Seven Years After ‘we All Failed' Deanna Cook, Lawsuit Over 911 and Police Response Lingers

There are moments when Karletha Gundy sees her sister Deanna Cook as she was, before. In her mind's eye a picture will take shape. "And it's a beautiful picture," Gundy said, because her sister is smiling. But it does not last long."Because I am reminded of how we found her," the 34-year-old Gundy said Monday evening. "Her face. That last vision always overtakes the beautiful picture."Karletha and her mother Vicki Cook and Deanna's two daughters found the 32-year-old Cook in her southeast Dallas home on Aug. 19, 2012, lying face down in a bathtub filled with water turned red from blood, wearing only underwear. Then, they saw Deanna's face -- bloated, this newspaper once wrote, and disfigured. Three years ago, before a jury was shown the crime scene photos, the judge cautioned against any "outburst" from spectators in the courtroom."I have to shake my head and close my eyes and push it away," Gundy said in a quiet, still voice. "It's not something I will ever get over."Two days before her family found her, Deanna Cook was choked to death by her ex-husband, Delvecchio Patrick, as a Dallas 911 dispatcher listened and police officers took almost 50 minutes to respond. No matter how much time has passed, and I cannot believe it has already been seven years, surely you recall this horror story. Cook's killing would become a local scandal and national headline.Patrick will remain in prison until at least August 2042. Yet though it has faded, replaced by countless other horrible headlines, still this story has no end.For a few months it dominated a news cycle that did not yet have such a short attention span. Her death sparked an investigation into Dallas PD's desperately troubled 911 call center, after which then-Chief David Brown oversaw a top-to-bottom overhaul. In the months following Cook's murder, Mayor Mike Rawlings made combating domestic violence something of a mission. "We all failed her," Rawlings said of Deanna Cook six years ago this week. "The system failed her, the neighbors next door failed her, the media failed her, the mayor failed her."And then there was the inevitable federal lawsuit filed by Deanna Cook's family only a few weeks after her slaying. The city was named as a defendant; so, too, were the call-takers and cops who did nothing for Deanna as Patrick was squeezing the life out of her. At the news conference announcing the suit, attorney Aubrey "Nick" Pittman said, "Ms. Cook was a victim of her race, the nature of her call and the demographics of her South Dallas neighborhood."But almost seven years later, that once-high profile case has been dismissed by a judge with barely a whisper. Now it finds itself headed to an appeals court -- a final chapter still unwritten for a family for whom this memory replaces all others.Four weeks ago, U.S. District Judge David Godbey signed a six-page Memorandum Opinion and Order that dismissed the family's case with a wave of the "sovereign immunity" wand. Which is to say: The judge determined that a government cannot be held liable for the bad actions of its employees. "Even if all of Plaintiffs' allegations about the City's policies and customs were true," Godbey wrote, "this Court has already determined that Plaintiffs suffered no underlying constitutional violation."That is what the city has maintained all along in dozens of court documents filed in the seven years this case has been ongoing. It has always been the city's contention that the mishandled 911 calls and the cops' late arrival to Deanna Cook's house are not why she was buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park at the age of 32. That is why the city has spent upwards of $350,000 on outside counsel to fight the lawsuit. That is why the city refused to settle with Deanna Cook's family.Chris Caso, the interim city attorney, was not available for comment. And because of the pending litigation, other city officials, including the mayor, will not talk. But in 2017, council member Philip Kingston, an attorney, told KDFW-Channel 4. "We don't have a choice to not participate in the case. We don't have a choice to roll over."City Hall cuts plaintiffs checks all the time. Maybe it's $50,000 given to someone hit by a truck driven by a city employee. Or maybe it's $615,000 paid out to a man beaten by police during an arrest. Or maybe it's $235 million doled out to firefighters and police officers fighting for decades' worth of back pay. City attorneys will say in those cases it is better to settle than leave the outcome to a jury. Pittman, the Cook family's attorney, said Monday that he was "shocked" the city has never once reached out to try and settle this case. Gundy calls it a "slap in the face."But here, a judge will not even allow the case to move forward because, as the city has maintained all along, it is immune from prosecution. And the city, tasked with protecting taxpayers' money, is not going to settle a case it knows is likely to get thrown out. Even if it feels like that is the right thing to do."Money is never going to be the thing that changes anything, but it does make life a little easier when the person who is supposed to be here is no longer here," Karletha Gundy said Monday. Deanna Cook's two girls were in their teens when their mother was murdered, and went to live with their aunts. Gundy said the family even had difficulty paying for Deanna's funeral."I think the fact the city did apologize and said they failed her and then did not offer anything, it was like, 'We're not going to let them win,'" Gundy said. The family tries not to talk about the lawsuit. But for almost seven years it has been there, this painful constant. The city will not relent. But at some point, the family might. Because there is only so much they can take of this."I just keep feeling like we haven't received justice, even though Delvecchio is locked up," Gundy said. "It feels like justice hasn't been completely served. They failed her, and somebody needs to answer for it."  Continue reading...

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