(CN) — The family of a Florida college student, whose body was found three years ago in a wooded area a week after she was reported missing, filed a lawsuit Monday against the Orange County Sheriff's Office and two officers claiming they failed to conduct a timely and proper investigation.
Filed in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, the the family claims in the suit that the sheriff's office failed to seriously respond to their 911 call concerning Miya Marcano's disappearance. They plaintiffs also say the office failed to adequately train its officers on handling missing persons claims, leading officers Samir Paulino and Kenneth Dale to conduct a "shoddy" investigation.
The family accuses the office of engaging in practices that provide less protection to missing female victims — and missing domestic violence victims and female victims who live in college neighborhoods — than to victims of other assaults. The office also purposefully delays its response to such missing persons cases, the family says in the suit.
"This discrimination against women was a motivating factor in the refusal to prioritize and respond quickly to the
Plaintiffs’ 9-1-1 call and Miya’s death was the result of the OCSO’s policy, custom, or practice, as well as their inaction in response to the call," the plaintiffs, represented by attorney Michael Feiler from the Florida-based firm Feiler Leach & Chong, says in the complaint.
The family of 19-year-old Miya Marcano first reached out to law enforcement the night of Sept. 24, 2021, after she missed a flight home to Fort Lauderdale and was unreachable. When Deputy Paulino arrived at Marcano's apartment complex in Orlando to conduct a welfare check, she was not there.
After Miya’s roommate arrived, she immediately made Deputy Paulino aware that there were several signs that something was obviously wrong, including a bookshelf propped against Marcano's bedroom door, broken jewelry and a boxcutter on the floor, an opened bedroom window, and a blood stain on her pillowcase.
"Deputy Paulino failed to treat the matter as a crime scene despite the obvious warning signs," the family says, and left the scene to respond to other calls without informing anyone about the evidence of a potential crime he observed inside the apartment.
Paulino returned to the apartment complex the following day to speak with a security guard, who told him that someone had entered through Marcano's window and that he had lifted fingerprints from the scene using tape. The suit claims that Paulino told him to keep the evidence and "blew him off."
"This extremely critical information could have led to the discovery of Miya much sooner," the family says in the complaint.
That same day, Marcano's family drove up to the apartment complex and called the sheriff's office to come back and investigate after receiving conflicting and suspicious statements from a man who had visible injuries to his face and hand.
When Paulino returned, he questioned the 27-year-old Armando Caballero, but failed to search his vehicle and cleared the scene afterwards, despite the security guard noticing a screwdriver and cellphone case in the backseat and Marcano's family seeing a blanket inside the car they believed to be Miya's.
Frustrated by Paulino’s attitude and failure to treat Marcano's disappearance with a sense of urgency, her father contacted the Orange County Sheriff's Department to file a complaint. The deputy allegedly discussed the case with his supervisor, Corporal Dale, but neither of them notified the Criminal Investigations Division.
The lawsuit says that "no reasonably prudent police officer, under similar circumstances, (a) would have arrived at the scene of a serious incident, where there was a missing person, and refused to survey the entire premises; (b) intentionally refused to look through the windows, where they would have noticed that a physical confrontation had taken place inside; (c) failed to detain the primary suspect; and (e) refused to conduct any follow-up investigation."
When a different deputy was notified about the evidence and went to the apartment at the request of Marcano's aunt, he notified a missing persons detective immediately and a formal investigation was launched within hours.
Authorities found Caballero deceased at his home from apparent suicide, three days after Marcano disappeared. Evidence, including the presence of Marcano's blood and hair in Caballero's belongings, led detectives to believe he was the killer. Caballero also possessed a key fob to access apartments, which was discovered to have been used at Marcano's unit shortly before her disappearance.
Marcano's body was found less than a week later in the woods near the Tymber Skan apartment complex in Orlando, with her hands, feet and mouth bound by duct tape.
"Despite the wrongful and egregious actions of Paulino and Dale in their handling of the investigation regarding the
disappearance of Miya Marcano, they remain employed by OCSO," the family says in the lawsuit.
They say the Orange County Sheriff's Department's failure to implement necessary policies to aggressively address the lack of assistance to missing persons, "caused Miya Marcano’s unwarranted and excruciating physical and mental anguish and death."
The Orange County Sheriff's Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case motivated the Florida Senate to unanimously pass a bill last year dubbed "Miya's Law," aimed at improving tenant safety in apartment buildings.Follow @Megwiththenews
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