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Why A Civil Rights Lawsuit Against The Albany County Sheriff's Department Is Moving Forward

A lawsuit alleging the Albany County Sheriff's Department violated a sexual assault victim's civil rights will move forward, according to a federal judge's ruling Tuesday, May 12.

Judge Alan Johnson only partially denied a motion filed by the Albany County Sheriff's Department to dismiss the civil rights case. That means some, but not all, of the plaintiff's claims will be allowed to proceed.

What stands are concerns that officers deviated from proper police procedure and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by allowing the victim's sexual orientation as a lesbian to impact the sexual assault investigation.

Judge Johnson's order cites a moment in an interview with the victim where Sheriff's Deputy Aaron Gallegos minimizes the alleged sexual assault to an uncomfortable interaction.

"You've never done this before," Gallegos said to the victim. "And this is maybe one of your first times with a man, and it was weird for you."

In his ruling, Johnson said discriminatory treatment is plausible because "it is inconceivable Defendants would tell a straight woman that it must be weird being with a man."

Judge Johnson also said that a failure to train officers to respond to sexual assault could lead to constitutional violations. He said adequate training is especially important for a county with a major university.

Last month, Judge Johnson dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit against the individual officers involved with the investigation because of a U.S. legal doctrine called qualified immunity that shields government officials.

The lawsuit that will move forward focuses on the Albany County Sheriff's Department, and the procedures and training that influence officers' actions.


Tennessee -- despite what the name might make you think -- was born and raised in the Northeast. She most recently called Vermont home. For the last 15 years she's been making radio -- as a youth radio educator, documentary producer, and now reporter. Her work has aired on Reveal, The Heart, LatinoUSA, Across Women's Lives from PRI, and American RadioWorks. One of her ongoing creative projects is co-producing Wage/Working (a jukebox-based oral history project about workers and income inequality). When she's not reporting, Tennessee likes to go on exploratory running adventures with her mutt Murray.
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