Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thurman v Torrington (1984)

Thurman v City of Torrington (1984)

Tracey Thurman was the victim of her husband’s, Charles Thurman, repeated harassments and physical abuse. Such instances were on October 1982 when Charles Thurman attacked Tracey Thurman at the home of Judy Bentley and Richard St. Hilaire in the city of Torrington. He took by force their son Charles J. Thurman, Jr. Mr. St.-Hilaire filed a complaint but the police officers of refused to take a complaint—even of trespassing.
The acts of harassment continued. Even when her husband was finally arrested after attacking her in full view of a policeman and after a judge issued an order prohibiting him to go to his wife's home, the police continued to ignore Thurman's pleas for help. Her husband violated the order and came to her house and threatened her. When she asked the police to arrest her husband for violating his probation and threatening her life, they ignored her. She obtained a restraining order against her husband, which he violated, but again the police failed to take any action.
This culminated when Charles Thurman appeared at the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence in the early afternoon and demanded to speak to Tracey Thurman. Tracey, remaining indoors, called the police department asking that Charles be picked up for violation of his probation. After about 15 minutes, Tracey went outside to try to persuade him not to take or hurt Charles Jr. Charles suddenly stabbed Tracey repeatedly in the chest, neck, and throat.
At the duration of these events, police officers acted ineptly in handling the wife-battering situation. At the time when Tracy was stabbed, Officers DeAngelo, Nukirk, and Columbia arrived on the scene but still permitted Charles Thurman to wander about the crowd and continue to threaten Tracey. Finally, upon approaching Tracey once again, this time while she was lying on a stretcher, Charles Thurman was arrested and taken into custody.
It was eventually found out that Charles worked as a counterman and short order cook at Skie’s Diner. There he served many members of the Torrington Police Department, including some of the officers in this case. While at work, Charles Thurman boasted to the officers that he intended to “get” his wife and that he intended to kill her.
Tracy then filed a complaint in the Federal Court and sued the city for the lack of equal protection in the application of social services, and that this violated the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, particularly the inept police response to a husband beating up a wife. The City brought a motion to dismiss her claims. The City…argues that the equal protection clause [no state shall deny any person the equal protection of the laws] “only prohibits intentional discrimination that is racially motivated.”
Issue: WON the plaintiffs have properly alleged a violation of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.

Yes, the application of the equal protection clause is not limited to racial classifications or racially motivated discrimination. Classifications on the basis of gender will be held invalid under the equal protection clause unless they are substantially related to strike down classifications which are not rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose.
Tracey Thurman alleges that the city uses an administrative classification that manifests itself in discriminatory treatment that violates the equal protection clause. Police protection in the City of Torrington, they argue, is fully provided to persons abused by someone with whom the victim has no domestic relationship. But the Torrington police have consistently afforded lesser protection, plaintiffs allege, when the victim is (1) a woman abused or assaulted by a spouse or boyfriend, or (2) a child abused by a father or stepfather.
City officials and police officers are under an affirmative duty to preserve law and order, and to protect the personal safety of persons in the community. This duty applies equally to women whose personal safety is threatened by individuals with whom they have or have had a domestic relationship as well as to all other persons whose personal safety is threatened, including women not involved in domestic relationships. If officials have notice of the possibility of attacks on women in domestic relationships or other persons, they are under an affirmative duty to take reasonable measures to protect the personal safety of such persons in the community. Failure to perform this duty would constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws.
Tracey Thurman alleges there is an administrative classification used to implement the law in a discriminatory fashion. It is well settled that the equal protection clause is applicable not only to discriminatory legislative action, but also to discriminatory governmental action in administration and enforcement of the law.
A city may be sued for damages under § 1983 when “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by the body’s officers” or is “visited pursuant to governmental ‘custom’ even though such a custom has not received formal approval through the body’s official decision-making channels.”
Some degree of specificity is required in pleading a custom or policy. A plaintiff must typically point to the facts outside his own case to support his allegation of a policy on the part of a municipality. In the instant case, however, the plaintiff Tracey Thurman has specifically alleged in her statement of facts a series of acts and omissions on the part of the defendant police officers and police department that took place over the course of eight months. From this particularized pleading a pattern emerges that evidences deliberate indifference on the part of the police department to the complaints of the plaintiff Tracey Thurman and to its duty to protect her. Such an ongoing pattern of deliberate indifference raises an inference of “custom” or “policy” on the part of the municipality. Furthermore, this pattern of inaction climaxed on June 10, 1983 in an incident so brutal that under the law of the Second Circuit that “single brutal incident may be sufficient to suggest a link between a violation of constitutional rights and a pattern of police misconduct.” Finally, a complaint of this sort will survive dismissal if it alleges a policy or custom of condoning police misconduct that violates constitutional rights and alleges “that the City’s pattern of inaction caused the plaintiffs any compensable injury.”

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