O'Brien v. The City of Syracuse

Docket Number5:22-cv-948 (MAD/TWD)
Decision Date18 September 2023
PartiesPETER O'BRIEN, as Administrator of Estate of Allison Marie Lakie, Plaintiff, v. THE CITY OF SYRACUSE; BEN WALSH, Syracuse Mayor; KENTON BUCKNER, Syracuse Police Department Chief; SHARON OWENS, Deputy Mayor; DAVID HART, Lt.; MATTHEW LIADKA, Sergeant; KENNETH SHEEHAN, Officer; NICOLAS SARALEGUI-MARTIN, Officer; SARGENT, Officer; FRANCISCO, Officer; MAKENZIE GLYNN, Officer; NIKKO, Officer; and JOHN/JANE DOES 1-10, Police Officers, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York



HANCOCK ESTABROOK, LLP Attorneys for Defendants









SYRACUSE LAW DEPARTMENT Attorney for Defendants



Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge


Plaintiff, as administrator of the estate of Allison Marie Lakie, commenced this action on September 12, 2022, pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and New York state law, concerning an allegedly unlawful fatal police shooting, on October 20, 2021, of Allison Marie Lakie, a 35 year-old mentally disabled woman, in the City of Syracuse, New York. See Dkt. No. 1. The named defendants in this action are Lieutenant David Hart, Sergeant Matthew Liadka, Officer Kenneth Sheehan, Officer Nicolas Saralegui-Martin, Officer Christopher Sargent, Officer Evan Francisco, and Officer Makenzie Glynn (hereinafter, the "Police Officer Defendants"), Mayor Ben Walsh, Syracuse Police Department Chief Kenton Buckner, and Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens (hereinafter, the "Supervisory Defendants"), and the City of Syracuse (hereinafter, the "City").

Currently before the Court are Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiffs complaint. See Dkt. Nos. 22, 23 & 25.


Plaintiff Peter O'Brien, the great uncle of Allison Marie Lakie ("Ms. Lakie" or "Allison"), is a resident of the State of New York, and was issued limited letters of administration concerning the Estate of Allison Marie Lakie by the Surrogate Court, Onondaga County, on February 25, 2022. See Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 8. The City of Syracuse is a municipal corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York. See id. at ¶ 9. The named individual Defendants are present and former high-level elected and appointed officials of the City of Syracuse, and members of the Syracuse Police Department. See id. at ¶ 10.

In response to Executive Order No. 203 concerning police reform in the State of New York, issued by former Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 12, 2020, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh issued Executive Order No. 1: Syracuse Police Reform, on June 19, 2020. See id. at ¶ 17. Regarding Executive Order No. 1, Mayor Walsh stated that it

empowered Syracuse Police Department Chief Kenton Buckner to prioritize the implementation of policies and practices to improve and further modernize the Syracuse Police Department in line with 21st Century Policing strategy, while simultaneously mending strained relations with the community. The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 during an arrest by the Minneapolis Police Department launched massive calls for police reform throughout the world, our nation and the City of Syracuse. In response to a clear message from our community, Mayor Ben Walsh issued Executive Order 1: Syracuse Police Reform, urgently directing his administration to take sixteen (16) actions to increase police accountability, improve transparency and strengthen police-community relations. The local provisions in the Executive Order address critical issues in the police reform movement found in national data and reports on police concerns including, but not limited to: updating the Syracuse Police Department's (SPD) use of force policy ...

Id. at ¶ 18. One of the actions called for in Mayor Walsh's Executive Order No. 1 called for the City of Syracuse to "research and consider innovative, community-based strategies for responding to non-criminal calls, with a goal of shifting the paradigm from primary police response, to response by non-police professionals in relevant fields." Id. at ¶ 19. In a press release, it was stated that "[t]he ultimate responsibility for implementing the Mayor's Executive Order lies with the Chief of Police [Kenton Buckner] and his department. Mayor Walsh is committed to ensuring that each of the 16 items in his Executive Order are implemented and has assigned Deputy Mayor [Sharon] Owens the responsibility of managing the process." Id. at ¶ 20.

In a report entitled "Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse Speaks: Public Comments on Reforming and Reinventing Police," dated February 8, 2021, policymakers from the City of Syracuse reported as follows:

The Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative ("PRRC") conducted six community forums in January 2021 to gather public comment about initiatives to be undertaken in Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse to address police reform pursuant to Executive Order No. 203, signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo on June 12, 2020. The PRRC engaged InterFaith Works, a Syracuse-based human services non-profit agency, to gather all data based on public comments for each session and to develop this independent report. The report qualitatively analyzes 211 public comments made by 375 participants about reforming and redefining the role of police in Onondaga County and the City of Syracuse. Seven overarching themes emerged ...

Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 21. In relevant part, the report found that "[t]here was resonance across the Community Forums for the need for expanded mental health services to augment, or perhaps replace in certain instances, police interactions with people in mental health crisis. In this context, the idea of Crisis Response Teams was raised. Some participants felt that police budgets should be reduced and these new funds should be directed towards expanded mental health services to produce better outcomes[.]" Id. at ¶ 22.

In a March 2021 report entitled "Syracuse Police Reform and Reinvention Plan," Syracuse policymakers reported that

[t]he Syracuse Police Department is the first to acknowledge that not all dispatched calls require the presence of a sworn officer. Similarly it's understood that while police officers are not trained professional mental health clinicians, it is important that they are trained to recognize the symptoms of mental health issues and how to provide initial help and access the assistance of those trained in the field in order to guide a person towards appropriate professional help. Individuals in physical, mental health or substance abuse induced crisis require the intervention of those who have made the care of these individuals their professional career.

Id. at ¶ 23.

In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, "[d]espite having knowledge of the often perilous and tragic outcomes when armed police officers, who lack adequate training in dealing with individuals who are in the throes of a mental health crisis, and the danger in not having trained mental health professionals respond with the police to emergency calls involving mentally ill individuals, the City of Syracuse, Mayor Ben Walsh, Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens and Police Chief Kenton Buckner failed to implement adequate remedial measures, leading to the tragic fatal police shooting of Allison Marie Lakie on October 20, 2021." Id. at ¶ 24. Ms. Lakie suffered from mental disabilities of bipolar disorder, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideations, exacerbated by substance abuse, which had resulted in hospitalizations. See id. at ¶ 25. Upon information and belief, the complaint further alleges that Ms. Lakie suffered from other obvious and apparent mental health conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia and delusions. See id.

On October 20, 2021, Ms. Lakie was staying at her maternal grandmother's home, located at 216 Ulster Street, in Syracuse, New York with her mother, Ann MacBain, and Ann's husband, Anthony Lisi. See id. at ¶ 27. The incident at issue lasted from approximately 1:30 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. See id.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., Ann MacBain called an ambulance because Ms. Lakie was having a mental health crisis. When the emergency medical technicians ("EMTs") arrived approximately ten minutes later, they immediately left because Ms. Lakie thought they were impostors and Ms. Lakie, fearing they were going to harm her, was holding a knife. See id. at ¶ 28. Ms. MacBain called the 911 operator, and the EMTs may have called as well, and police were dispatched to the residence. See id. at ¶ 29. Ms. MacBain told the operator that Ms. Lakie was in a psychotic state. See id. The complaint alleges that Ms. Lakie thought someone was coming to hurt her, which is why she held a knife. See id. at ¶ 30. Ms. MacBain convinced Ms. Lakie to sit on the knife as Ms. Lakie told her that they were "'coming to hurt us.'" Id.

Some of the Police Officer Defendants arrived a short time later and Ms. Lakie made it apparent that she thought that the officers were impostors as well. See id. at ¶ 31. The complaint contends that it was obvious to the Police Officer Defendants that Ms. Lakie was suffering from a mental illness and that Ms. MacBain told the police that "'you have to help her.'" Id.

"The first officers who addressed Allison, including Officer Makenzie Glynn, Sergeant Matthew Liadka and Officer 'Francisco,'...

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