As Joyce Lafferty walked to her car just outside Best Buy at the Palisades Center on Feb. 26, 2004, Jeffrey Berkley grabbed her, punched her in the face and forced her into her car.
For the next three hours that night, Berkley sexually abused and beat the then-69-year-old New Jersey grandmother inside the car, parked under surveillance cameras and about eight to 10 parking spots from the store’s front door.
Tuesday before a jury sitting in state Supreme Court Justice Robert Berliner’s courtroom at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City, Lafferty and her husband, Floyd, listened to the opening of their lawsuit against the owners of the Palisades Mall in West Nyack.
They are seeking undisclosed financial damages, accusing the owners of not providing sufficient security for shoppers and bearing responsibility for the attack.
The mall’s lawyer countered that evidence will show the owners protect their shoppers, saying Berkley is the guilty party and the civil lawsuit was about money.
Berkley , who was 47 at the time of the attack, will not testify in the lawsuit. He is serving a 30-year sentence in state prison for kidnapping and aggravated sexual abuse. Before abusing Joyce Lafferty, Berkley tried to pull a woman into a car at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Stony Point.
The couple’s lawyer, James Killerlane, focused his opening statement on mall security. He said the mall reduced its security force from 65 officers to 30 after opening in 1998 and had reduced cars patrolling the parking areas to one from three. He said the mall’s own security expert recommended at least two patrol cars, but that one was on patrol the night of the incident.
He told the jury the evidence will show the mall had one person monitoring 134 cameras, while also dealing with the public and positioning other security officers.
Killerlane said his client was “tortured” by Berkley and that a security officer patrolling in a car never came upon them. He said three times the car’s lights flashed and the alarm went off.
The mall’s lawyer, Alan Kaminsky, said Joyce Lafferty became the “victim of a terrible crime” and the culprit remained Berkley.
He told the jury that “justice has been served” and went on to criticize the Lafferty family, saying of their suit, “This is about money.”
Kaminsky listed many of the mall’s security measures, including Clarkstown police officers patrolling and security for other stores. Police patrols are on weekend nights inside the mall.
He argued that the mall’s security was more than adequate and that there were more security officers before the mall opened to help protect equipment and secure the place during construction.
“We didn’t reduce security forces,” Kaminsky said. “We went into another phase when the mall opened.”
The jury and alternates, seven women and two men, will hear from security experts, Clarkstown police officers, mall officials, security chiefs and Joyce Lafferty, among others.
The jury must determine who is responsible for the incident and to what degree. If the jury finds the mall negligent, the second phase of the trial would be about monetary damages.