Police had no duty to protect Brooklyn teen, judge rules

July 31, 2013 By Charisma L. Miller, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A high school student attacked by a group of kids and shot in the back after police departed the scene was not entitled to any special form of protection by the New York City Police Department or the New York City Department of Education, a Brooklyn judge ruled last week.

Melvon Moore, a 15-year-old student, was jumped by a group of boys after school. Police were summoned to the scene, questioned Moore about his condition and demanded that the onlookers disperse.  Moore, refusing to respond to the officers’ concern about his well-being, began to chase one of the offending students.

The police officers down tracked Moore and the offenders down and demanded again, via the police car, that the crowd disperse. Shortly after the police left the scene, Moore was shot in the back.

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Moore sued the NYPD and the city DOE on the grounds that both entities failed to uphold a presumed duty to protect.  He argued that the increased presence on and around his high school campus was to ensure that the students were protected from violence.

And as such, the fact that Moore was a victim of violence is evidence that the police and school officials neglected to maintain the adequate level of safety that students have come to rely on, he argued.

Most significantly, Moore asserted that the responding police officers had created a special relationship with Moore when they attended to him after the first attack. The contact that Moore had had with police officers on the scene and the presence of officers at his high school, the argument continues, created a presumption for Moore that a relationship existed between him and police officers and that Moore had relied on that relationship to protect him — a reliance that was to Moore’s detriment.

The NYPD has a duty to protect the public at large and not a particular individual, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Sylvia Ash wrote in her ruling in the case. This rule is not steadfast, however. For an individual to successfully assert that the police had a duty to protect that specific individual, the plaintiffs must, in one instance, show that the police assumed a duty to protect that individual, and as a result the person was justified in relying on that protection.  

“A special duty is created when a police officer does something or provides an affirmative promise to protect, which allows a citizen to rely upon the officer’s conduct or statement that they will protect them,” explained Brooklyn attorney Edward Friedman.  “That citizen is now beyond the realm of the general citizenry.  If the police fail to protect that specific individual, the special duty has been violated, and that citizen has a right to sue.”

In Moore’s case, “the actions of arriving police officers … in dispersing the crowd and questioning Melvon about his condition, even if done extensively, are insufficient to constitute an assumption of a duty to act on behalf of Melvon,” Ash reasoned.  

As there was no “back-and-forth communication between Melvon and police officers” and no overt promise of protection made to Melvon, Ash concluded that Moore’s alleged reliance on the police officer’s duty to protect was not justified. To find otherwise would “enlarge the ambit of special duty.”

“It is very difficult to find instances of a special relationship between police and victim,” advised Freidman.

“We believe the court reached the correct decision,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Tzipora Teichman, a special counsel in the tort division, said in a statement.

A man named Victor Cain is serving an eight-year sentence in the Auburn Correctional Facility for assault and weapons possession in connection with Moore’s shooting.

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