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Okin v. Village of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Dep't

October 13, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McMahon, J


Plaintiff Michele Okin brings this action against the Town of Cornwall and the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson and certain of their police officers alleging that defendants endangered her by failing properly to respond, over a fifteen-month period, to her repeated complaints about physical abuse and intimidation by her boyfriend, Roy Sears. Defendants responded to Okin at least sixteen times over that period, but Sears was never arrested, and the alleged abuse continued unabated. Okin alleges that defendants collectively and individually deprived her of her Due Process and Equal Protection rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief.

The defendant police departments have moved for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In addition, the individual officers move for summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds.

For the reasons stated below, defendants' motions for summary judgment are granted.


Both of plaintiff's constitutional claims rest on inferences she seeks to draw from the totality of her interactions with moving defendants. As such, a close scrutiny of the facts surrounding her numerous complaints and the defendants' response is appropriate.

Chronology of Events

Plaintiff, Michele Okin ("Okin") commenced a relationship with Roy Sears ("Sears") in the Spring of 1999. (Okin Dep. at 43.) In August 1999, Sears purchased a house at 11 Taft Place in the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson and Okin moved in with him, although she continued to rent a separate residence in Cornwall until May 2001. (Id. at 44-45.) In May 2001, Okin gave birth to twins, Roy Charles Sears and Charliegh Roy Sears, who had been conceived through an in-vitro fertilization process with Sears. (Id. at 32.)

According to her Affidavit, Okin was repeatedly subjected to physical violence and intimidation from Sears between October 2001 and March 2003, ultimately resulting in more than 20 phone calls to the defendant police departments. (Pl. Aff. ¶2.) The first incident of abuse Okin describes took place in October 2001, when Okin's hands were broken as she tried to defend herself from Sears' attack. She explains that although she told her primary care physician what had happened, she "begged her not to tell anyone or record this on her records" and lied to others--including the psychiatrist she was seeing--about the cause of her injuries because she feared for her life and "felt Sears was beyond the law." (Id. ¶4.) She did not report this incident to the police. (Okin Dep. at 350-53.)

On December 23, 2001, Okin first contacted defendant Police Departments to report a domestic violence incident in which she states that Sears had thrown a bottle at her and was choking her. (Id. at 290-98.) According to her deposition, she placed three calls to the dispatcher before she was able to secure a police response. ( 290-95.) Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Officer Thomas Douglas IV ("Douglas") was then dispatched to 11 Taft Place. When he arrived at the scene, Douglas observed Sears changing an infant's diaper and another infant sitting in a seat on the floor. (Douglas Dep. at 55.) According to Douglas' notes in the Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Incident Report he filed the following day, Okin stated "Can you please tell Roy to stop beating me. That is all I want." (Dec. 23, 2001 Police Department Incident Report at 2.) Although neither Okin nor Douglas could independently recall exactly what was said, Douglas described the plaintiff as "a little bit frantic." (Douglas Dep. at 33; Okin Dep. at 317-18.)

When shortly thereafter she removed her pants and began to show him bruises on her legs, Douglas called for a back-up officer. (Douglas Dep. at 33.) At her deposition, Okin could not recall exactly when she got the bruises, stating, "Roy was at that point hitting me every single day so it could have been that day or it could have been some other time, depending on when the bruises developed." (Okin Dep. at 318.) Douglas noted in the Police Department Incident Report, and confirmed at his deposition, that although he did observe bruises on Okin's legs, based on his experience as an EMT they "looked very old and in the process of healing."

(Dec. 23, 2001 Police Department Incident Report at 2.) He also noted that he had observed no redness or markings around Okin's neck. (Id.) At his deposition Douglas testified that, based on his observations at the scene, he had concluded that no offense had been committed. (Douglas Dep. at 56.) In his Domestic Incident Report, Douglas noted that there were "No problems at this residence." His supervisor Paul Weber ("Weber") signed off on the report. (Dec. 23, 2001 Domestic Incident Report at 1.)

Town Officer Edward Manion ("Manion") was dispatched to the scene in response to Douglas' call for back-up. Okin again showed Manion the bruises on her legs, and Manion testified at his deposition that based exclusively on his personal experience with bruises, he concluded that they appeared old. (Manion Dep. at 45.) Manion likewise testified that Sears had denied inflicting the bruises. However, he said that the only reason he did not arrest Sears was because he judged that the bruises were too old and believed that mandatory arrest was warranted only in the event of immediate injury. (Id. at 40, 45.) There was no discussion between Manion and Douglas about the age of the bruises or the possibility of arresting Sears. (Id. at 46.) Manion further testified that he prepared no independent report of the incident because the incident occurred in the Village, and so was Douglas' case rather than his. (Id. at 34.)

The plaintiff's and defendants' accounts differ significantly on the issue of Okin's desire to press charges. Douglas testified in his deposition that both he and Manion repeatedly advised her of the procedures she would need to follow in order to press charges against Sears, but that she changed her mind and decided that she did not want to press charges, at one point walking away from Manion while he was explaining to her what she would need to do. Ultimately, plaintiff signed the Domestic Incident Report, which stated that she "refused to sign charges." Douglas (Dep. at 49, 50.)

In contrast, Okin testified that she did not recall having any of the arrest procedures explained to her and that as soon as Sears had left the room and she felt safe, she told the police officers that she wanted to press charges. (Okin Dep. at 331, 340.) She explained that she walked away from Manion because he was being unresponsive, and that Douglas' response to her when she told him she wanted to press charges was "very derogatory." (Id. at 331, 341.) In fact, she testified that both police officers were discussing sports with Sears at various points throughout the incident, rather than expressing concern for her safety or that of her children. (Id. at 326, 341.)

As to the Domestic Incident Report, in her response to Town Defendants' 56.1 statement Okin denied signing the document in a form that indicated she did not want to press charges. However, her deposition testimony on this point is muddled, and the final version of the Report bears her signature. (Pl. 56.1; Okin Dep. at 340.) Okin further testified at her deposition that the day following the incident she went to the police station to press charges against Sears. (Okin Dep. at 340.)

The next domestic violence incident to which Okin testified at her deposition occurred on January 1, 2002, when she contacted the police department because "Roy was roughing [her] up." (Id. at 375.) Weber took no further action that day. (Id.)

During the period between January 2002 and April 2002, Okin frequently contacted Sears at the Days Inn in New Windsor by phone, fax, and in person. The Days Inn interposed several complaints with the New Windsor Police Department against Okin. (New Windsor Police Department's Complaint Reports dated January 15, 2002, February 8, 2002, February 21, 2002, and April 21, 2002.) Okin was charged with trespassing for her conduct at the Days Inn and pled guilty, receiving an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. (Okin Dep. at 574-75.)

On February 8, 2002, Village Officer John Pena ("Pena") responded to Okin's residence and spoke to Sears, who stated that Okin had removed $105,000.00 from his personal checking account without his consent, and that he had come to the house to find the rest of his check books. (February 8, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Chief Charles Williams ("Williams") and Officer Jill Nye ("Nye") arrived on the scene to assist. Williams then asked Sears to accompany him to police headquarters to investigate his allegation that Okin had stolen money from him. (February 10, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) At his deposition, Williams testified that he spoke to Sears for under an hour, during which time Sears produced no evidence that Okin had stolen funds from him. (Williams Dep. at 20-30.) Williams apparently advised Sears "to stay clear of the residence." (February 10, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.)

In the meantime, Nye and Pena entered the residence to speak with Okin, who "verbalized her discomfort in having a male officer speak with her." (Id.) According to Nye's report, "She appeared to be distraught and confused," and " . . . repeatedly brought up prior incidents related to domestic violence." Nye further noted that "Okin made several attempts to show signs of abuse" but she "did not observe any markings on her person." (Id.) Okin stated that she had permission to take Sears' money but that she had put it into a temporary account for the children. (Id.) Although Nye's notes from the report indicate that the investigation was to be continued, the status of the case was "closed" as of February 8, 2002. (Id.)

On March 8, 2002, Weber responded to Okin's residence after the police received a 911 call reporting an assault stabbing. According to the dispatcher's notes, the caller had stated that " . . . her boyfriend pushed her around tonight and she is scared that he is going to come to the house and hurt her." (March 8, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.)

From here, the stories diverge significantly. In his Incident Report, Weber indicated that, when he arrived at the location, there was no answer at the door or the window and that Okin only answered the door after receiving a return call from the dispatcher. At her deposition, Okin denied receiving such a call. (Id.)

Weber further observed that Okin "did not seem to be shaken or upset," although she told him that she was assaulted and stabbed in the feet by Sears at the Days Inn in New Windsor. (Id.; Weber Dep. at 57.) Weber testified that when he observed that there were no injuries to her feet, Okin said, "Oh, I heal quickly." (Weber Dep. at 57.) In the Incident Report-- which Weber categorized as a General Incident rather than a Domestic Violence Incident--Weber indicated first, "It was learned that no assault had occurred and no stabbing had occurred," and next, "Ms. Okin stated that she was assaulted by Roy Sears at the Days Inn in New Windsor at Approx. 2030hrs." (March 8, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) At his deposition, Weber explained that the reason for the apparent discrepancy was the fact that no assault or stabbing had occurred in his jurisdiction. (Weber Dep. at 56.)

In concluding the incident report, Weber wrote "As she was ranting about the police 'refusing' to help her (even though she is an attorney and should understand jurisdiction more than anybody), she began complaining about 'Officer Weber' and that he blatantly refused to entertain her complaint on one of the previous occasions that she called and the police responded to her house." Weber explained that he had never been to Okin's residence before, and concluded, "She is obviously confused. It should also be noted that the interior of the house appears to be in disorder. It is unknown if she is able to maintain the residence." (March 8, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.)

At her deposition, Okin stated that she did not remember telling the dispatcher that Sears had stabbed her or receiving a call from the dispatcher. (Okin Dep. at 380, 387.) She testified that Weber had failed to arrest Sears on New Year's Day, that she complained of this to Weber, and that he repeatedly refused to arrest Sears on this occasion. (Id. at 382, 385.)

On the whole, Okin's recollection of the events surrounding the March 8th incident was quite hazy and, at times, contradictory. (Id. at 379.) Whereas in her affidavit Okin stated that she had shown Weber her feet that evening, and that they bore evidence of a stab wound, plaintiff denied showing Weber her feet or claiming that she had been stabbed in her Response to Town Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement. (Okin Aff. ¶7, Pl. 56.1 ¶50.) Okin denied that Weber advised her to follow up with the New Windsor or State police and stated in her affidavit that she did not do so because the event had occurred at her residence at 11 Taft. But she admitted that she had told Weber at the time that the assault occurred in New Windsor. (Okin Aff. ¶8; Pl. 56.1 ¶52.)

According to her deposition, on March 25, 2002, Sears threatened to kill Okin over the phone. (Okin Dep. at 392.) Although she did not recall a phone conversation with the police on that occasion, according to the Police Department Incident Report, at 12:45 A.M. on March 25, 2002, Officer Arthur Terwilliger ("Terwilliger") responded by phone, " . . . because a subject at 11 Taft wanted to speak to an officer." (First March 25, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 2.) Terwilliger's Report, which classified the incident as one of "harassment" rather than domestic violence, notes that Okin stated that Sears was staying at the Days Inn in New Windsor. His notes further indicate that Okin complained that the police department "does nothing to Roy when he does something wrong" but that when she was asked to sign a complaint against Sears, she replied "No, that is going to make the situation worse." (Id.) Terwilliger then told Okin he would patrol her area often that evening and instructed her to call dispatch if Sears returned.

At her deposition, Okin did not recall being asked whether she would like to sign a complaint, but contends that Terwilliger violated department policy by simply closing the case in the face of threats against her life. At his deposition, Terwilliger indicated that he had no specific training in how to handle a situation where the recipient of a threat experiences fear that filing a complaint will make matters worse. (Terwilliger Dep. at 17-18.) Weber signed off on the Report in a supervisory capacity, but Terwilliger did not recall speaking to a supervisor about the incident. (Id.)

On the same day, Okin reported to the police that she had received a threatening note at her place of business, which said "M.O., sleep with one open at night." (Second March 25, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 2.) The Report that was generated classified the incident as "harassment" but did not identify a suspect. Although, Okin did not see Sears write the note or drop it in her box, she stated that she recognized his handwriting and testified that he admitted he had left the note for her. (Cplt. ¶22; Okin Dep. at 394-95.) In her complaint, Okin alleged that when she expressed her alarm to Weber, he responded that the initials M.O. could stand for "Monster Organization" rather than Michele Okin. (Cplt. ¶22.) Plaintiff points to no evidence in the record (including any testimony of her own) that supports this allegation.

Later that evening, Okin called the police to report that she received a death threat the previous day, as well as a threatening letter earlier that day and was now hearing suspicious noises outside her residence. (Third March 25, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Although Okin indicated that she did not want Weber to be dispatched, Weber responded and noted that he checked the exterior of the residence and observed no problems. (Id.)

The Report further notes that Okin complained to Weber " . . . that the police never do anything when she calls" and that he advised her of the procedure she would need to follow to pursue charges, but she refused. (Id.) Weber noted in the Report "She [Okin] continued to complain about Roy Sears and I advised that if he is so violent toward her, it would obviously be in her best interest to stay away from him." (Id.) While Okin denied that Weber or any other officer advised her of her right to file a civilian complaint in her Response to Village Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement, there is no testimony or other evidence in the record supporting her claim. At her deposition, Okin further testified that although she was unsure of the date, she believed that around the same occasion she heard Sears throwing stones at the house.

On April 12, 2002, Village Police Officer Charles Hoffman ("Hoffman"), as well as a state trooper, responded to a 911 call from Okin's residence. (April 12, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Okin was very distraught. She stated that she had heard noises outside and knew that it was Sears though she never saw him on the property. (Id.; Okin Dep. at 497.) Hoffman requested a town unit, and Sergeant Michael Carroll ("Carroll") responded. (Id.) Okin testified that she did not recall Carroll responding that night. (Id.) Hoffman checked the area surrounding the residence several times that night and observed no one after which the incident was closed. (Id.) Williams signed off on the report. (Id.)

On May 12, 2002, Okin and Sears had an argument at the Days Inn, after which they drove back to 11 Taft Place in separate vehicles. (Okin Dep. at 415, 419-420.) Okin testified that, after they arrived, Sears kicked her in the leg, which she had previously broken, and proceeded to turn off the power to the house. (Id. at 421-423.) Barbara Corwin ("Corwin"), a next door neighbor, observed the argument through an open garage door. She testified that she called the police when she observed Sears "in a threatening position," though at no point did she see them physically fighting. (Corwin Dep. at 7, 10, 78.)

Village Police Officer Michael Lug ("Lug") responded to the call. According to his report, in which Lug characterized the incident as "disturbance-neighborhood trouble," Okin first said that she was screaming because she fell and was in pain. (May 12, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Incident Report at 1.) There were no lights on in the residence. (Id.) Lug observed that the master break in the circuit break box was turned off, then turned it back on and made sure that the phones were working. Okin then told Lug that Sears had turned off the power, that he had kicked her in her broken leg, punched her, and slapped her. (Id.; Okin Dep. at 424-25.) Lug further noted that Okin stated that Sears took $1550 of her money from the kitchen cabinet.

Lug advised Okin that he was going to complete a report. He claims she refused to sign it. (May 12, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1; Okin Dep. at 426.) Okin testified that she never refused to sign the report, but could not recall whether she asked Lug to arrest Sears on that particular occasion. (Okin Dep. at 426.) Lug's handwritten notes from the incident indicate that Okin did ask him to arrest Sears and that Okin told him that Sears had mocked her by saying, "Are you going to [the] police, bitch?" (Lug Dep. at 65.)

At his deposition, Lug testified that he did not respond to a complaint about domestic violence--his notes to the contrary notwithstanding--but rather one about "turning off the power." He could not explain why his report fails to note that Okin wanted Sears arrested. (Lug Dep. at 66, 76-77.) Lug's report does not name Sears as a suspect or indicate that there were any suspects or victims. (May 12, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Lug testified that he could not recall why he never changed those numbers from "0" to "1" even though there had been one suspect and one victim, or why his report never fully identified Sears. (Lug Dep. at 68.) He testified that he never intended to question Sears or to arrest him in connection with any police matter; nor did he ever do so. (Id. at 60.) Nor could Lug recall why he never interviewed Barbara Corwin. (Id at 71.) No domestic incident report was prepared.

The following day, May 13, 2002, Okin called the Village police department and reported that Sears had pinched her on the back and "raised his hand to her," while the two were at the office of Alan Kaslanski, Sears' attorney. (May 13, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) According to the police report of the incident, characterized as "disturbance-disorderly conduct," Nye checked Okin's back, did not see any marks resembling bruising or injury, and asked Okin whether she needed medical attention, which Okin declined. Id. Nye advised Okin that she needed to speak with the Town police regarding the incident because it had occurred in their jurisdiction, and closed the case. (Id.)

On May 19, 2002, Weber responded to Okin's residence to speak with her about an incident that occurred the previous day. According to the Village police report, which classified the incident as "harassment," Okin stated that Sears had threatened to shoot her and to report her to Child Protective Services. (May 19, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Weber noted in the report that this last threat "actually upset Okin" and that she did not want to pursue the "shooting" threat--claims that Okin vehemently denies in her affidavit. (Id.; Okin Aff. ¶10.)

Weber further noted, "It is unknown why she didn't call the police when the incident occurred but instead elected to wait until the next day to report it." (May 19, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) When Okin "started going off on tangents about subjects like Sears leaving the garage door open and her broken hands," Weber advised her that "those aren't issues that the police can handle." (Id.) The report once again lists no victims or suspects, and Sears was not interviewed in connection with the threat. (Id.) Weber closed the case, and no domestic incident report was prepared.

On June 3, 2002, Okin called the police, indicating that she wanted to have a report taken that various items in the house "had been breaking" since May of 2002, that Sears had thrown rocks at 11 Taft Place, and that items such as her jewelry had been stolen and later found in Sears' car. (June 3, 2002 Village of Cornwall-on-Hudson Police Department Incident Report at 1.) Pena was dispatched to Okin's residence, and Town Officers Tausk and Ogden were dispatched in a back-up capacity. Tausk testified that he "just pretty much stood in the background while the Village officer handled the complaint." (Tausk Dep. at 7.) Okin could not specifically recall speaking to either Tausk or Ogden. (Okin Dep. at 647.) Pena closed the complaint the same day with ...

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