Normally, this story would be posted on my Massachusetts criminal law blog. But I feel that it deserves to be discussed here, for reasons illustrating the legal concepts of negligence and wrongful death. This is an appallingly frightening story, nightmarish in its reality, and stunning in what appears at this time to be shocking negligence on the part of a local police department in Connecticut.
On July 23 2007, at 9:17 AM, a woman walked into a Connecticut bank, and in the process of withdrawing $15,000.00 in cash, explained to a teller as calmly as she could, that her husband and two daughters were being held hostage by two men who had invaded their Cheshire, Conn., home the night before. She told the teller that the armed invaders assured her that if they did not receive this money, that her husband and daughters would be killed. Trying desperately to appear inconspicuous, the woman, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, explained to the teller that she had been driven to the bank by one of the kidnappers, that he was watching her from the car, and also told the teller that the kidnappers had told her (Mrs. Petit,) that if the police were called, the armed invaders would kill her family. The woman then collected the $15,000.00 withdrawn from the account by the teller, and left the bank.
The bank manager was alerted to what had just transpired, and immediately called the Cheshire, CT Police Department. At 9:21 AM, Cheshire Police first learned of the hostage situation. About three miles away, her husband William and daughters Michaela, 11 and Hayley, 17 were being savagely beaten and terrorized by the armed invaders. At 9:26 AM, Mrs. Petit left the bank and got into the car waiting for her. She was closely watched by bank employees, and the bank manager provided a description of the vehicle to Cheshire Police, who were also given Mrs. Petit’s home address. At that same time (9:26 AM,) police cruisers were dispatched to the Petit home, to “set up a perimeter.” At 9:27 AM, a Police Department Captain ordered his officers to not approach the home. For the next thirty minutes, not a single officer approached the Petit home, or did anything to save the Petit family. Within this very time frame, the Petit family was being traumatized, tied up, beaten with a baseball bat, and one of the daughters raped. Worse, during this entire time frame, no other authorities were alerted to this situation by the Cheshire Police Department – not the Connecticut State Police or the State Police SWAT Team, not EMS or medical rescue personnel, not the Fire Department.