In court papers filed on Thursday, city lawyers claim the family of a college student murdered in 2013 at an East Harlem housing project don’t deserve a settlement from the city because she should have known the “risks” of being there, the New York Post reports.
Olivia Brown’s mother, Crystal, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city last year, claiming a lack of security allowed a woman, Michele “Mohawk” Graham, 36, into the Lincoln Houses before she shot and killed Olivia, 23, after an argument. Graham is a former resident of the housing development, the Post reports, but according to police was homeless at the time of the shooting.
Seeking a dismissal of the suit, lawyers for the New York City Housing Authority argued that the shooting was “spontaneous” and “unavoidable.”
“All the risks, hazards and dangers were open, obvious and apparent to [Brown] and said risks, hazards and dangers were openly and voluntarily assumed by [Brown],” NYCHA’s lawyers wrote, claiming that the agency could not have prevented Brown’s death. “Such damages and injuries are attributable, in whole or in part, to the culpable conduct of the plaintiff’s decedent and/or third parties.”
In an interview with the Post on Friday, Brown’s mother Crystal, 51, expressed her outrage: “I can’t believe they’re saying she’s responsible for her murder,” she said. “Everybody has a right to be safe in their home. Why wasn’t my daughter safe? Because we’re poor and live in public housing?”
Two police towers and a number of cameras have since been installed. “Why didn’t they have the security in place to protect her when there’s been a history of violence here for 25 years?” Brown asked.
Her lawyer, Kyle Watters, also criticized the city’s argument: “If the language in the . . . city’s papers is taken as case specific, I do not agree that anyone should be deemed to have assumed the risk of being shot, merely by walking in the public area of a New York City Housing project.”
Olivia’s death came in the middle of the 2013 mayoral election. Three days earlier, the top Democratic candidates—including eventual Mayor Bill de Blasio—had spent a night at the Lincoln Houses as a campaign stunt.