Detroit Free Press
February 3, 2014
A federal bankruptcy judge has given a grieving mother the green light to proceed with her lawsuit against the City of Detroit over her daughter’s death, making her the first such plaintiff to successfully challenge a stay order that has frozen more than 500 lawsuits because of the bankruptcy.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes lifted the stay order — with conditions — on Tuesday for Deborah Ryan of Canton, who is suing the Detroit Police Department over the 2009 shooting death of her daughter, a police officer. Ryan’s lawsuit alleges the police department failed to protect her daughter from an unstable husband. Her daughter, Patricia (Katie) Williams, was a Detroit police officer who was shot and killed in September 2009 in a murder-suicide by her husband, who also was a police officer in the Detroit homicide unit.
Rhodes agreed to let Ryan’s lawsuit proceed after both sides in the case hashed out an agreement to let the case move forward. In his order, Rhodes wrote that relief from the stay “is granted solely to the extent necessary to allow the lawsuit to proceed to a final non-appealable judgment.”
Under Rhodes’ order, if Ryan wins any potential judgment from the city, that judgment is subject to treatment under any Chapter 9 plan of adjustment.
Ryan said she was grateful to Rhodes for letting her case proceed and relieved that it may finally get to a jury.
“It’s been four years and my family — especially my grandson — we need to have closure,” Ryan said.
Added her lawyer, Bill Goodman: “It’s helpful that the judge has lifted the stay so that Mrs. Ryan can appropriately and adequately enforce her constitutional rights in federal court.”
Ryan’s suit alleges the department went out of its way to protect the husband when it could have taken steps to prevent the shooting. According to the lawsuit, the department canceled an alert that was issued to law enforcement about the husband’s mental status and concerns that he was a threat to her daughter.
Detroit police found the husband to be competent and canceled the alert, so he was never picked up by the authorities, the lawsuit states. About 30 hours after the alert was called off, the husband shot and killed his wife and himself in a parking lot.
In court documents, the city has denied any wrongdoing.