Landmark Domestic Violence Legislation: Tracey Thurman vs. Torrington, CT Is There a Downside?


Who would have thought that two Connecticut cities would be prominently known by the eyes of the world for horrific crime and subsequent landmark legislation?  Virtually everyone has heard of the sleepy affluent town of Cheshire that will forever be known as the former home of Dr. William Petit, Jr. and his now deceased immediate family.

[LJ note:  To be totally accurate, the Petit family siblings grew up in a small blue collar town known as Plainville, and is far from affluent as towns go…] 

 However, the “other city” that put Connecticut on the map as the “Domestic violence capital of Southern New England” is Torrington, CT.  Torrington is also a very blue collar town and has its roots in the Algonquin family Indian tribe 10,000 years ago and… became a thriving mill town situated on the Naugatuck River and was an integral part of the Naugatuck Valley Railroad.  In the mid 19th century, Torrington was producing a vast array of metal products including needles, brass, ice skates, hardware, bicycles, and tacks. 

Hard working stiffs from the mills were the status quo. Today some manufacturing still exists, but the entrepreneurial endeavors are different with several health care entities and a precision golf corporation as major companies.  Big deal you say…..  Well, maybe.  

However, in the early ‘80s this blue collar town still had its share of people who may labor hard by day….but drink hard and beat others by night just as any locality …. 

The case Ladyjustice is referring to is the Tracey Thurman case.

Tracey was an attractive impressionable motel maid who succumbed to the supposed charms of laborer, Charles “Buck” Thurman.  This man was the poster boy for everything that is wrong with “the system” particularly as it relates to law enforcement, repeated threats and violent physical abuse.

Tracey tried to file complaints against her husband but city officials ignored her.

Even when her husband was finally arrested after attacking her in full view of a policeman and after a judge issued an order prohibiting him to go to his wife’s home, the police continued to ignore Thurman’s pleas for help. Her husband violated the order and came to her house and threatened her. When she asked the police to arrest him for violating his probation and threatening her life, they ignored her yet again.  She obtained a restraining order against Buck whom he violated, but again the police failed to take any action.

The absolute helplessness and futility felt by Tracey was unconscionable, inconceivable, as she “did everything right” (at the time) and was ignored by those sworn to protect.   This monster got away with his brutality time after time after time… 

 But… on June 10th, 1983, Buck assaulted Tracy for the last time. 

Buck Thurman stabbed Tracey thirteen times in the chest, neck, shoulders, and face, which occurred ten minutes AFTER she called the Torrington Police. 

He kicked her in the head with a booted foot, snatched up their two-year-old, told the child, “I’ve killed your rotten mother,” and left her lying in a pool of blood. It took twenty-five minutes for the police to arrive. Amazingly, Tracy did not die, but the damage was extensive and beyond belief, as was her will to survive! 

As reported by the Domestic Violence Examiner in July 2010, Tracey spent seven months in the hospital. Although the left side of her body was able to function, she had no tactile sensation. The right side of her body retained tactile sensation, but she had lost 80% of her motor skills.   

It goes without saying….. Ladyjustice sounds like a broken record, just like her ”teacher” Susan Murphy Milano, had the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit, means to make a video tape and other safeguards been available and in use….. Tracey might have had a chance at being a healthy woman … and Torrington would not be forever hanging its proverbial head in shame! 

What makes this case so atypical is that Tracey had good legal advice and the courage to do something that no one else had ever done…. 

In 1984, Tracey Thurman sued the City of Torrington, Connecticut, and 24 of its police officers for their failure to arrest her violent and estranged husband, Charles “Buck” Thurman. 

In her legal suit, Tracey claimed a violation of her constitutional rights, as set forth in various constitutional amendments, but mainly the Fourteenth.  The Fourteenth Amendment states, in part, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Tracey Thurman alleged that by following a policy of not arresting abusive husbands or boyfriends, Torrington police failed to provide the same protection for abused wives and children as they provided for victims of similar assaults outside a domestic relationship.
 

*** In a landmark decision the court agreed, ruling that officers could indeed be held accountable for violating the rights of battered women. 

The court awarded Tracey Thurman $2.3 million in compensatory damages.  Shortly after this court decision, the Connecticut legislature adopted a more comprehensive domestic violence law. In the twelve months after the new law took effect, the number of domestic violence assaults reported increased by 92 percent!  (In the first 12 months following the new law, arrests for domestic assaults doubled from 12,400 arrests to 23,830. 

As reported in DV –The Laws and the Courts-Landmark Legal Decisions,

In Thurman v. City of Torrington (1984), the U.S. District Court for Downstate Connecticut agreed, stating:

City officials and police officers are under an affirmative duty to preserve law and order, and to protect the personal safety of persons in the community. This duty applies equally to women whose personal safety is threatened by individuals with whom they have or have had a domestic relationship as well as to all other persons whose personal safety is threatened, including women not involved in domestic relationships. If officials have notice of the possibility of attacks on women in domestic relationships or other persons, they are under an affirmative duty to take reasonable measures to protect the personal safety of such persons in the community.

[A] police officer may not knowingly refrain from interference in such violence, and may not automatically decline to make an arrest simply because the assailant and his victim are married to each other. Such inaction on the part of the officer is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

For the federal district court, there could be little question that “such inaction on the part of the officers was a denial of the equal protection of the laws.” The police could not claim that they were promoting domestic harmony by refraining from interference in a marital dispute because research had conclusively demonstrated that police inaction supports the continuance of violence. There could be no question, the court concluded, that the city of Torrington, through its police department, had “condoned a pattern or practice of affording inadequate protection or no protection at all, to women who complained of having been abused by their husbands or others with whom they have had close relations.” The police had, therefore, failed in their duty to protect Tracey Thurman and deserved to be sued.

This blogger could comment endlessly on the failures of the police, the culture that allowed it to happen, the pieces of paper called “orders of protection “that are not worth the paper upon which  they are written, and the needless suffering, trauma  and near fatal injuries suffered by Tracey.  The fact that the court, in its wisdom under the Fourteenth Amendment opened the door to “a little piece of justice” and lambasted the incompetent, ignorant, and seemingly blind police force is still somehow little consolation for this woman and her family in LJ’s opinion.  Money can help, but the scars, lifelong trauma and terror and toll on the human body and soul can never be compensated for!

Update 2011:  The Pendulum Has Swung Far and Wide:

One of Ladyjustice’s favorite editorial writers, the Hartford Courant’s Helen Ubanis, recently wrote a piece about this topic.  The article dealt specifically with the fact that Connecticut leads the nation in the number of dual arrests as it pertains to domestic violence.  

For illustrative purposes, Helen told the story of “Dawn” who was brutalized by her husband last February. She saw her opportunity.  As the children were nearby sledding, she was cornered by her car. She had never called the police on him before, but it was now or never. In addition to being badly bruised, she thought he had fractured her kneecap and shoulder as he pushed her to the ground.

Her husband didn’t have a scratch on him.  He told police “Dawn was preventing him from leaving.”  Dawn was shocked that winter day when the police later arrested them both.  Under Connecticut’s mandatory arrest law, if the police find evidence, they must make an arrest.

Connecticut currently has the highest incidence of dual arrests in the country pertaining to the arrest of both the accuser and accused under this law. Data from the year 200 showed that most arrests were for reasons other than assaults.  In 2007, 20% of the domestic violence cases revealed dual arrests.  In 2009, that figure rose to nearly 50%.  Comparatively speaking, the rest of the U.S. arrests both parties in less than 2% of the DV cases. 

Before one jumps to conclusions, the data may mislead based upon Connecticut’s “broader definition of domestic partner,” underreporting, and not reporting arrests at all or those states that have “less stringent laws.”

Connecticut’s interim Executive Director of Coalition for Domestic Violence, Karen Jarmoc reported that this matter has been troubling for a long time.  In 2011 the legislature created a task force to examine the family violence statute and dual arrests. 

Some police chiefs state that clearly, 30 years ago, officers weren’t doing enough, However, some believe they may now be “doing too much.”   What is the solution?

Michael Lawlor, former legislator and now Connecticut’s undersecretary of justice policy and planning for the Office for Policy and Management, thinks it’s difficult top write a statute forcing police officers to do exactly what you want them to do “without unintended consequences.” Lawlor goes on to say that pointing the spotlight at a problem begins to change behavior and that perhaps some police agencies “don’t yet appreciate dual arrests.”

And now, back to Dawn’s Case….

Two weeks after she was beaten by her husband, her breach of peace charge was dropped. The experience made a lasting impression on her.  Her sentiments are those of thousands of women….  She said, “It’s difficult enough to deal with the physical and emotional effects of having to fight to protect yourself from the person who hurt you.  But to also have to fight the system that’s supposed to protect you is too much.  It’s why so many women back off.”

The jury is still out regarding what the solution might be specifically concerning the issue of dual arrests.   However, Ladyjustice has the perfect solution when speaking of the broader issue at hand.  Our own Jane Wayne – Susan Murphy Milano’s Time’s Up “roadmap” which can be tailor made to fit each individual’s situation. We need you more than ever in Connecticut!   Help, please!!!

Incidentally, for those who want to re-live the story of Tracey Thurman’s former horrific existence, a TV movie was crafted after the landmark case called, “A Cry for Help”.  As this writer recalls, the production was less than stellar.  However, Nancy McKeon is a very talented actress and did a wonderful job in her portrayal.

It was recently viewed by Ladyjustice on YouTube.  However, lo and behold, it has recently been pulled by CBS for “numerous third party copyright infringements.”   Perhaps Netfix might have it.

Here’s a bit more detail…

Tracey Thurman was a real-life Connecticut housewife who, throughout her marriage, suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of her husband. The beatings culminate in a single bloody night when Buck Thurman stabs his estranged wife 13 times. She survives–barely–and Buck is arrested. Having failed to get proper protection from the local police force, Tracey successfully sued the officers in 1989. The long-range result was the Thurman Law, which called for mandatory arrests in wife-beating cases in Connecticut and several other states. Nancy McKeon, who plays Tracey Thurman in A Cry for Help, starred in the film in the hope that it would prevent Buck Thurman’s early release from prison.

 

 A Cry For Help: The Tracy Thurman Story first aired on October 2, 1989; Thurman was scheduled for release in 1991. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Cast

 

 

Ladyjustice is unsure of the status of Buck Thurman today…. And that is a very scary thought!

Regardless if you view this film or not, do buy a copy of Susan Murphy Milano’s “Time’s Up” book from Amazon or her website – www.susanmurphymilano.com. It’ll be the best investment ever made, particularly if you are another woman like Dawn….

And… 

To read about other key domestic violence cases resulting in landmark legislation go to the following link: 

Domestic Violence—The Laws and the Courts – Landmark Legal Decisions” target=”_blank”><a href=”http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/2074/Domestic-Violence-Laws-Courts-LANDMARK-LEGAL-DECISIONS.html”>Domestic Violence—The Laws and the Courts – Landmark Legal Decisions</a>


Until Next Time, 

Keep Faith and Hope in Your Heart, 

LadyJustice

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  1. #1 by Laurie Bessler on March 17, 2012 - 3:25 am

    I just wanted to note for those interested in viewing this movie which was a good movie especially in view of how the police treated the entire situation and the final interaction with Buck and Tracey. Those that wish to see it -it plays often time to time on LMN where I first seen it and they play it fairly often.
    I hope wherever Buck Thurman is it is he is gone dead or in prison for something else for life. I hope that Tracey and he son have the best lives possible.

  2. #2 by Steve on April 23, 2012 - 12:28 am

    Don’t believe that this only happens to women. I was in a marriage where the woman threw coffee cups at me, hit me in the head with a castiron skillet, and threw me on a pedestal fan. I called cops to calm her down as she destroyed our bedroom.

  3. #3 by Steve on April 23, 2012 - 12:30 am

    Both of us got arrested because she felt “threatened” when I grabbed her wrists. Result? She went to victim counseling as the woman and I went to offender counseling as the man.

  4. #4 by Tom Smith on May 27, 2012 - 3:38 am

    How about this? At 6 feet 2 inches and an avid weight lifter, what was I to do when my partner, an average to thin woman hit me in the head with the heel of a stilletto high heeled shoe? If the blow was angled right I could have been killed! She called 911 after receiving no retribution! I was removed from the house, given 15 minutes to gather some clothing even though we both had shared the home equally for several years. There was no history of abuse yet she was granted an order of protection even though I was the only one who received any injury! I could not go back to my own home until a judge granted me thirty minutes in the presence of police to clear out the rest of my posessions! There are cases where the woman abuses the system to her advantage even when she is the only violent abuser in the home! I had to leave with my four year old step daughter who loved me and I her, (she looked to me as her protector as her mother’s mother allowed her boyfriend to abuse her in her presence and she knew that she was always safe from any abuse when she was with me), as though we were blood related in her bedroom crying her eyes out as I was forced from our home! Women are capable of abusing loved ones also!

    • #5 by Q on February 4, 2014 - 7:35 pm

      Dont believe everything you read. The domestic violence industry is a business and as such they seek profit over the reunification of families. I cant understand how we continue to believe that abuse is a problem perpetrated by men when new research suggests that dv violence is as much the fault of the women as the man. I think in the majority of cases that there is no patttern of abuse at all. More likely the majority of cases are the result of a single incident that escalated. I believe that un today androgynous society that appalling that the dv industry provides no support to men. When I was being abused by my former girlfriend I called every shelter in the Fairfield County area and each one told me that there services were for women and children and that no man would be allowed to stay there. This is federal monies that pay for these program and they knowingly and willfully discrimated against an entire sex of people. I believe that people must remember that once that call is made to police there is no turning back and they will destroy the family unit at all costs. It would be alot less costly to you and your family if you dont involve police and just to get out or use the civil no contact order as your tool to get help.

  5. #6 by Donna R. Gore on September 21, 2012 - 10:50 am

    Steve & Tom: I understand and agree with you that men are also abused…and that our system whether in Connecticut or otherwise is not equitable. The best tool of prevention and preparing is the Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit created by Susan Murphy Milano. Check it out at http://www.documenttheabuse.com. Thanks… Donna – “Ladyjustice”

  6. #7 by Administrator on February 4, 2014 - 8:35 pm

    I’m happy to see the response from men who have been abused by women. You are correct in stating that there is a disparity of resources for abused men, and, for whatever reasons, men are less likely to report. Violence knows no gender, just as justice should not be gender biased.

    Having worked for many years with women who advocate for women, my observations are keenly aware that most of the resources for women were created by women, some former victims of abuse, and others who are in a position to make a difference. There are also men who have stood in the gap for abused women.

    My suggestion is that men stop complaining about the lack of resources and get busy doing something about it for other men in the same situation. As Donna mentioned in her last response with a link to Document the Abuse, all abuse should be documented, no matter what the gender, and although Susan Murphy Milano worked primarily for the safety of women, it was because that was her experience. The Evidentiary Abuse Affidavit can be created by both men and women, no matter what race, language, sexual orientation, or gender. Do it to remain safe and to keep your children safe. But, remember, your documentation must be the real deal. http://documenttheabuse.com

    If you, as a man, have had experiences of abuse, please do all that many of these women have been doing for the last 20+ years. Create the resources, change the legislation, work with the system, and be the change the world wishes to see. Other abused men are depending on you!

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