Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Romona Moore

Trigger Warning

As Sean Gardener reports, in Spring of 2003 a Hunter College honor student named Romona Moore told her mother that she was going to the Burger King down the street and would return shortly. When Romona had not returned by the next morning, her mother Elle Carmichael called 911. The police grudgingly agreed to file a missing persons complaint, but said that Carmichael would have to call the precinct after 7pm (the 24-hour mark of Ramona's disappearance) to prompt an official investigation. That evening when Carmichael called the precinct as she was told, the grieving mother was informed that no complaint should have been filed, the case was being marked "closed," and no further action would be taken.
Instead, it was Romona Moore's life that was closed. While detectives were offering reasons why they couldn't start an investigation, she spent nearly four days chained up in a basement only a few blocks from her home. She was repeatedly raped and tortured by two young psychopaths who eventually beat her to death on the day that the police grudgingly started searching for her. Her family's amateur investigation found her before the police did.

The family made up missing person fliers which they posted all around the neighborhood. They called Romona's friends and canvassed the area she was last seen in. Their efforts revealed that she had stopped at a friend's house on the way to the Burger King, but had probably never made it to the restaurant. They also called the media (who declined to get involved) and their local politicians who put pressure on the police to investigate. Four days after the initial report, the police department agreed to open an investigation. However, the department's official stance on the issue was that Romona had runaway and did not want to be found. The department and Det. Wayne Carey (the officer assigned to the case) took this attitude despite the fact that Romona had no history of irresponsible behavior and had never missed a day at school. Carey's own recounting of the last phone call he had with Carmichael before Romona's body was found reveal the mindset he was operating from.
"She said to me she didn't like the way I was handling the case, and I wasn't doing enough," Carey testified during the murder trial while being grilled by defense attorneys about the police investigation. "I said . . . 'I have done everything you've asked me to do. I've looked everywhere. I've talked to everyone you wanted me to. I can't find her. I can't find your daughter. She doesn't want to be found. I can't find her. I'm not a magician. I cannot pull her out of my hat.' I said, 'If I could, I would.' And after that, we—I have not spoken to her since." [emphasis added]

As it turns out, Romona was being held captive, tortured, and eventually murdered just a few blocks from her home. The two men who kidnapped Romona, Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson, felt so confident about what they were doing that they even showed her off to visitors. Romando Jack, then 19 is the last person other than Hendrix and Pearson who saw Romona alive.
As they sat on a couch passing a joint, Jack later recalled, Hendrix said out loud: "Say hi, bitch." Baffled, Jack asked: "Who y'all talking to?" Hendrix and Pearson pulled up a tarp on the floor, and under it was Romona Moore, lying on her side, dressed only in a hoodie and underwear. Romona's hands were tied behind her back, and she had a chain around her neck. There were bandages on a wrist and ankle, covering up wounds the pair had inflicted while trying to saw off her limbs. Romona was bleeding from a cut near her nose; her face was beaten and puffy. The men had cut the webbing between her fingers. Three cigarette burns formed a triangle under one eye.

Jack testified that Hendrix and Pearson made Romona recount the details of her abduction and subsequent daily torture. Afterwards, Jack attended a baby shower and then drove home to Maryland without mentioning to anyone what he had seen. He testified that he was "scared." Including the horrifying details of Romona's condition is key here in demonstrating the level of violence involved. Romando Jack was not the only person to see Romona in this condition, yet no one offered so much as an anonymous tip until it was too late. If those circumstances aren't enough to make someone come forward, what is? Cara at Feministe weighs in on this issue, stating:
There are many reasons that people do nothing, and sometimes they are justified. It may be believed (often very rightly) that doing the “right thing” will result in more violence or more severe consequences than turning a blind eye. Sometimes one’s own life is on the line. But I don’t see that this was the case here, either for the police officers that refused to even open an investigation, or for the man — probably numerous men — who saw Moore after she had been tortured raped and was probably about half-dead, and did nothing. Not even an anonymous phone call . . . that is, not before it was too late.

I read stories like these, and I find myself wondering where the hell the good people who do something are. And sometimes I wonder how “good” we can really call the people to do nothing. SAFER has an excellent post about bystander training and learning to be the person who does something. Despite our hunches and hopes for ourselves, I don’t think that any of us truly know if we are that person until put in the position. But at the very least, I want to believe that we can learn from the fatal mistakes of others.

Weeks after her disappearance, an anonymous call was made to Elle Carmichael indicating the location of Romona's body. Carmichael called the police but was told that no one was available to respond at that time. When the police finally arrived on the scene, Romona's family had already discovered the body. Protests (which largely fell on deaf ears)were held in front of the 67th precinct to have Det.Casey removed from his position, and "Romona's Law" was proposed by City Councilmen. Earlier this month, after five years of fighting, a Federal Court judge has ruled that there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a racial bias lawsuit against the NYPD on behalf of Romona and her family.

Detective Wayne Carey was eventually removed from his position at the 67th Precinct. He was promoted to the Brooklyn South Homicide task force for helping to solve Romona's murder. Carmichael's case is only in the preliminary stages of gathering evidence, but her and her attorney's are confident they will be able to prove a pattern of discrimination.

"I don't see any other reason but race and class," Carmichael says of the lack of initial response by the NYPD to the case of her missing daughter. "If this was a white kid, they would never had done this. I had to say to the detectives one day: 'You know, I feel the same emotions and pain as a white person.' "

H/T Feministe

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