Fourteenth Amendment - Tracy Thurman Story

by Nancy R. Koerner – Naples, FL
Copyright © 2008 – All Rights Reserved

Our struggle is not only with the abuser, but with the legal system that is supposed to be serving to protect our rights as victims. It’s bad enough that DV has yet to be criminalized and batterers are rarely held accountable for their actions, but the court systems likewise do not choose to hold the police accountable for their failure to protect battered women. Doesn’t it seem strange that protection against domestic violence is not considered a violation of our constitution rights?

There was one very high-profile exception to this seeming legal ambivalence. In 1984, a young woman named Tracy Thurman successfully sued the city of Torrington, CT, and two dozen of their police officers for their failure to arrest her estranged and exceedingly violent husband, Charles “Buck” Thurman. There had been repeated incidents of assault on Tracy and overt threats made on her life, yet the police consistently disregarded the situation as a domestic quarrel undeserving of any serious consideration.

On June 10th, 1983, Charles assaulted Tracy for the last time. He stabbed her thirteen times in the chest, neck, shoulders, and face – ten minutes AFTER she had called the 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. Astonishingly, Tracy did not die, but the damage was inconceivable. She 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 was able to feel, but she had lost 80% of her motor skills.

As a result, Tracy Thurman declared that her constitutional rights had been violated in accordance with the Fourteenth Amendment, which was originally intended to secure the rights of slaves, but also includes the phrase, "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." Tracy further alleged that the policy of not arresting violent and abusive husbands failed to provide the same protection that was afforded to victims of similar assaults outside a domestic relationship. It was a landmark case, and the courts ruled that officers failing to protect the rights of battered women would be held accountable. It is of further interest to note that after Tracy’s settlement for 2.3 million dollars, and the more comprehensive DV law that resulted, the number of reported domestic violence assaults in Connecticut increased by 92% over the next year. Not that it would help Tracy. She was only twenty-two years old.

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