antia Williams needed help.
Her 250-pound ex-boyfriend, Jason Jenkins, had snatched their baby from her arms, violating a judge’s order to stay away. After taking off with the girl, Jenkins threatened to kill the 2-month-old and himself.
Williams made at least four calls to Suffolk County police over the next week. Recordings of the July 2011 calls capture Williams’ voice, scared and confused about why police would not arrest Jenkins.
The last call for help came from Williams’ 12-year-old nephew, who lived in the same Bay Shore apartment as Williams.
“There’s a guy with a gun,” the boy told the 911 operator. “Please come fast, quickly. Please, please, please.”
When police finally did arrive to take Jenkins away, they needed body bags instead of handcuffs.
Long Island judges grant roughly 30,000 orders of protection every year, mostly in cases where a man has harmed or threatened to harm a woman. The orders are supposed to marshal the power and authority of the law enforcement system on behalf of those in danger by placing restrictions on individuals who have been deemed a threat.
But the system failed Williams, 26, a mother of two. Despite Williams’ repeated pleas that police arrest her abusive ex-boyfriend for violating an order of protection, Jenkins, 27, remained free to kill Williams with a shotgun before turning the gun on himself.
Drawing broad conclusions about the system that protects domestic violence victims is difficult. Access to Family Court records in New York State is limited to respect an individual’s privacy, and state agencies proved unwilling to provide even basic information that would not identify individuals, such as dates protective orders were issued and served.
However, in a joint investigation, Newsday and News 12 Long Island reviewed three hours of 911 calls and radio transmissions and more than 300 pages of documents related to the Williams case, including the records from an ongoing wrongful-death lawsuit Williams’ mother filed in July 2012 against Suffolk County, its law enforcement agencies and 15 officers. The court file contains a document in which the county admits to specific failures uncovered in an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation, but not the IAB report itself.
Reporters also interviewed 21 people, many with direct involvement in the Williams case or in the system meant to protect women like her.
The examination offers a look at a worst-case scenario of what can happen in a domestic violence case when the system fails to protect someone who turned to it for help.
The records and interviews show:
• Suffolk County police neglected to arrest Jenkins despite knowing of the order of protection against him and repeated complaints that he had violated it. Suffolk police rules mandate an arrest in such circumstances.
• The Internal Affairs Bureau initiated its investigation into how officers handled the Williams case a year after Williams’ death and only after Williams’ mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court.
• This was not a one-time mistake by a lone officer. On at least four occasions, eight police officers violated department rules by failing to take victim statements from Williams or complete domestic incident reports after responding to her 911 calls.
• Internal Affairs investigators found that three officers — John Mercurio, Jason Morge and Miguel Vias — failed to “adequately investigate” after Williams made at least two 911 calls about Jenkins in one day.
• Another four officers — Nicholas Aspromgos, John Brunkard, Valentin Rosado and Frank Ortiz — failed in their duty to adequately or properly investigate on at least two occasions when called to deal with Jenkins. Both instances happened after a judge had issued a protective order against him. Also, Officer Luis Ruiz failed to notify the sheriff’s office, which serves protective orders, that he’d had contact with Jenkins.
Although Suffolk’s Internal Affairs Bureau issued its findings more than a year ago, the department has not disciplined any of the officers involved in the case, according to Frederick K. Brewington, a Hempstead attorney who is representing Santia Williams’ family in the lawsuit.
In response to the family’s complaint, the county denied “any conduct giving rise to any cause of action” in the Santia Williams case.
Suffolk police officials, citing the ongoing litigation, declined to answer questions for this story and the individual officers named did not respond to messages left with the department or the police union. Police also withheld public records, including the IAB report, in response to Freedom of Information Law requests and did not provide a reason for doing so, although they are required by law to give one.
Williams’ mother, Phyllis Coleman, said in an interview that police officers “did not do their job.”
“My daughter was in a burning building,” Coleman said. “Why didn’t they rescue her?”
Brewington said officers displayed a “level of willful neglect” that reminds him of how Nassau County police treated Jo’Anna Bird, another young mother of two killed by her boyfriend, in 2009. Police negligence in that case led to a $7.7 million settlement by the county with the Bird family, whom Brewington also represented.
Brewington, who has been outspoken about issues of discrimination on Long Island and is an expert in civil rights litigation, alleges that laziness and bias explain some of the failure by Suffolk police in the Williams case. Her pleas would have been treated more seriously had she been white and affluent rather than black and poor, Brewington contends.
However, all women confronting abuse should heed the Williams tragedy, he said.
“Women need to be very concerned when they pick up the phone and they say ‘help me,'” Brewington said. “Because in this situation, when the help came, it wasn’t worth spit.”