A report released by the NY Attorney General’s office this Wednesday, July 28, clears Governor Paterson of criminal charges relating to his alleged role in attempting to cover up domestic violence claims against a former top aide. The report investigated whether Paterson and the New York State Police became improperly involved in an incident of domestic violence between Paterson’s long-term aide David W. Johnson and his then-girlfriend, Sherr-Una Booker. The report, by Judge Judith S. Kaye, former chief judge of the State Appellate Court and independent counsel to the New York office of the Attorney General, says that while Paterson made “errors of judgment,” he did not break any laws.
Even though Paterson is criminally vindicated in this case, the report does highlight some revealing failures on the part of the New York Police Department which have serious implications for victims of domestic violence. The domestic dispute between Johnson and Booker occurred on October 31st, 2009, and allegedly involved Johnson physically attacking Booker: choking her, throwing her against a dresser, and tearing off her clothes. The report states that evidence reveals “errors in the NYPD response to the incident.”
In fact, Booker made three phone calls to the NYPD to report a domestic violence incident and request assistance. Booker’s 911 call was categorized as a “dispute” and therefore a “low priority call.” The patrol car assigned to respond to Booker’s request for assistance first attended a car accident (waiting for the car to be towed before leaving the scene) and then to a landlord-tenant dispute before finally moving on to Booker’s residence. Shockingly, but not unusually, it took the NYPD a full hour and a half to arrive at her apartment.
When they DID arrive, the NYPD patrol officers did not adequately respond to Booker’s reports that she was strangled. The incident was classified as "harassment" because the officers did not see visible injuries on Booker’s body. “Harassment” is a violation that is prosecutable, but is not considered a crime under New York Law. Because the NYPD officers saw no visible injuries and did not witness the altercation between Johnson and Booker, the only recourse they offered Booker was to file for a civil order of protection in the Bronx Family Court – even though Booker was afraid that Johnson would return to her apartment that night to “finish the job.”
This report highlights just a few of the obstacles faced by victims of domestic violence when they report an incident of abuse - delayed police responses, which could have a critical impact on the safety of the victim, and the difficulty for a victim to get the police to arrest an abuser whose actions are classified as harassment, before any visible bruising or markings appear that support a victims claim of choking or other assault.
For state-by-state legal information, to read the actual laws in your state, and to find resources for women living with or escaping domestic violence or sexual assault, please visit www.WomensLaw.org