins argued on behalf of Detroit, and told the panel the plaintiffs have failed to provide a “concrete act” of her client that resulted in an increased risk of harm to Katie.
Granzatto disagreed in his rebuttal, and said the city’s removal of Ed from Michigan’s Law Enforcement Information Network, or LEIN, in the days leading up to the murder did just that.
The attorney cited testimony from the Canton Police Department which stated that Ed would have been found and put in psychiatric care if he had remained in LEIN.
Sixth Circuit Judge Damon J. Keith rounded out the panel.
No timetable has been set for the court’s decision.