OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A man was bludgeoned to death after Berkeley Police failed to respond to his call for help, his family claims in court.
The wife and two adult children of the late Peter Cukor sued the City of Berkeley in Alameda County Superior Court.
Cukor called the Berkeley Police Department on Feb. 18 after finding (nonparty) Daniel DeWitt in his garage, according to the complaint. When the officers did not arrive promptly, Cukor, thinking the officers could not find the house, went outside with a flashlight to illuminate the driveway. DeWitt then struck him on the head with a large object, killing him, according to the complaint.
Cukor's wife, Andrea Cukor, claims she saw DeWitt kill her husband through a window in the house.
Though police dispatch told Cukor they would send a police officer, they did not, because officers were told to not respond to what were considered non-emergency calls, Cukor's family says.
When Cukor encountered DeWitt in his driveway, DeWitt told him that the house was his and that a psychic had told him he would find his fiancée Zoey there, according to the complaint.
The Cukors say they had never seen the "mentally unstable" DeWitt before and there was no person named Zoey at their home. They told DeWitt to leave.
Peter Cukor went inside and described the encounter to his wife. The widow says she saw DeWitt open the gate to the front yard, walk through the yard and approach the house.
Peter Cukor told DeWitt to leave and he insisted he lived there and that he was going to come inside the house, at which point Peter Cukor called the Berkeley Police Department, according to the complaint.
He called the phone number that, according to the Berkeley Police Department website, was a "direct emergency number for immediate threats to life and property."
Andrea Cukor says her husband provided the officer who answered with a "clear and unambiguous description of the intruder and a detailed account of the actions of the intruder. He explained that the intruder was approximately 6 feet 4 inches tall, that he acted very strangely, was incoherent, and demanded entry to the Cukor's house. Peter Cukor emphatically and firmly requested ... emergency officials to have an officer sent to the Cukor's home right away," according to the suit.
She says the emergency officials "affirmatively and positively asserted to Peter Cukor that a police officer would be sent to the Cukors' house soon and ended the call."
She claims the officer acted "with gross negligence and in bad faith" as the police "did not plan nor intend to direct an officer to the Cukor's home."
She adds that "it was reasonably foreseeable that persons calling the police department's emergency communications center to report an intruder trying to enter their home will rely upon the accuracy of the information provided by city emergency communications officials and will rely on the officials' assertion that an officer would be promptly dispatched to their home."
At the time at least one officer informed dispatch that he was "near the Cukor's address and was available to respond to the request for emergency assistance ... Emergency communications officials, with gross negligence and in bad faith, specifically directed available officers not to respond to the call," according to the complaint.
According to media reports, officers at the time were instructed not to respond to non-emergency calls that night as the Berkeley Police Department wanted all officers available in case an expected Occupy Oakland protest spilled over into Berkeley. The spillover never happened.
Berkeley Police Department Chief Michael Meehan told a community meeting in March, however, that there were enough officers at the time to deal with protestors, life-threatening emergencies and felony calls, according to news reports at the time.
Meehan said at the meeting that Berkeley police had no way of knowing DeWitt would kill Peter Cukor, adding: "We don't know the future."
Since the Cukors expected an officer to arrive promptly, they "did not identify nor pursue any other means to protect themselves. They did not contact other persons to notify them about the intruder, nor leave the residence to get away from the intruder. Had they known that no police officer would respond to their call, they would have notified other persons about the intruder, and would have taken shelter in another location," the complaint states.
The family seeks damages for wrongful death, negligent misrepresentation, negligent training and supervision, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
They are represented by R. Lewis Van Blois, of Oakland.
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