Double Murder Spurs Negligence Lawsuit Against Central Valley Suburb

A Fresno, California, suburb has been accused of failing to adequately train its police to protect a mother and daughter from a deadly domestic violence incident in 2016.

Old town Clovis, a suburb of Fresno in the heart of California. (Photo by Wikipedia user Model Citizen via Courthouse News)

(CN) – A woman whose mother and sister were killed in a brutal 2016 murder sued a suburban Central Valley city Friday, claiming police negligently failed to protect the two women after they reported fearing for their safety.

David McCann is accused of killing his estranged wife, Tierney Cooper-McCann, 37, and her mother, Judith Cooper, 68, on May 7, 2016, in a home McCann previously shared with his wife in the Fresno suburb of Clovis, population 109,000.

Courtney Rider, Tierney’s sister and Judith’s daughter, claims the city did not properly train and supervise the police officers who failed to take action when the two women told them they feared for their safety.

According to the lawsuit, police were called to Cooper-McCann’s house the day before the murder. At that time, McCann was coming to pick up his belongings. The women told police they considered McCann dangerous and were afraid he might harm them.

According to the lawsuit, Clovis police officers responded by telling the women they should call 911 if “they truly feared for their safety.”

The next day, prosecutors say, McCann returned to the home, broke in through the front door, slit his estranged wife’s throat and stabbed his mother-in-law to death. Rider escaped to a neighbor’s home and called police, who arrived about 45 minutes later. At that point, the two women were dead.

“Defendants knew or should have known that failing to take reasonable steps to minimize an assault would result in serious injury or death to the decedents,” the 9-page complaint states.

The lawsuit also names McCann as a defendant.

McCann, a British national, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder. In February 2019, a judge found him incompetent to stand trial and sent him to a state facility for psychiatric treatment. In November 2019, after a medical team found him competent to stand trial, McCann pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity — meaning a jury must first determine his guilt and then whether he was sane at the time of the murders.

McCann’s public defender Scott Baly could not be reached Friday afternoon as the Fresno Public Defender’s Office is closed and not accepting voice mails or messages.

Rider claims the city had a duty to keep Cooper-McCann and her mother “free from assaults when responding to dispatch calls, including but not limited to having proper policies and procedures in place to prevent such acts.”

She says the police were put on “actual or constructive notice” when officers were called to the home for a domestic disturbance one day prior to the deadly knife attack.

“Defendants owed a mandatory duty to provide reasonable assistance when responding to the incident, to use reasonable force to apprehend the suspect, and to provide adequate assistance to decedents, after they had already been called regarding domestic violence,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court seeks an unspecified damages from the city of Clovis and McCann on claims of wrongful death, negligence, negligent supervision, municipal liability and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

“As an organization responsible for, and entrusted with, the welfare of the public at large, defendants had a duty to protect, supervise, and monitor the decedents from being assaulted and murdered by McCann, defendants were further responsible for supervising and monitoring the incident such that decedents would not be exposed to an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily injury,” Rider says in her lawsuit.

Rider is represented by attorney Raoul Severo of Glendale, California.

Clovis City Manager Luke Serpa’s office did not immediately return to a phone call requesting comment Friday.

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