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Negligence on part of city and its officials cited in $100M lawsuit for 2009 murder/suicide
WARNING: some language contained in this article might be considered graphic
UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - A lawsuit has been filed in United States District Court against Utica Public Safety Commissioner Dan LaBella, Utica Mayor David Roefaro, the City of Utica, the Utica Police Department and the estate of Officer Joseph Longo Jr.
The lawsuit stems from the September 2009 stabbing death of Kristin Palumbo-Longo by her estranged husband and Utica Police Officer Joseph Longo Jr in the couple's home on Cosby Manor Road in Deerfield.
Longo stabbed her 13 times before turning the knife on himself.
A history of domestic incidents:
The lawsuit cites a longtime abusive relationship between Officer Longo, his wife and his children. It states that as the Longo marriage disintegrated, his conduct became "extremely disturbing and menacing."
Some of the incidents of abuse that the lawsuit filed says were known to have occurred included:
*Officer Longo making increasing frequency, rude sexual comments to his wife while in the presence of others.
*In June 2009, Officer Longo, in a fit of rage, pushing the couple's youngest child to the ground.
*In August 2009, Officer Longo throwing his wife to the ground, causing injuries to her arms and legs.
Also in the complaint were multiple reports of Officer Longo verbally abusing and/or threatening his family and his wife's family.
*Officer Longo developed a pattern of making increasingly frequent home visits, while on duty, all the time displaying his firearm to Kristin in an attempt to frighten and intimidate her.
*On August 13, 2009, while brandishing his service revolver, Officer Longo threatened to kill himself and his family, saying "today is the day I go postal on all of you." The vent occurred in the family residence and in the presence of Kristin and one of the couple's children. Kristin reported this incident to her sister, Gina Pearce, who urged Kristin to report the incident.
The lawsuit alleges that Kristin Palumbo Longo was reluctant to report the incident because during a prior conversation with one of the supervisors of Officer Longo, the supervisor had discouraged her from attempting to obtain an Order of Protection and said that if she reported Officer Longo "for anything serious," the Police Department might have to suspend him.
The supervisor, according to the claim, told Kristin that any suspension would negatively impact upon the Longo family's finances. Kristin told her sister that she had been expressly discouraged from reporting any incidents involving her husband.
Despite this, the following day, on August 14, 2009, Kristin Palumbo Longo called the supervisor and reported the incident. The lawsuit says she communicated how terrified she was for her life and the lives of her children, and explained that Officer Longo was also sobbing uncontrollably while aimlessly walking outside the family home. According to the lawsuit, she was advised by the supervisor that she would be protected and that the Utica Police Department would take care of the situation immediately.
Officer Longo had been ordered to attend a meeting with his superiors, who told Kristin Palumbo Longo that the officer told his superiors he "was fine." When Kristin said that she knew this was untrue, the supervisor agreed and said they knew Officer Longo had been lying. When Kristin Palumbo Longo requested that her husband be provided mental health intervention, she was told by the supervisor that the department could not force Officer Longo into counseling.
The lawsuit alleges that the Department then continued to advise Kristin that she would be protected, and that following the conversation, she was led to believe that his gun would be confiscated. However, the Monday after the meeting, the claim states, Officer Longo cam home while on duty and brandished his gun, causing Kristin to flee the residence and make a frantic call again to her husband's supervisor, telling him of the event. She was assured it would be taken care of and that the guns would be confiscated.
At some point during this period, as the marriage continued to disintegrate, the claim states, Officer Longo was accused of alleged improper usage of his weapon while working as a security guard at Thomas R. Proctor High school. Officer Longo had been accused of pointing his loaded revolver at the abdomen of a woman while on duty at the school.
Over the summer of 2009 and leading up to her death, the lawsuit states that Officer Longo made numerous comments to his wife both in person and via text message, sometimes making direct threats to kill her and sometimes saying cryptic things such as: "...better not f**k me over, or you'll get nothing but a funeral," and things like "closed casket?"
On September 14, 2009, the claim says Officer Longo entered the couple's home and threatened to kill himself, placing the muzzle of his service revolver into his mouth. This incident was in the presence of the couple's youngest child, who was eight years old at the time.
Kristin called her husband's supervisor again and, according to the lawsuit, expressed how terrified she was. The claim states that she was assured by the Utica Police Department Supervisors that they were aware of the seriousness of the situation and that swift action would be taken to protect her and her children.
The Mayor and the Public Safety Commissioner (then Chief)
The lawsuit alleges that on March 7, 2009, "two qualified individuals sat for the City of Utica promotional Civil Service examination for the position of Police Chief" and that both of those individuals earned passing scores which would make them eligible to become Chief of Police in the City of Utica.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Daniel LaBella, current and then-Public Safety Commissioner appointed by Mayor David Roefaro, "surreptitiously sat for a Civil Service Examination to become a Police Chief on March 10, 2009," noting that the test was taken three days after the test was administered to several other applicants. The filed lawsuit also points out that the test taken by LaBella was a test for a town municipality, "improper for applicants seeking to become Chief of Police for the City of Utica."
Mayor David Roefaro is then brought into the lawsuit, as the claim states that "on June 16, 2009, Roefaro overlooked the two aforementioned individuals who had taken and passed the aforesaid promotional Civil Service examination and appointed Defendant LaBella," going on to say that "Roefaro also chose LaBella over four other candidates who had earned scores equal to or higher than LaBella on the same examination LaBella submitted."
The lawsuit then says Roefaro "wrongfully appointed LaBella knowing that he lacked the requisite education, qualifications, and experience to serve competently as Chief of Police for a paramilitary organization the size of the Utica Police Department."
LaBella and Officer Longo were close friends for several years and been partners for many years at the Utica Police Department Juvenile Aid Division, the claim states.
The claim states that some of Officer Longo's colleagues and supervisors urged then-Police Chief Daniel LaBella to take action, including but not limited to confiscating all of Officer Longo's weapons. LaBella denied those requests, and directly ordered that Officer Longo be allowed to keep his weapons and remain on duty without psychiatric and/or mental health.
According to the lawsuit, one of LaBella's subordinates, concerned about the situation, countermanded LaBella's order and removed Officer Longo's weapons from his possession.
On September 28, 2009, Kristin Palumbo Longo appeared before a Supreme Court Judge regarding the divorce proceedings and was awarded exclusive possession of the couple's residence.
After this court appearance, Kristin returned to her home, and at some point between 3:15 p.m. And 3:30 p.m., as Kristin sat online searching for rock concert tickets' for the couple's youngest child, Officer Longo entered the home.
That is when, according to the lawsuit, Officer Longo, without provocation, brutally attacked Kristin with a knife, stabbing her several times until she died. He then turned the knife on himself.
A short time after, the couple's eight year old son, having just gotten off the school bus, discovered the couple. While Kristin was at this point dead, Officer Longo was dying, but still lay conscious. It is not known what, if anything, Officer Longo may have said to the child.
Defendants in the lawsuit:
As a result of all of this, the City of Utica, the City of Utica Police Department, their respective officers, agents, servants, and/or employees all led to Kristin Palumbo Longo suffering severe mental, physical and emotional trauma as well as great emotional distress and pain and suffering. "her survivors have suffered great emotional distress and loss of earnings of both of their parents," the lawsuit said.
"The incident and injuries were caused by the misconduct of the City of Utica, City of Utica Police Department, their respective officers, agents, servants and/or employees through their reckless and unjustified conduct without, any negligence or misconduct on the part of Kristin Palumbo Longo contributing in any way," the claim states.
A notice of claim was served to the City of Utica on December 16, 2009, to which the city conducted a hearing of the General Municipal Law of the State of New York in March. More than 30 days had elapsed since the notice of claim, and the City of Utica and other agencies and persons named in the lawsuit have failed or refused to pay all or part of the claim.
The lawsuit goes on to state that Daniel LaBella as then-Chief of Police was under a duty to ensure that its law enforcement officers are adequately trained and supervised and failed to properly supervise the department's officer and employees.
"This constituted a gross and deliberate indifference to the rights and safety of persons with whom those officers are likely to come into contact," the lawsuit states.
It alleges that the City of Utica also acted with "deliberate indifference since its conduct or policy disregards a known or obvious risk that is very likely to result in a violation of a person's constitutional rights."
Failures by municipalities:
The lawsuit accuses the City of Utica's policies of the following:
*Utilizing excessive force in situations such as those listed
*Willfully ignoring the violent propensities of its police officers involved in domestic violence
*Promulgating a policy or custom which provides for and/or tolerates the commission of unconstitutional acts by its officer
*Failure to appropriately discipline officers who have committed illegal, violent and/or criminal acts done under color of law within the scope of their authority as police officers
*Failure to provide proper disciplinary measures and/or counseling to officers who have displayed obvious signs of a propensity toward physical violence and/or serious mental and emotional disturbances
*In protecting and insulating from civil and criminal liability those officers who have committed criminal acts or acts that have violated the constitutional rights of others.
It also went on to say that the acts of "willfulness, wantonness, recklessness, and/or negligence "on the part of the Defendants, City of Utica and the City of Utica Police Department include, but are not limited to the following:
*Failing to subdue Officer Longo and have him involuntarily committed to a psychological ward of a hospital equipped to conduct emergency mental health evaluations
*Failing to take appropriate action to protect one of its employees who was exhibiting obvious signs of a mental breakdown, and strongly indicating, both in words and behavior that he was very likely to physically harm himself or others.
*Failing to properly train and supervise its employees
*Promulgating a policy or custom which provides for and/or tolerates the commission of unconstitutional acts by its officers
*Failing to appropriately discipline officers who have committed illegal, violent, and/or criminal acts done under color of law and within the scope of their authority as police officers.
*Failing to provide mandatory in-patient psychological services to Officer Longo
*Interjecting itself into the private affairs of Kristin Palumbo Longo and her family, as well as the couple's divorce proceedings
*Failing to establish adequate policies, procedures and systems for reporting and investigating incidents of domestic violence, so as to protect victims of domestic violence perpetrated by members of the Utica Police Department
*Failing to take any and all appropriate steps to protect Kristin Palumbo Longo after having promised her that they would do so, all the time being aware that officer Longo was "a troubled and dangerous individual and that he posed a clear and present danger to himself, his family and the community"
*The Defendants, City of Utica, and the City of Utica Police Department were otherwise willful wanton, reckless and/or negligent.
The lawsuit seeks the amount of compensatory damages in the sum of $100 million.