Friday, December 18, 2009

Murdered mom's family sues city for "wrongful death" (Utica, New York)

We've reported on dad JOSEPH LONGO JR. before, who stabbed his wife to death in a murder-suicide, leaving 4 children without a mother. Dad was an investigator with the Utica (New York) Police Department. Now the mom's estate and surviving family is suing the City of Utica for allowing the father's "disturbing behavior" to escalate without any decisive action. Some of these local governments are going to have start losing some of these "wrongful death" lawsuits if anything is ever going to change. Maybe a big settlement would make them start seeing the light.

Lawsuit to allege LaBella failed to address investigator's violent tendencies
Posted Dec 17, 2009 @ 10:23 AM
Last update Dec 17, 2009 @ 11:53 AM

NEW HARTFORD — One day in early September, Utica police Investigator Joseph Longo Jr. put the barrel of his duty revolver in his mouth and threatened to “blow his head off” in front of his wife Kristin Longo and their 9-year-old son, according to legal documents.

A frightened and tearful Kristin Longo later called the Utica Police Department to report the incident, and the officer’s weapon was taken away from him.

But that wasn’t enough, according to a notice of claim filed against the city.

About two weeks later, Joseph Longo stabbed his wife to death inside their Deerfield home Sept. 28 before turning the knife on himself. Now, the estate of Kristin Palumbo Longo is claiming the city failed to protect her from her husband as he showed signs of a mental breakdown.

Specifically, the family alleges that recently appointed Utica Police Chief Daniel LaBella was not competent in addressing the problems of the investigator, who was LaBella's friend and former patrol partner.

As a result of this alleged negligence, the family states, Joseph Longo’s “disturbing behavior” was allowed to escalate until the Longo couple was dead, leaving their four children – 9, 11, 15, and 17 – without a mother or father.

Kristin Longo’s sister Gina Pearce and other family members voiced these allegations for the first time Wednesday morning as they gathered at the New Hartford law office of attorney John Dillon announcing their intent to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

“We want to know the truth about the events that led to Kristin’s murder and we want the circumstances that allowed her murder to happen to be known,” Pearce told members of the news media as she stood behind a photograph of her smiling sister.

“We believe that if the people responsible for protecting our citizens had done their jobs properly, Kristin would have been protected and would still be alive today,” she added. “We believe that Kristin’s cries for help to those in a position to help her were ignored.”

Although LaBella is not yet specifically named in the claim, the family’s attorney acknowledged that LaBella is among the departmental superiors who shared responsibility in guaranteeing Kristin Longo’s safety.

When contacted after the family’s announcement, LaBella declined to discuss any details of the allegations. He did, however, respond briefly to the assertion that he was unfit to be police chief and firmly denied that had any role in Joseph Longo’s actions.

“I will not discuss this unpreventable tragedy for the sake of the Longo children, the Palumbo family, and also the Longo family,” LaBella said. “But knowing the facts, no matter who the police chief was, this tragedy would still have been unpreventable.”

According to the notice of claim, LaBella and other police officials should have known that Joseph Longo:

was experiencing extreme emotional and mental anguish caused by the breakup of his marriage as a result of abusive behavior.

recently threatened to kill himself and his family on more than one occasion, including the instance when Longo placed the barrel of his revolver in his mouth.

had announced to his family more than once that “today is the day that I go postal.”

had failed a psychiatric screening test administered by the New York State Police during an unsuccessful attempt several years ago to become a state trooper.

Furthermore, the claim states, the city was negligent in allowing LaBella “to circumvent the appropriate and customary appointment procedure and protocol to become police chief when he clearly lacked the requisite qualifications and skills to serve competently as police chief.”

Dillon, who is handling the case and is also formerly Utica city government’s top attorney, took direct aim at LaBella's lack of action in the weeks and months before the murder-suicide.

“If we had a police chief who had acted appropriately and prudently, Kristin Longo would still be here today,” Dillon said.

Joseph Longo and LaBella had been partners on the force when they were both patrol officers, as well as personal friends, he said.

“At the very least, it seems to indicate a conflict of interest,” regarding the possibility that LaBella might have been challenged to look past his friendship with Longo to take the proper precautions, Dillon said.

As Joseph Longo later became a “clear and present danger” to himself, his family and the community, the claim further states that the city failed to provide mandatory in-patient psychological services to the officer.

Utica Corporation Counsel Linda Sullivan Fatata hesitated to comment on the city’s behalf because the matter is still “raw” for the grieving Longo and Palumbo families. Still, she said her belief is that the case lacks any merit.

“I don’t believe it’s true, I don’t think it will be proven to be true,” Sullivan Fatata said. “This was a murderous, murderous act – it wasn’t an accident. We’ll handle it as delicately as we can, but we’ll certainly handle it vigorously.”

In the days after the couple's deaths, Utica police officials described the steps they had taken as Joseph Longo's troubles mounted:

In late summer, the police department had ordered Longo to stay away from his wife and the Cosby Manor Road home whenever he was on duty.

His department-issued weapon was taken away in light of incidents that occurred when he was working at Thomas R. Proctor High School over the summer, and also because of concerns over “everybody's safety,” LaBella said in late September.

Longo was removed from his duties as a police liaison to the Utica school district and reassigned to desk duty.

He also was offered counseling to cope with his emotional stress, and an internal disciplinary hearing was scheduled. That proceeding was to take place Sept. 29 – the day after the fatal stabbings, LaBella said.

Nevertheless, Kristin Longo’s family says law enforcement should be held accountable and certain changes need to be made to ensure that officers with mental issues and domestic problems are handled properly.

“That’s our main objective here – to make sure there’s a procedure in place so this never happens again,” Kristin Longo’s brother, Joseph Palumbo, said.