Property managers didn’t change locks, tenant is murdered, and now her family has filed a suit.
A 30-year-old New Jersey mother was granted a temporary restraining order against her estranged husband just before he murdered her and their two children, according to a new lawsuit filed by the woman’s family. Unfortunately, even though Ruth Esther Reyes de Severino “begged the managers of Penns Grove Gardens in Salem County, N.J., to change the door locks,” with the restraining order in hand, the apartment complex locks were never changed, and her husband had a key to the unit.
On February 5, 2020, Eugenio Severino, 54, unlocked the door with a knife and stabbed her and their two children, Eurianny, 5, and Eury, 2, according to the the police report. He then hanged himself in a public park.
The suit, filed last month in Salem County Superior Court, names defendants Penns Grove Apartments, Penns Grove Gardens, the Massachusetts-based Housing Management Resources and Roger J. Gendron. It claims “negligence, wrongful death, breach of contract and negligent hiring and supervision” and the family is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the $1,207 security deposit for the apartment since the property managers failed to change the locks.
“She asked at least five times in the following weeks,” according to the family’s attorney, Samuel D. Jackson, who added that “domestic violence is a horrible problem that deserves all of our attention, but this case is about the negligence of the landlord in the apartment complex.”
“This case is horrific,” Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor of nursing at Johns Hopkins University, agreed. She added that the case was “particularly tragic because New Jersey had implemented several services and programs to help curb domestic violence, which some research shows has increased worldwide during the pandemic.”
The lawsuit itself explains that “the marriage of Ms. Reyes de Severino and Mr. Severino began to sour in January 2020 for reasons unclear. Around that time, Mr. Severino threatened to kill his wife on numerous occasions.” This led Reyes de Severino to seriously worry that her husband would carry out the act and to take action to try and avoid the tragic outcome.
Reyes de Severino forced her husband to leave the unit, because according to the lawsuit, “Mr. Severino was not listed as a tenant.”
“I don’t know if he was named on a lease previously,” Mr. Jackson clarified. “But the lease that was in effect at the time that she requested the lock change, and that was in effect at the time of the tragic murders, did not include the husband’s name.”
The lawsuit also claims the property managers “had failed to abide by a Salem County ordinance that was passed in 2019 requiring all apartment complexes to have security cameras and adequate lighting throughout the property.”
Alexis Piquero, a criminologist at the University of Miami, said, “The killings showed how if someone is hellbent on hurting someone, there’s no restraining order that’s going to be able to prevent that. You’re really relying on the deterrent threat of that order to prevent an individual from exercising harm.” This speaks to cracks in the legal system, in general, that make it imperfect and the need for additional resources for victims of domestic violence.