Settlement documents recount harrowing Vicosa murders and law enforcement errors

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Marisa Vicosa went through hell for a week in November 2021.

Her estranged husband held her captive, drugged her, raped her and threatened her. Vicosa was eventually able to break free and seek help, but her husband, former Baltimore County police officer Robert Vicosa, abducted their two daughters and led police on a multi-day pursuit.

A petition Vicosa's attorney filed recounts the harrowing experience, as well as alleged missteps police made responding to the abduction.

Robert Vicosa ultimately shot and killed his daughters — 7-year-old Giana and 6-year-old Aaminah — before killing his accomplice, fellow Baltimore County cop Tia Bynum, and then himself as police closed in.

Marisa Vicosa alone survived the ordeal.

Aaminah and Giana Vicosa

Now, nearly a year and a half later, including about 10 months of attorney negotiations, Marisa Vicosa and the York Area Regional Police Department have agreed to a $3 million settlement, with the bulk of the money destined for her late daughters’ estates.

“Vicosa … respectfully asks the court for leave to compromise and settle federal and state claims arising from the mishandling of this matter by the York Area Regional Police Department,” the petition states.

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A petition filed Tuesday through the York County Court of Common Pleas seeks a judge’s order to approve the settlement after an agreement was reached March 7. The document outlines the settlement distribution as the estate of each girl receiving $1.2 million on state-created danger claims. Vicosa would receive $600,000 on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the filings, $1 million would be subtracted from the claims for legal fees.

Judge Clyde Vedder signed an order late Thursday afternoon granting the settlement.

Vicosa’s attorney, Harold Goodman, declined to comment on the petition until after a judge issues a decision. York County Regional Police Chief Tim Damon also did not return a message from The York Dispatch seeking comment.

The settlement talks provided an alternative to a lengthy court case.

Marisa (Alaya) Vicosa is shown during the graveside ceremony for her daughters Giana Vicosa, 7, and Aaminah Vicosa, 6, at Susquehanna Memorial Gardens in York Township, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Goodman noted in the petition that litigation likely would’ve lasted years, including the challenge of pursuing a state-created danger case on the federal level. Vicosa is also spared from reliving “again and again” in court the events that led to her daughters’ deaths.

Marisa Vicosa "agrees that the settlement is in the best interest of the estates," the petition states.

Robert Vicosa invited Marisa Vicosa to celebrate her birthday at what was then their home in the 1500 block of Pleader Lane in Windsor Township the evening of Nov. 12, 2021. The couple was estranged then, and Marisa lived elsewhere, according to the petition.

The celebration itself was described as “pleasant and typical.” Their daughters went to bed at the house afterward, and Robert Vicosa wanted to give his estranged wife her gift before she left.

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Bynum, Robert’s police colleague, then walked in and pointed a gun at Marisa Vicosa’s head, the petition shows.

She was allegedly forced into the basement, bound to a table, and tortured and threatened throughout the weekend.

Marisa, according to the petition, convinced Robert to let her go back to her place that Sunday and pick up clothes and materials so she could go to work the next day. Robert allegedly threatened to kill her and the girls if she fled or went to police.

After Marisa left Robert, she did eventually go to police after seeking help from staff at a Target store in Springettsbury Township — a public place Robert likely wouldn’t follow her into, according to the petition.

 She ultimately reported the situation to York Area Regional Police.

The shift officer in charge then, Cpl. Daniel Miller, wanted to respond immediately, given the volatility of the situation, but he had to go through the chain of command, the petition shows.

He contacted Lt. Kenneth Schollenberger, who then informed Damon. Both then deemed themselves unable to report to duty that day. Damon lived near Vicosa’s Pleader Lane home, the petition shows.

York Area Regional Police Chief Tim Damon, joined by Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz (left) and York County District Attorney Dave Sunday (right) speaks at a press conference about the county's new co-responder program on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.

Damon allegedly refused to order officers to take immediate action, including surveillance of the home or Bynum’s property nearby.

Police instead put together a new plan.

Marisa Vicosa sought and received an emergency protection from abuse order from a judge that Sunday night. Investigators also secured a search warrant to go into the home.

Damon approved the plan, with the support of an assistant district attorney, the petition shows.

But early Monday morning, around 3:45 a.m., Marisa Vicosa learned the plans to serve the protection order and warrant that night were nixed.

“Damon affirmatively decided to override and not enforce Judge (Ronald) Haskell’s orders. In making that decision, Damon never talked with or sought any input from Marisa,” Goodman stated in the petition.

Instead, Damon reportedly favored waiting until the morning, when the girls would be off to school and out of the house.

But the girls were home-schooled.

The petition alleges that Marisa Vicosa told police about the home schooling when she learned of the decision. No action was taken.

That afternoon, she filed a private criminal complaint against Damon. Police, meanwhile, tried to serve the protection order and warrant at the house, but it was empty.

Bynum’s house was also searched, and she allegedly denied knowing where Robert Vicosa and the girls were. She wasn’t arrested, and police didn’t put her under surveillance, according to the petition.

Robert Vicosa, Tia Bynum

Robert Vicosa then attempted a violent escape from York with his daughters.

The petition shows he crashed a car into a creek in Windsor Township. He then apparently broke into a nearby parked trailer, robbed the owner of her car, and later ditched the car in Red Lion.

He apparently met up with Bynum at some points — the details of their meeting are still unclear — and they reportedly carjacked a man in Maryland and drove around Baltimore.

By that Thursday, Pennsylvania State Police spotted Robert Vicosa in a stolen car in Waynesboro. As he crossed into Maryland, police pursued him until he crashed into a culvert.

He then shot Bynum, his children and himself, the petition shows.

York County District Attorney Dave Sunday speaks t at the York County Administrative Center Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, during a press conference regarding the apparent Vicosa-family murder/suicide. Bill Kalina photo

Marisa Vicosa’s private complaint against Damon remained active after the tragedy as the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office investigated the allegations.

She withdrew it in March 2022, about a month after meeting with a deputy attorney general and investigators, according to the petition.

She chose instead to pursue civil claims, which led to the start of attorney negotiations on the settlement in April 2022.

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The attorney general’s office, meanwhile, sent a letter to the district attorney’s office following its investigation. It detailed “major concerns with certain lapses and decisions” involved in the case, the petition states.

The letter has not been made public in spite of a Right-to-Know Law challenge.

Notably, the letter’s content was also allegedly withheld from Marisa Vicosa under the state’s Criminal History Record Act, the petition cites.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.