“Families of slain Lakewood officers to sue for $134 million”

by Walter Olson on April 9, 2010

KOMO News:

The [officers'] widows believe that if someone had been listening to [Maurice] Clemmons’ jailhouse phone calls, their husbands could still be alive today. …

While they were recorded, the calls from the Pierce County Jail were never monitored. No one heard them. …

[Pierce County sheriff spokesman Ed] Troyer said it was “preposterous” to think that the county could have listened to every phone call made from the jail.

“It would take over 40 people and $50 million a year to do,” he said. “Plus, we don’t even believe that it’s legal just to randomly listen to people’s phone calls on a full-time basis.”

Washington has gone farther than other states in exposing its state and local governments to exposure in lawsuits alleging failure to prevent crime.

Update: Families drop claims the next day after highly adverse public reaction [Seattle Times]

{ 4 comments }

1 Soronel Haetir 04.09.10 at 11:34 am

I don’t get the claim that it’s legal to record all (excluding privileged calls? not sure there) yet it wouldn’t be legal to have employees listen to those same conversations without cause. I know this can vary state to state, look at Florida where such tapes are evidently subject to state FOIA (as they regularly get released for media fodder). I would think the violation would occur with the wholesale recording, not the random or even total canvass of the calls.

2 Jason Barney 04.10.10 at 10:30 am

This is classic. These claims created a public backlash (the claim demand is/was $182M by the way). Comments on news stories are about 9-1 against the claims, and those who understand the claims, don’t understand the massive amount claimed. Yesterday, radio reports indicated the claimants/widows amended their claims to claim no specific monetary demand (a demand, which, is not admissable at trial per the RCW 4.96.020–regardless the public outcry was deafening) Now, this news article http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011567026_families10m.html suggests the claims have been abandoned because the widows felt ashamed the public outcry suggested they were greedy! The nerve!

When those four officers were shot down the public showered the familes with donations. This was, and is tragic. To turn around and sue was an affront to the public in general, and specifically all those who supported the familes with their donations. Also said (and, often for good reason legally inadmissable) is that the officers’ widows get pensions, life insurance for which the premiums were publically subsidized etc. And, the governor subsequently signed a law giving slain officers’ children free tuition. These widows are well-taken care of, and nothing will compensate them for their spouses’ violent and tragic deaths.

Of course, if the county were negligent and made some grevious error there would be no such outcry. But to make such a frivilous claim for such an obscene amount of money is beyond the pale.

You may want to dig around the Seattle Times to understand the plaintiff attorney’s theory–it’s articulated better, and in more detail in some other articles….but essentially these City officers were slain after the County released Clemmons on bail, after, while in custody he made non-specific death threats about police officers generally on a recorded phone line while talking to family. The County failed to monitor the calls…and you see the theory. (The County recorded calls for after-the-fact evidence of witness indimidation or no-contact order violations. I doubt the County had a legal duty to monitor any specific calls). And, proximate cause is way too far removed–but that’s just me.

This morning’s article, http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011572011_lakewood10.html, says, “Christie [plaintiffs' attorney] said claims are typically filed seeking a dollar amount in damages. However, the $182 million total created a distraction from the purpose of the claims, he said.

‘I feel horrible. My approach to this created this backlash,’ Christie said. ‘You can blame that on me.’ ”

Right, Christie–and those of us who work for the defense of municipalities (read: police) will never, ever hire you again. You can also blame that on you.

3 Dennis N 04.10.10 at 12:47 pm

Jason Barney wins the thread! (With two messages I guess that ain’t hard, eh?)

But it’s not often some blogger leaves a curmudgeon like me with nothing to say, but you summer it up well.

Bravo Zulu, friend.

4 Dennis N 04.10.10 at 12:47 pm

You SUMMED it up well, too.

Learn to speel.

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