Judgment for police affirmed despite ‘insufficient’ abuse response

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Though an Indiana sheriff’s department’s response to a woman’s multiple domestic violence claims against her boyfriend, who was a sheriff’s deputy, may have been “insufficient,” the woman failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove her claims against the department should go to trial, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled.

In Jennifer R. Wilson-Trattner v. Robert Campbell, et al, 16-2509, Jennifer Wilson-Trattner and Scott Roeger were in an abusive relationship. Specifically, during four separate incidents, Roeger locked Wilson-Trattner out of her home, threw her against a wall, choked her, sent lewd and threatening text messages to her, broke into her home and punched a hole through a wall in her home.

Officers with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and McCordsville Police responded to the incidents, and after the second incident, Roeger was told his personal life became the department’s business when he was involved in domestic violence complaints. A report that concluded Roeger had violated departmental regulations was delivered to Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd, though he claimed he did not remember receiving it or placing it in a filing cabinet where it was later found. Similarly, Hancock County Captain Bobby Campbell initiated an internal investigation, but claimed he lost the paperwork.

After the fourth incident that involved Roeger breaking into Wilson-Trattner’s home, Hancock County Deputy Gary Anchor told her the sheriff’s department was “sick of getting these calls” and that they would stop responding if she kept “crying wolf.” The McCordsville Police Department arrested Roeger, who pleaded guilty to criminal charges and eventually resigned from the sheriff’s department.

Wilson-Trattner filed a complaint in 2014 against Roeger, Shepherd, Campbell, Detective Ted Munden and Hancock County Officer Brad Burkhart. Judge Larry J. McKinney of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment to the defendants on Wilson-Trattner’s federal substantive due process and failure to train claim, and to Shepherd on her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. However, McKinney declined to grant summary judgment to Roeger on the battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, and also declined to include him in the entry of partial final judgment in favor of the other defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b).

On appeal, Wilson-Trattner argued she sufficiently substantiated her substantive due process claim because her claim implicated a state-created danger. Specifically, Wilson-Trattner said law enforcement “‘conveyed the unmistakable message’ to Roeger that they would not interfere with his ongoing abuse, thereby emboldening him to reoffend.”

But Judge Jon DeGuilio of the Northern District of Indiana, sitting by designation on a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in a Tuesday opinion that there was no evidence that any of the officers directly informed Roeger that he could abuse her with immunity. Further, under DeShaney v. Winnebago City. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 196 (1989), Wilson-Trattner cannot claim that the officers’ “dismissive and indifferent attitudes” endangered her by emboldening Roeger.

Wilson-Trattner also tried to base her case on the precedent of Okin v. Village of Cornwall-On-Hudson Police Department, 577 F.3d 415 (2d Cir. 2009), in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a substantive due process claim to survive after police officers expressed camaraderie with a domestic violence offender and repeatedly failed to punish him. But unlike in Okin, Wilson-Trattner would not share her story with police, and officers did inform Roeger at least once that his personal life became a departmental issue in such domestic violence situations, DeGuilio wrote.

Finally, the 7th Circuit agreed with the grant of summary judgment on the failure to train and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, finding Wilson-Trattner failed to provide sufficient evidence to support either claim.

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