It’s 0-dark-thirty one hot summer night. Your wife is home alone as you work the late shift. She’s asleep. Suddenly, she’s startled awake by the sound of something—or someone—trying to break in the back door. Frightened, she grabs her cell phone and pads in bare feet close enough to see the shadow of someone through the curtain covering the door glass. As his assault on the door becomes louder and more frantic, she realizes she has only minutes, perhaps seconds before he breaks through. With shaking hands, she calls 911 . . .
She manages to get through to the 911 dispatcher. He takes her information. The dispatcher becomes distracted, and doesn’t tell the officers what is happening. The responding officer is told only that there is some kind of disturbance in the area. He arrives ten minutes later. Seeing and hearing nothing, leaves after a few minutes, clearing the call.
In the meantime, and long after the officer leaves, your wife is brutally beaten and repeatedly raped. The rapist is never caught. You are determined to do two things: (1) buy a gun for your wife when she recovers, and (2) sue the police.
We’ll return to this tragic scenario shortly. First, let’s consider a recent, similar case from Tech dirt:
Craig Patty runs a tiny trucking company in Texas. He has only two trucks in his ‘fleet.’ One of them was being taken to Houston for repairs by his employee, Lawrence Chapa. Or so he thought.
In reality, Chapa was working with the DEA, which had paid him to load up Patty’s truck with marijuana and haul it back to Houston so the DEA could bust the prospective buyers. That’s when everything went completely, horribly wrong.
[A]s the truck entered northwest Houston under the watch of approximately two dozen law enforcement officers, several heavily armed Los Zetas cartel-connected soldiers in sport utility vehicles converged on Patty’s truck.
In the ensuing firefight, Patty’s truck was wrecked and riddled with bullet holes, and a plainclothes Houston police officer shot and wounded a plainclothes Harris County Sheriff’s Office deputy who was mistaken for a gangster.
The truck’s driver was killed and four attackers were arrested and charged with capital murder.
Does this, so far, sound like the plot of a B movie? You have no idea.
Until Patty received a call notifying him that his employee had been killed, he was completely unaware of the DEA’s operations involving both his truck and his driver. Unbelievably, things got even worse for Patty after this discovery.
Patty’s truck was impounded by the DEA. After it was released to him, it was out of service for several months as it underwent more than $100,000-worth of repairs. The DEA offered him no financial assistance for the truck it helped fill with bullet holes nor did it offer to make up for the revenue Patty lost while his truck was out of commission. His insurance company likewise turned down his claim, citing his truck’s use in a law enforcement operation.
Nor did the DEA offer to do something to repair his newly-acquired reputation as a drug runner and/or DEA informant — something that makes Patty’s life a little bit more dangerous.
As one might imagine and hope, Patty filed suit against the DEA seeking compensation for damages and lost income. If ever there was a case someone like Patty should win, this is it, right?
“A federal judge has dismissed Patty’s lawsuit against the DEA seeking up to $6.4 million in damages.
A Houston-based federal judge ruled that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration does not owe the owner of a small Texas trucking company anything, not even the cost of repairing the bullet holes to a tractor-trailer truck that the agency used without his permission for a wild 2011 drug cartel sting that resulted in the execution-style murder of the truck’s driver, who was secretly working as a government informant.
The government argued that it is neither culpable for the damage nor under any obligation to inform the owner of any property that it wishes to use in its operations, because ‘clandestine.’
No statute, regulation, or policy ‘specifically prescribe[d]’ or prohibited the course of action Patty alleges the DEA agents followed. The DEA derives its authority from the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 801, its implementing regulations, and various executive orders…
In this case, Task Force Officer Villasana submitted a similar declaration. He states that the DEA’s decision ‘to proceed with such an operation is entirely discretionary, and not mandated by any statute, rule, or policy.’ Whether and how to conduct such an undercover investigation and operation is’“necessarily discretionary in nature.’ Villasana did not try to give advance notice to Patty that the Task Force would be using his truck because of operation’s covert nature, the risks of injury and potential for damage if something went wrong, and the uncertainty about whether other individuals (including Patty) could be trusted.”
The judge ruled that the government has no obligation to so much as determine the owner of the vehicle their botched operation destroyed. In effect, the government has no obligation to return borrowed property in the same condition in which they originally found it, nor is it obligated to pay for damages incurred.
Couldn’t the DEA, acting as decent reasonable people should, pay for Patty’s damages anyway? At least they could pay for repairs to his truck? After all, they are employees of the citizens of the United States, and Patty is a citizen.They could but – that would set a precedent. It could be argued that the government must pay for the damage it causes to private property in the course of its duties, even if they enter a property without an owner’s knowledge or permission.
And what about the unfortunate woman at the top of this article? Surely that was an alarmist, paranoid fantasy? That sort of thing doesn’t really happen, does it? Consider this 2013 case from Oregon via the New York Daily News:
The first clue as to how dangerous it is to live in Oregon’s Josephine County?
No one answers the phone at the sheriff’s office.
“Due to budgetary constraints,” says a recorded voice, “we are only able to answer the phone from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.”
In the cash-strapped county that is home to scenic Grants Pass, a special election was held this week asking voters to approve a tax levy so more deputies could be hired.
Last year, a woman was raped in her home after calling 911 and staying on the line for more than 10 minutes. She was told there were no officers available to help her.
And another case:
After having to fire 23 deputies after the 2012-2013 budget was passed was in July, Gilbertson issued a press release suggesting domestic violence victims ‘consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.’
Less than a month later, a woman called 911, saying her ex-boyfriend was trying to break into her house.
The call came in at 4:58 a.m. on a Saturday. The strapped Josephine County sheriff’s deputies are only available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
So the dispatcher transferred the woman, whose identity has not been published because she is a sex crime victim, to the state police.
And from there, things got even worse. The state police said they didn’t have anyone to send, either.
Dispatcher: ‘Uh, I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away?’
Michael Bellah, the former boyfriend, did not go away.
‘I’ve already told him I was calling you,’ the woman tells the dispatcher. ‘He’s broken in before, busted down my door, assaulted me.’
The dispatcher tells the woman to hide somewhere in the house.
‘It’s unfortunate you guys don’t have any law enforcement out there,’ the dispatcher then says.
Bellah, who later pleaded guilty to kidnapping, assault and sexual abuse, busted down the front door, then beat and raped the woman.
Wait a minute! That’s just a little rural county! That sort of thing wouldn’t happen anywhere else, would it? Indeed it would. Throughout America, similar failures to respond to calls for help, whether due to lack of manpower, mistakes, or simple incompetence have all had the same result when victims or their surviving relatives tried to sue the police.
The primary Supreme Court case upon which they are denied satisfaction: Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005).
Despite a custody order, Castle Rock Colorado resident Jessica Gonzales’ three young daughters were kidnapped by her estranged husband. Over many hours, she pled, repeatedly and pitifully, to the Castle Rock Police for help. They did nothing.
Early in the morning, the husband committed suicide by cop, opening fire on the police station. The police were finally compelled to act. They shot and killed him. They found the perp’s pickup nearby. His daughters were dead inside, murdered earlier.
Gonzales sued the Castle Rock police. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme court. The rulings of the lower courts were upheld; citizens cannot successfully sue the police for failure to protect them. The police owe no duty to protect any individual; they exist only to provide services to the public at large and to deter crime by their presence.
Now you know what happened when the midnight shift-working husband tried to sue the police. Without question, the police do their best to help their communities. Generally. But no one should depend on the police for their protection. Practically and legally, we are on our own. We always have been.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.