The harrowing story of three Cleveland women—Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight—held captive by Ariel Castro for a decade seems to reach new levels of horror with each emerging detail. But one of the most disturbing developments of all—that Cleveland police potentially ignored repeated calls from Castro’s neighbors about violence against women at and around his home—was quickly buried and dismissed after police vehemently denied the allegations.
USA Today spoke with neighbors who say they witnessed troubling scenes over the years around Castro’s home and called to alert police several times:
Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago and called police. “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of Castro’s house, which had plastic bags on the windows, in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. “They walked to the side of the house and then left,” he said.
Neighbors also said they would sometimes see Ariel Castro walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground. And Cintron said she once saw a little girl looking out of the house’s attic window.
Israel Lugo said he, his family and neighbors called police three times between 2011 and 2012 after seeing disturbing things at the home of Ariel Castro. Lugo lives two houses down from Castro and grew suspicious after neighbors reported seeing naked women on leashes crawling on all fours behind Castro’s house.
Reuters reported similar allegations by neighbors. However, the authorities immediately denied that they received reports of abuse at the Castro home. Though Cleveland Police Sgt. Sammy Morris admitted on Tuesday that Cleveland police contacted Ariel Castro twice during the women’s captivity, he insisted they were unrelated to reports about domestic abuse. Also, the Mayor claimed that authorities had searched police records and found no indication that they were contacted by anyone about bizarre sightings at Castro’s house. Never mind that these denials were made just 24 hours after the women escaped, hardly enough time for investigators to scour through a decade of police reports, especially given the likely chaos and scattered resources in the aftermath of their rescue.
Even more upsetting is the media’s failure to follow-up on these allegations, as though Cleveland authorities have no incentive to lie about a potential epic screw up. I was most shocked to see feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte chalk this up to neighbors “inadvertently creating false memories“:
My guess is that Castro’s neighbors probably saw some weird stuff, but did what most of us tend to do in these circumstances, which is ignore it and figure it’s somebody else’s problem. Now, I’d wager they’re recalling those memories, but they’re unintentionally distorting them to make them more dramatic. Or they are misremembering because they wish to feel more proactive than they really were.
At least Marcotte blames mistaken lies whereas Plain Dealer columnist Mark Naymik paints all the neighbors as malicious fabricators out to get their 15 minutes of fame.
Naymik makes it seem as though police critics expected cops to raid Castro’s home over unkempt windows.
“If broken windows, sheets and always darkened windows are signs of crime, cops will have to raid homes all over the city. It’s a wild stretch to suggest such a thing.” I agree, but as far as I can tell, no one is claiming to have called police about suspicious windows, unless female captives banging for help on windows and naked women on leashes qualify as such. Naymik eventually addressed the naked women on leashes sighting:
Among the most salacious claims is that police failed to respond to a report that a naked woman on a leash was seen in Castro’s backyard.
Police say they have no records to support that such calls were made, and it’s hard to imagine that any cop would ignore reports of a naked woman on leash.
You see? Police said it never happened so that means it never happened; end of story; nothing more to see here.
I hate to be the first to smash your fairy-tale view of law enforcement, but the reality is that police lie. Mayors lie. District Attorneys lie. And they lie about all kinds of things when the truth makes them or their department look really really bad. To be clear, I’m not generalizing about all police officers, political figures (well maybe just a little here) and attorneys. But a fact is a fact and when it comes to misconduct, both purposeful and accidental, it’s quite common for lies to be told, even under oath.
Both Naymin and Marcotte are assuming the best of police and the worst of nearby residents, who just happen to be low-income and mostly of color. Perhaps I’m making something out of nothing, but it’s difficult to imagine such claims being so quickly dismissed had they come from upper-class white (and therefore “credible”) Americans.
Either way, if these claims prove to be true and police did in fact ignore or under-investigate the concerns of local residents, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit for many reasons, one being that police departments around the country have a history of ignoring violence against women, particularly the Cleveland Police Department.
In a guest post at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Stephanie Liscio, who once lived a mile away from the home where the abducted women were found, wrote about the CPD’s damning record:
When serial killer Anthony Sowell was arrested at his Imperial Avenue home on Cleveland’s east side in 2009, people asked many of the questions they’re now starting to ask about the Castro brothers. How did Sowell pull this off without anyone noticing? The bodies of the 11 women he killed were stashed in his house and buried in the yard; you’d think that may be something that neighbors may notice. Actually, neighbors did notice that something was up – they called authorities numerous times. In fact, people had complained about the smell from the decomposing bodies as early as 2006. Even though the police visited the area numerous times, the odor was wrongly attributed a neighboring sausage factory. Sowell had been arrested for rape and served 15 years in prison; upon his release in 2005 he registered as a sex offender.
In 2008 a woman by the name of Gladys Wade was attacked by Sowell – he punched her, and tried to choke and rape her. She managed to escape and went to police to report the crime. Even though police arrested Sowell, and he was a registered sex offender, they released him due to insufficient evidence. A CBS News investigation showed that police believed Sowell over the woman making the complaint. After Sowell’s release, he murdered six more women. Those were six lives that could have been saved if police would have taken action after Wade reported the attack. With the 11 women that Sowell murdered, he targeted people that were troubled, or down on their luck. He raped numerous others that managed to get away; some attempted to go to the police with their story. When one woman tried to report her rape to police, they seemed to blow her off and told her come into the police station in order to file a formal report. The woman, who had been brutally raped by Sowell over the course of several hours, was physically unable to get to the police station. A year later (not long after Sowell’s arrest), the same woman was arrested by police for an open container violation, and once again she tried to report the rape. The police laughed at her and made a joke about her wanting to have smoked crack with Sowell. The woman wasn’t taken seriously until she testified in court against Sowell, and the judge ordered police to take her statement.
As Liscio explains, police care even less about women who society has marginalized and devalued:
Many of the women that Sowell attacked or killed had problems with drug addiction; in fact, he was able to lure many of them to his home with the promise of drugs. All of his victims were African American, and none came from an affluent social status. Sowell likely targeted women like this because he thought that police wouldn’t ask a lot of questions about a junkie, or they’d assume the women just skipped town. Even when families reported some of these women missing, authorities seemed to imply that they probably just left the area of their own free will. Many of the women that Sowell assaulted that survived felt like the system had failed them; they were less likely to push the issue with police. After the house of horrors was uncovered on Imperial Avenue, citizens optimistically hoped that things would change, that this terrible event would at least keep complaints from being ignored in the future, especially when they concerned violence against women.
Perhaps Marcotte is unaware of this incident but Naymik has no excuse. Despite specifically citing the Sowell case along with other instances of CPD fails in his piece, Naymik still scolded the neighbors and police critics.
How anyone can dismiss allegations of neglect against the same department that just four years earlier failed to intervene as women were being brutally murdered is beyond me.