You Decide

Is the city liable?

Thurman v. City of Torrington, 595 F.Supp. 1521 (D.Conn. 1984)



October 1982

Charles Thurman attacked Tracey Thurman at the home of Judy Bentley and Richard St. Hilaire in the city of Torrington. Mr. St. Hilaire and Ms. Bentley made a formal complaint of the attack to a police officer and asked him to keep the Thurman’s husband, Charles, off their property.

November 5, 1982

Charles Thurman went to the St. HilaireBentley residence and took by force their son Charles J. Thurman, Jr. Tracey Thurman and Mr. St. Hilaire went to police headquarters to make a formal complaint. At that point, police officers of refused to take a complaint—even of trespassing.

November 9, 1982

Charles Thurman screamed threats to Tracey Thurman while she was sitting in her car. Officer Neil Gemelli stood on the street watching Charles Thurman scream threats at Tracey Thurman until Charles Thurman broke the windshield of Tracey’s car while she was inside the vehicle. Officer Gemelli arrested Charles Thurman.

November 10, 1982

Charles was convicted of breach of peace. He received a suspended sentence of six months and a two-year “conditional discharge,” during which he was ordered to stay completely away from Tracey Thurman and the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence and to commit no further crimes. Charles was informed of the sentence.

December 31, 1982

While Tracey Thurman was at the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence, Charles Thurman came to the house and threatened her again. She called the Torrington Police Department. Although informed of the violation of the conditional discharge, the officer who took the call made no attempt to find out where Charles was or to arrest him.

January 1-May 4, l983

Officers took numerous telephone complaints from Tracy that Charles threatened to hurt her and repeated requests that the officers arrest Charles because of his threats and violations of the terms of his probation.

May 4 and 5, l983

Tracey Thurman and Ms. Bentley reported to the Torrington Police Department that Charles Thurman threatened to shoot Tracey. Officer Storrs took the written complaint of plaintiff Tracey Thurman and her request that they get an arrest warrant for her husband because of his death threat and violation of his “conditional discharge.” Officer Storrs refused to take the complaint of Ms. Bentley and he told her to come back three weeks later (June 1, 1983), when Storrs or someone else would try to get the warrant.

May 6, 1983

Tracey Thurman filed an application for a restraining order against Charles Thurman in the Litchfield Superior Court. That day, the court issued a restraining order forbidding Charles Thurman from assaulting, threatening, and harassing Tracey Thurman. The City was informed of this order.

May 27, 1983

Tracey Thurman asked for police protection to get to the Torrington Police Department, and when an officer brought her to the department, she asked for a warrant for her husband’s arrest. The officer told her she had wait until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend and was advised to call on Tuesday, May 31, to pursue the warrant request.

May 31, 1983

Tracey Thurman appeared once again at the Torrington Police Department to pursue the warrant request. She was then advised by and officer that Officer Schapp was the only policeman who could help her and he was on vacation. She was told that she had to wait until he got back. That same day, Tracey’s brother-in-law, Joseph Kocsis, called the Torrington Police Department to protest the lack of action taken on Tracey’s complaint. Although Mr. Kocsis was told Charles Thurman would be arrested on June 8, 1983, no arrest took place.

June 10, 1983

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.

Twenty-five minutes after Tracey’s call to the Torrington Police Department and after her stabbing, a single police officer, Officer Petrovits, arrived on the scene. Charles Thurman was holding a bloody knife. Charles dropped the knife and, in the presence of Petrovits, kicked Tracey in the head and ran into the Bentley–St. Hilaire residence. Charles came back holding Charles Thurman, Jr. and dropped him on his wounded mother. Charles then kicked Tracey in the head a second time.

Soon thereafter, 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.

From the first to the last of these episodes, Charles Thurman lived in Torrington and 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.



Tracey Thurman sued the city for the violations of her rights under the U.S. Constitution. 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.” The City’s argument is clearly a misstatement of the law. 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. The issue to be decided, then, is whether the plaintiffs have properly alleged a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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. Here the plaintiffs were threatened with assault in violation of Connecticut law. Over the course of eight months the police failed to afford the her protection against such assaults, and failed to take action to arrest the perpetrator of these assaults. She alleges this failure to act was pursuant to a pattern or practice of affording inadequate protection, or no protection at all, to women who have complained of having been abused by their husbands or others with whom they have had close relations. Such a practice is tantamount to an administrative classification used to implement the law in a discriminatory fashion.

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.”

For these reasons, the City’s motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to allege the deprivation of a constitutional right is denied...; the City’s motion to dismiss claims against it for failure to properly allege a “custom” or “policy” on the part of the City is denied.

[Note: Tracey Thurman was left partially paralyzed and received a $2.3 million in damages in 1985.]


  1. Do the facts in this case prove “custom” or “policy”? Explain.
  2. Assume there is proof of a policy. Was the policy the cause of the injury? Defend your answer.
  3. If it were today, was the eventual damage award enough? Too much? Not enough? Explain your answer.
  4. Should lack of training be considered a “policy”? Defend your answer.