(CN) – The 2nd Circuit revived a lawsuit accusing police of repeatedly refusing to investigate or report domestic violence allegations against the co-owner of a tavern they frequented. Instead, they purportedly chatted about sports with the alleged abuser.
Michele Okin started seeing Roy Charles Sears in 1999, according to the ruling. She soon moved in to Sears’ house in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y. The couple had twins in 2001.
That same year, Sears allegedly began abusing Okin.
According to Okin, Sears regularly socialized with local police at the Leprechaun Inn, a tavern he partially owned. She said Sears often bragged that he could get away with anything in Cornwall.
Over the next 15 months, Okin called police more than a dozen times to report alleged abuse, stalking and harassment. She said the police rarely prepared a domestic incident report or interviewed Sears, and often listed the number of victims as “0.” They also laughed at her, showed contempt by discussing sports with Sears, and ignored Sears’ own admission to the police chief that he “smacked Okin around,” Okin claimed.
She sued Sears, the village of Cornwall-on-Hudson, its police department and a handful of officers, claiming they violated her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
A federal judge ruled for the defendants, but noted that the officers’ response to Okin’s complaints – even accepting their version of events – “ranges from insensitive to incomprehensible, and evidences either a lack of training or a lack of comprehension about the realities of domestic violence.”
The New York-based appeals court agreed with that assessment and reinstated the plaintiff’s due-process and municipal liability claims.
“It requires no inferential leap, in light of what the officers must have known, for a reasonable factfinder to conclude that the officers’ actions demonstrate a willful disregard of the obvious risks of a domestic violence situation, the serious implications of Okin’s complaints over a 15-month period, and the likelihood that their misconduct would enhance the danger to Okin,” Judge Pooler wrote for the appellate panel.
The court said the village could be found liable for poor training.
“The record shows more than a dozen contacts between Okin and the Village, that involved a number of officers, including high-ranking officials … and that recurrently concerned complaints of domestic violence,” Pooler noted.
“These incidents suggest a consistent pattern of failing to adequately respond to Okin’s complaints, to implement the New York mandatory arrest statute, to interview the alleged abuser, or to file domestic incident reports, a pattern which may have encouraged further violence.”