By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A Brooklyn federal judge dismissed a case against New York City and the New York City Police Department (NYPD), alleging racial bias in the delayed search for a missing Brooklyn girl.
Elle Carmichael was distraught when her daughter, Romona Moore, went missing on April 24, 2003. The Hunter College student, it was later determined, was abducted in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, and her body was eventually found having been raped, tortured and ultimately murdered. Carmichael contacted the police the morning after her daughter went missing but was told the case was closed due to the fact that Moore, an African-American, was older than 16 at the time of her disappearance. After continued efforts by Carmichael and calls to action by local politicians, the NYPD renewed their search efforts on April 28, 2003. Moore was killed on April 27.
Around the same time, Svetlana Aronov, a Caucasian woman, went missing from the Upper East Side in Manhattan. According to reports, NYPD detectives began searching for Aronov three hours after she was reported missing. Carmichael and her attorneys viewed the difference in treatment of Moore’s disappearance and that of Aronov as an example of how the NYPD unfairly directs enhanced efforts to investigate cases of Caucasian missing persons over missing persons of color.
“Moore was treated differently than other similarly situated missing persons and such selective treatment was based on impermissible considerations such as race,” Carmichael’s attorney, Kenneth Thompson, argued in a 2012 letter to Brooklyn federal Judge Nina Gershon. Thompson, the current district attorney for Brooklyn, withdrew from the case in January 2014 after being elected Brooklyn’s top prosecutor.
The issue, Carmichael’s argument continued, was that the NYPD had an alleged practice of refusing to categorize missing persons of color as Category G, which would require an immediate investigation.
“Per the expert report, the city’s refusal to label Ms. Moore ‘missing’ is consistent with the city’s custom of underrepresentation of Black missing persons,” Thompson’s letter asserted.
Judge Gershon did not dismiss the fact that there may be a level of racial disparity in missing person cases throughout the city, but cautioned that the disparity cannot be blamed on a far-reaching discriminatory practice employed by the NYPD.
"Although a jury could well find that there was differing treatment of the [Moore and Aronov cases, and even assuming that this differential treatment could be taken as racially motivated, it is well established that even so tragic a case as Ms. Moore's cannot itself show a practice so persistent and widespread as to constitute ... the existence of a widespread, persistent practice," Gershon wrote in her ruling last week.
The racial bias by the NYPD, Carmicheal further argued, delayed the search for her daughter — an earlier search, Carmichael asserted, that could have saved her daughter’s life. Moore was held captive for three days and was killed a day before the NYPD resumed its search for the missing college student.
Gershon, though sympathetic to the grieving mother’s concerns, found little evidence to support Carmichael's claim that her daughter could have been found and saved but for the delay in the NYPD search.
"In sum, plaintiff has produced no evidence tending to show that more immediate police efforts would have found Ms. Moore in time to save her life," Gershon concluded.
Troy Hendrix and Kayson Pearson were eventually arrested, charged and convicted for Moore's brutal murder.
"Although this involved a tragic case, we believe the court reached the correct decision, " a spokesperson from the city Law Department told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.