Police lenient? Skagit County jury: taxpayers should pay

by Ted Frank on May 5, 2009

Washington state jails are overcrowded, so—presumably to avoid lawsuits over overcrowding—Washington State Patrol policy is to arrest nonviolent offenders without jailing them. In the case of Bellingham resident Janine Parker, drunk driving in the early morning hours of January 4, Trooper Chad Bosman arrested her, and drove her home, telling her not to drive until she was sober. Nevertheless, Parker, an hour later, found a taxi to take her nine miles to her car left by the side of the road, and drove drunk head on into Hailey French’s auto, causing the innocent 22-year-old driver many injuries.

French sued Parker, of course, but also the Washington State Patrol and Whatcom County (the latter apparently failed to put an ignition-interlock device in her car as Parker’s probation from an earlier conviction provided). (Miraculously, she doesn’t seem to have sued the taxi company.) A Skagit County jury found the two governmental entities jointly liable for $5.5 million. According to press accounts, the two defense attorneys each tried to get the jury to blame the other deep pocket: apparently, making the suggestion the person responsible for the drunk driving was the person responsible was beyond either hope or comprehension, though a web commenter to the article claims that Parker testified that the accident was entirely her fault. (Peter Jensen, “Whatcom County woman’s suit against county, State Patrol in jury’s hands”, Bellingham Herald, Apr. 24; May 1 post-trial press release of victorious plaintiff’s attorney).

{ 13 comments }

1 Walter Olson 05.05.09 at 9:31 am

It may also be worth mentioning the unique line of jurisprudence in the state of Washington (discussed here) by which governmental entities are exposed to broader failure-to-protect liability than in any other state. This sounds like another instance in which the civil courts are sending a message to law enforcement agencies to err if necessary in the direction of more takings of persons into custody, deprivations of liberty, etc. You’d think criminal defense and civil liberties groups would be more up in arms about the sending of such a message.

2 Colin 05.05.09 at 11:04 am

Actually, I believe that the Washingon State Patrol should be held liable for damages for letting Ms. Parker go. I find it interesting– it is not clear to me from this posting how the specific damages were found. Case in point: when I read the true story behind the McDonald’s hot coffee case, I found that the damages awarded were actually quite reasonable and logical. For more info, I highly recommend reading the book “No Contest” by Ralph Nader. (This book is not just about the McDonald’s hot coffee case, but it is an exceelent read nonetheless).

My point that I would like to make is that I fell that one should not rush to judgment on a situation unless one had all the facts. If the jails were too crowded, would there even be a church that would be willing to supervise people until she was sober? “Confine” her in the police lobby?

I agree that in some instances there are gross injustices in our legal system. I also agree that in some instances we are “overlawyered.” However, I don’t believe we should throw away the baby with the bathwater. I’d rather have our legal system than the one they have in Pakistan’s Swat region.

This is an excellent posting that you brought to our attention. I think I might add this to My.Alltop feeds and revisit this blog as often as I can.

Thanks for your work. You are doing a great job.

Colin

3 Todd Rogers 05.05.09 at 11:36 am

If municipalities start to outsource domestic law enforcement to firms such as Blackwater for instance, you can be sure that ACLU (et al) will find ways to use the courts to siphon off some dividends. This will be preceded by cries of outrage and justice delayed/denied.

4 Bill Poser 05.05.09 at 12:23 pm

Putting aside the legal issues, as a matter of policy I think that the police were in error. DWI should be treated like a crime of violence in that it poses a serious risk of bodily injury or death and in that the offender is likely to continue and/or repeat the offense. Unless the defendant can be released into the custody of someone who really can be expected to keep him or her under control, he should be jailed, at least until he is sober again.

5 Doug 05.05.09 at 12:59 pm

Here in Wisconsin there is a mandatory jail hold for OWI.

6 Matt 05.05.09 at 1:36 pm

I agree with Bill. This lady should have been kept in jail. She had a prior was not in compliance with her prior sentance and was caught driving drunk again.

7 Ted Frank 05.05.09 at 1:50 pm

Colin, if your version of the McDonald’s coffee tale comes from Ralph Nader’s book, then you haven’t read the “true facts” of the story. You might wish to check our many posts on the subject rebutting the Nader/ATLA propaganda.

8 Doug 05.05.09 at 5:50 pm

Gee, I didn’t think we had a legal system like the Swat Valley. We still have the presumption of innocence and don’t cut off hands or arms as punishment. Instead, we bankrupt defendant’s defending suits that are frivolous and destroy companies with plaintiff’s fraud. In second thought, maybe we are there now.

9 Jason Barney 05.05.09 at 6:24 pm

Note the press release says, “Jurors conclude negligence of State Patrol, Whatcom County, played a role in the accident.”

“Played a role. ”

I don’t dispute they may have played a role but because of the joint & several statute in Washington the deep pockets (read: you, the taxpayer) are on the hook for the entire judgment even though the drunk driver is mostly (entirely?) responsible for the accident. If the jury finds at least 1% of liability (i.e.: “played a role”) on the police or county they buy the whole judgment.

Whenever trial lawyers crow about “holding wrongdoers accountable”–run for the hills. They’re after the money.

10 nevins 05.05.09 at 6:37 pm

“Unless the defendant can be released into the custody of someone who really can be expected to keep him or her under control, he should be jailed, at least until he is sober again.”
Whoaaa there Bill.
Released into Custody? Now who the hell would accept the responsibility of such a custodial relationship. Joe citizen with the responsibility of ‘custody’ but no effective way to enforce it. I mean, I just can’t handcuff my spouse, roommate, sibling or whoever has been returned home stinking drunk. If there is a need for custody, then the state is the only entity legally empowered to enforce it. And I certainly don’t want the responsibility of any custodial relationship with the drunk; what if they fall down and hit their head on the toilet or choke on their own vomit. Let’s drop them off at your place.

11 Bill Poser 05.05.09 at 8:58 pm

Nevins,

With regard to “released into the custody”, I was thinking primarily of minors being released into the custody of their parents. Another possibility is release to a medical facility.

12 Bob Lipton 05.05.09 at 9:34 pm

There are several issues involved here. One is the criminalization of actions that may or might lead to bad consequences. This apparently means everything, since I might cut myself while slicing a bagel for breakfast. The other is ‘release into custody’….. and here we have the suggestion, by Mr. Poser, that hopsitals now be used as custodial facilities. Are we going to wind up suing hospitals for false imprisonment on top of everything else?

Bob

13 Bill Poser 05.06.09 at 11:52 am

Bob Lipton,

We’re talking about someone who is drunk, that is, presumptively incapacitated. Hospitalizing such people is hardly an innovation. And no, there wouldn’t be any issue of false imprisonment on the part of the hospital if the detention was ordered by a court. You are aware that defendants who are injured are not infrequently arrested in their hospital beds and chained to them?

Comments on this entry are closed.