AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability
of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel


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Negligent or Inadequate Investigation/Failure to Investigate

     A young female participant in a police department Explorer program reported that a police sergeant sexually abused her while she was in the program. He is currently serving a twenty-year prison sentence for indecency with a child and sexual assault of a child. The girl subsequently sued state officers involved in the investigation of her complaint and the eventual arrest of the sergeant, saying that they failed to intervene in a timely manner to stop the sergeant's abuse of her. A federal appeals court found that the plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged a basis for showing that the defendants had violated her rights in any way, either under a deliberate indifference or bystander liability theories. Whitley v. Hanna, #12-10312, 2013 U.S. App. Lexis 16485 (5th Cir.).
     The Supreme Court of Mississippi found that a city was not liable for the death of a runaway female juvenile based on a beating by her boyfriend. City police had taken her into custody on a number of occasions, and the police department allegedly failed to properly investigate her claims she was having sex with an officer and by failing to apprehend her in a timely manner and return her to the custody or her parents or an appropriate agency. The city was immune from liability under a state tort claims act. The decision as to how to investigate the case or whether to investigate it was a discretionary function. A $1 million award in favor of the plaintiffs was reversed. City of Jackson, Mississippi v. Sandifer, Jr., #2011-CA-01063-SCT, 2013 Miss. Lexis 60.
     Two men and two women were convicted of participating in a woman's rape and murder. They were later exonerated when DNA testing revealed that the semen and blood at the scene of the crime was from another man with no connection to any of the four convicted, They sued a number of people involved in the investigation, claiming that reckless investigation had violated their due process rights. They also argued that they were coerced into pleading guilty. Overturning grants of absolute or qualified immunity to various defendants, the appeals court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the claims that a reckless investigation and the defendants' creation of false evidence had violated their rights. No such evidence was found, however, to support the claim that their guilty pleas had been coerced. Winslow v. Smith, #11-2903, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 21358 (8th Cir.).
      A man exonerated of his rape conviction by DNA evidence after serving 23 years in prison claimed that a police officer involved in the investigation was liable because he allegedly failed to disclose an incident which may have suggested that another man, who visited the victim's apartment while the officer was there, committed the crime. But no reasonable jury could find that the officer knew, at the time, the exculpatory value of the visit without simply speculating. At worst, the officer acted negligently in failing to identify the actual rapist as a suspect, and this was insufficient to show a reckless investigation. The plaintiff also failed to show that another defendant officer conducted an improperly suggestive lineup. The victim's identification of the plaintiff as her rapist, although mistaken, had significant indicia of reliability to be admitted as evidence at trial. Briscoe v. County of St. Louis, #113034, 690 F.3d 1004 (8th Cir. 2012).
    A female college student was brought to a hospital emergency room after she passed out at a party. Despite their concern that she might have been involuntarily drugged and then raped, police officers declined to authorize the carrying out of a forensic exam. Subsequently, she sued the District of Columbia, claiming that its police were negligent in failing to investigate her possible sexual assault, and that the District negligently hired, trained and supervised the officers in the area of investigating sexual assaults. Summary judgment was properly granted for the defendant District on these claims. The officers owed a duty to investigate possible crimes to the public, not to any specific individual. Additionally, the officers did not prevent the hospital from administering any forensic test, and had its own independent authority to do so if it wished, but declined to do so. McGaughey v. District of Columbia, #117001, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 14568 (D.C. Cir.)
     A man arrested and convicted of the murder of a homeless Vietnam veteran, whose conviction was overturned, sued police detectives for allegedly conducting an inadequate investigation of the crime. A federal appeals court, holding that there was no clearly established constitutional right to be free of a reckless investigation in 1994, the time of the crime, ruled that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. Hernandez v. Terrones, #09-50659, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 21650 (Unpub.5th Cir.).
     Parents sued a county and a number of its law enforcement personnel, claiming that they were deprived of a property interest entitled to protection under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because an inadequate investigation into their son's fatal traffic accident was conducted. Ruling that the parents had no property interest in an adequate police investigation, the court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit. Harrington v. Cty. of Suffolk, #09-3911, 2010 U.S. App. Lexis 11375 (2nd Cir.).
     Surviving family of man believed by officials to have committed suicide failed to show that there was any violation of constitutional rights or Montana state law from the alleged failure to adequately investigate whether the death was actually a suicide or caused by something else. Further, the officials did not have any duty to protect the decedent's personal property, following his death, from theft by private persons, and the allegation that the officials themselves took the missing property was mere "speculation." Hageman v. Bates, No. CV-06-09, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 21055 (D. Mont.).
     Police officer was not liable under Georgia state law for allegedly negligent investigation of fatal accident which resulted in criminal charges initially being made against motorist. The officer was performing a discretionary act entitling him to official immunity when he decided, based on his investigation, that the motorist had been under the influence and driving recklessly, and when he signed an arrest warrant application. Absent any evidence that the officer acted with actual malice towards the motorist, there could be no valid claim. Tant v. Purdue, No. A06A0821, 629 S.E.2d 551 (Ga. App. 2006). [N/R]
     Man exonerated, by DNA evidence, of attempted rape after serving five years of a 70 year sentence failed to show that his constitutional rights were violated, or his wrongful conviction and imprisonment caused, by improperly conducted photo arrays or lineup, destruction of evidence, racial discrimination, or claimed city policies of inadequate training and supervising of officers. Alexander v. City of S. Bend, No. 042535, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 2 (7th Cir.). [2006 LR Feb]
     Family members of murder victim could not recover damages for emotional distress allegedly suffered due to police investigators failure to pursue or to inform the department of inculpatory evidence found during the investigation. Even if these claims were true, they were insufficient to "shock the conscience" and violate the family member's due process rights. Cusick v. City of New Haven, No. 03-7890, 145 Fed. Appx. 701 (2nd Cir. 2005). [N/R]
     Parents of son who died from a gunshot wound to his head failed to show that city and county law enforcement failed to conduct a proper investigation which resulted in their inability to obtain damages against persons they believed killed their son. No deliberate indifference was shown to their right to access the courts, and every independent investigation reached the same conclusion, that the son had shot himself. Scheeler v. City of St. Cloud, No. 04-2800, 2005 U.S. App. Lexis 5145(8th Cir. 2005). [2005 LR May]
     Police detective did not have any duty under federal law to investigate claims that arresting officer engaged in criminal activity in using allegedly excessive force against arrestee, and was therefore entitled to summary judgment on federal civil rights claim against him asserted by arrestee. Hale v. Vance, 267 F. Supp. 2d 725 (S.D. Ohio 2003). [N/R]
     344:122 Officers investigating child sexual abuse allegations had a duty, under Washington state law, to avoid negligence in doing so; appeals court reinstates lawsuit by parents arrested but later acquitted of involvement in child sex ring; improper interrogation techniques during interviews with children alleged. Rodriguez v. City of Wenatchee, # 43812-3-I, 994 P.2d 874 (Wash. App. 2000).
     323:172 Ex-officer not liable for failure to stop and investigate disabled truck from which female motorist was abducted and murdered or for later allegedly lying about when he first encountered the vehicle; link between his alleged misconduct and any loss that motorist's parents suffered was "too tenuous." Webb v. Haas, 728 A.2d 1261 (Me. 1999).
     306:91 Plaintiff could not sue officer and deputy for alleged negligent failure to investigate his complaint that woman had deposited his paycheck into her checking account; since plaintiff did not assert that he suffered any loss which would support award of compensatory damages, he could not sue law enforcement defendants under Wyoming law. Bird v. Rozier, 948 P.2d 888 (Wyo. 1997).
     {N/R} Allegation that officers failed to comply in good faith with court order requiring them to run fingerprints found at murder scene through automated fingerprint identification system adequately presented a claim for violation of due process. Newsome v. James, 968 F.Supp. 1318 (N.D.Ill. 1997).
     Failure to find out that juvenile informant had been in detention at the time he claimed he had witnessed murder was not negligent; city was not liable for resulting arrest and indictment of man juvenile named as the killer Landeros v. City of Tucson, 831 P.2d 850 (Ariz App. 1992).
     Police officers are not liable for negligent investigation of crimes Smith v. State, 324 N.W.2d 299 (Iowa 1982).
     Based on 15-year-old victim's identification, officer had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff for attempted sexual assault Lee v. Geiger, 419 So.2d 717 (Fla App. 1982).
     City of liable for failing to follow state law in submitting dental records of missing son, which delayed identification Shelton v. City of Westminster, 188 Cal.Rptr. 205 (App. 1982).
     An officer's losing of names and addresses of drivers involved in car crash causes judgment of $35,000 to be awarded against city Fischer v. Travelers Ins Co, 429 So.2d 538 (La App. 1983).
     Deputy sheriff not liable for leaving scene of subsequent gas explosion to answer robbery call Wright v. La Power and Light, 433 So.2d 796 (La. App. 1983).
     Correctional officials and state police officers liable for conducting skin test constituting unreasonable search of inmate during murder investigation Clark v. Taylor, 710 F.2d 4 (1st Cir. 1983).
     Crime lab's negligent manner of investigating evidence; could result in liability to crime lab and police Cantwell v. Allegheny Co, 466 A.2d 145 (Pa App. 1983).
     Man who served time for rape he did not commit cannot recover from city Von Williams v. City of Bridge City, Texas, 588 F.Supp. 1187 (E.D. Texas 1984).
     Failure to instruct on foresee ability of employee's criminal behavior reversible error Haddock v. City of New York, 483 N.Y.S.2d 288 (A.D. 1 Dept 1984).
     State liable for officer's failure to get names and addresses for civil suit Clemente v. State, 219 Cal.Rptr. 445 (Cal 1985).
     No duty to investigate accident or write report for injured parties. Jewell v. City of Columbus, 485 N.E.2d 266 (Ohio App. 1984).
     Minor cannot sue through parents unless represented by attorney. Meeker v. Kercher, 782 F.2d 153 (10th Cir. 1986).
     " See also: Defenses: Collateral Estoppel; False Arrest/Imprisonment: From Private Citizens; Warrant; Firearms Related: Intentional Use; Negligence: Vehicle-Related, Public Protection

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