In a recent decision in Castilla v. City of New York, by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the court determined that New York City is not liable for a sexual assault allegedly committed by one of its police detectives.
On February 16, 2008, Oscar Sandino and several other New York City police officers entered the plaintiff’s apartment to execute a search warrant as part of a drug investigation of her then-boyfriend. At some point after entering the apartment, Sandino ordered the plaintiff into a bedroom where he forced her to undress while he watched. He made sexual comments to her and only left when a female officer entered the bedroom. A few hours later, Sandino took the plaintiff in his car to the police station, threatening the plaintiff with the removal of her children if she did not have sex with him. At the precinct, Sandino brought the plaintiff into an interrogation room and asked for an answer to his sexual proposition. Then Sandino touched the plaintiff inappropriately and forced her to perform oral sex on him in a bathroom. Over the next few weeks, Sandino repeatedly called and texted the plaintiff to arrange sexual encounters.
Under federal law, any person that acts with the power of the law who deprives a citizen of his or her rights under the Constitution can be held liable. A municipality, like New York City, can be held liable under the same law as a “person.” However, in order to be liable, the plaintiff needed to demonstrate that a New York City police department policy or custom was the reason behind Sandino’s illegal behavior. For example, she needed to show evidence of a formal department policy or based on widespread practice. In addition, she could show that Sandino was an authorized decision-maker, whose actions could essentially create policy. Finally, the plaintiff could present evidence that New York City failed to properly train or supervise its agents rising to the level of deliberate indifference.
In this case, the court determined that Sandino was not a policymaker, because he was too low-ranking in the police force to establish policy. Further, New York City was not liable for failing to train Sandino on the proper way to recruit female confidential informant, because the plaintiff could not show that any New York City policymakers were aware of any other violation by a member of the NYPD concerning the recruitment of confidential informants. Finally, the plaintiff could not hold the City liable for failing to properly supervise Sandino, because there was no evidence that any policymakers had notice that Sandino required corrective action or supervision, nor was there any evidence that the NYPD ignored even a single prior act of sexual abuse.
The Castilla case is an excellent illustration of the need for an experienced attorney when bringing a lawsuit. The plaintiff’s attorney in this case failed to develop and discover sufficient evidence to prove her case and, as a result, the plaintiff lost her case.