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The families of Tonia Carmichael and Nancy Cobb -- two of convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell's 11 victims -- announced Tuesday that they are appealing a federal court's dismissal of their civil lawsuit filed against the City of Cleveland over potentially shoddy police work in the case.
Central to the lawsuit are allegations that the Cleveland and Warrensville Heights police refused to take the families' missing persons reports seriously.
The lawsuit, first filed in May 2012, was dismissed as frivolous. But the families have now appealed to the Sixth Circuit.
Ohio Missing Persons Report Law
In Ohio, the state attorney general must give all law enforcement agencies a "best practices" protocol for handling missing persons reports. Then each law enforcement agency sets up a written policy that establishes "reasonable procedures" to be followed.
The only criteria is that law enforcement agencies must make a "good faith effort" to follow the procedures. If there's evidence of foul play within a week of the missing persons report being filed, then police have seven days to act and get the information out. If there isn't evidence of foul play, then police have up to 30 days to act.
Here, the victims' families alleged that Sowell's two-year killing spree continued with impunity when no one was looking for the women he had killed. The families accused the police of displaying indifference and a lack of response even after missing persons reports were filed, reports The Plain Dealer.
They claim their missing persons reports were ignored because of the victims' lifestyles (they were drug addicts) and race (black). But it's unclear what evidence they proffered on the gravity of the situation (i.e., evidence of foul play).
The "good faith" standard is incredibly subjective, but police had previously drawn scrutiny for potentially ignoring a woman who claimed she was attacked and raped by Sowell. Five of the 11 victims went missing after that woman reported her attack. In that case, police claimed there was not enough evidence to pursue charges on behalf of the allegedly attacked woman.
That incident could arguably be indicative of a failed response system. Whether or not there was evidence of foul play at the time the reports were filed could make or break the case.
Eight relatives of Sowell's other victims are also involved in pending litigation regarding how the case was handled, according to The Plain Dealer.
As for convicted serial killer Anthony Sowell, he's currently in prison. He filed an appeal of his death penalty sentence last year.