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Cop’s Abuse of Child May not Leave Philly Liable

(CN) - The sexual abuse that a Philadelphia police officer inflicted upon a child for eight years may not leave the city liable, a federal judge ruled.

Tyrone Wiggins, a retired police officer who turns 55 in June, is serving 17 1/2 to 35 years in prison after his 2010 sexual abuse conviction.

His victim, Deborah Grooms, was just 10 years old when she began taking karate at the Olney Recreation Center operated by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.

Wiggins, who taught the girl's class, allegedly attached himself to her family for about two years and then began raping Grooms repeatedly from 1997 to 2005. The jury acquitted Wiggins of rape because the age-specific charge required a showing that the officer had vaginal intercourse with Grooms before she was 13.

The complaint describes how Wiggins used his physical strength, friendliness with Grooms' family, and official status to intimidate the girl, threatening to jail her if she ever told anyone about his behavior.

Grooms said the officer was on duty when he took her brother to exercise at the police station's weight room, leaving Grooms alone with Wiggins so he abuse her at a nearby park. He allegedly lied whenever a dispatcher radioed Wiggins for his location.

Wiggins was sometimes so loud at her apartment that her neighbors reported disturbances, Grooms claimed.

The officer allegedly dodged those reports, however, by flashing his badge and telling the responding officers that he too was a cop and that "everything was OK," Grooms said.

Though Grooms herself notified the police of Wiggins's misconduct in 2006, she said then Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson merely suspended the officer.

Wiggins continued teaching karate during the investigation and returned to active duty before his arrest in 2009, one day after he retired, according to the complaint and media reports. said Wiggins collected a pension of more than $3,000 a month before the city cut him off in December 2011.

The lawsuit Grooms subsequently filed under Section 1983 names as defendants Wiggins, Johnson, two other former police commissioners, Philadelphia and its Parks Department.

U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe dismissed the failure-to-train claims against the city, Johnson and former Police Commissioner Richard Neal on March 4.

"It is not enough that Wiggins abused her," Rufe wrote. "The abuse or the conditions that permitted the abuse to continue must have been known or obvious to the moving defendant and he must have chosen to ignore them in order to be held liable on a failure to train theory."

Even if the moving defendants purposely ignored the rights of Wiggins' students, "there is no reason to conclude that this deliberate indifference caused Grooms' constitutional violations between 1997 and 2005," Rufe wrote. "Indeed, there is no evidence that the conditions to which anyone could be indifferent were known or obvious or even existed during those years."

The city is off the hook for the unconstitutional policy claims, as well, the ruling states.

"She never alleges with any specificity what the policy or custom was or any facts beyond her injuries to suggest that it existed," Rufe wrote. "Therefore, Grooms fails to allege how a fact-finder could infer that a policy, rather than a rogue officer, caused her injuries."

Grooms failed to plead that the police had a policy to never investigate her neighbors' reports, according to the ruling.

"It is conceivable that the responders were acting pursuant to some custom or policy, and therefore leave to amend is appropriate, but Grooms must plead facts sufficient to describe what the policy or custom was and how the policy or custom injured her," Rufe wrote.

Grooms has 21 days to amend her complaint, according to the ruling.

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