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Jen Rynda, Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office https://www.flickr.com/photos/ftmeade/6967547132/  License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Jen Rynda, Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office https://www.flickr.com/photos/ftmeade/6967547132/ License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Lisa Benedetti

Today, the Washington State Supreme Court reaffirmed that police can be held liable for the negligent performance of their duties – in this case, the faulty execution of a warrant.

In Mancini v. City of Tacoma, eight Tacoma police officers executed a search warrant expecting to find a young male drug dealer living in an unkempt apartment. Instead, they battered down the door of Kathleen Mancini, an older female nurse asleep in her well-kept home. The police handcuffed her and took her outside wearing only a nightgown as they executed the search warrant anyway.

After trial, a jury ruled for Ms. Mancini on her claim of negligence. The City appealed, arguing that her negligence claim was in fact a claim for “negligent investigation” – a tort that is not recognized under Washington law.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court noted that “At common law, every individual owes a duty of reasonable care to refrain from causing foreseeable harm in interactions with others.” This duty applies equally to law enforcement. Although at trial Ms. Mancini “emphasized the inadequacy of the police investigation,” this did not alter the gravamen of her claims against the City – that in capturing and restraining her, the police were negligent in the performance of their duties. The Court specifically held that “police executing a search warrant owe the same duty of reasonable care that they owe when discharging other duties.”

The Court further declined to establish a professional malpractice standard of care for police officers. This is significant because in professional malpractice cases (such as medical malpractice), a plaintiff must introduce expert testimony to establish the standard of care by which the professional’s conduct must be measured. Without such expert testimony, a plaintiff’s case will be thrown out of court. Here, however, the Court acknowledged that while expert testimony is admissible, it is not required. As the Court said, “Juries are capable of determining whether police conduct was reasonable.”

This is a great victory for the law and for people who seek to hold the police accountable for injuries caused by the misconduct of its officers.

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