Thursday, August 21, 2008
Don't Call The Police: They'll Sue You
The siege at Shingle Springs: A local SWAT operator gestures to his comrades during the June 5, 2007 stand-off that left two men dead, and three deputies injured.
Karen Mies, a 66-year-old hospice nurse from Shingle Springs, California, has suffered losses no mother and wife should endure.
A year ago this past June, her husband, 72-year-old Arthur, was killed in an entirely unanticipated act of irrational violence. The killer was Karen and Arthur's 35-year-old son Eddie, regarded by friends as a gentle and unassuming man who in recent years had displayed symptoms of depression and other serious mental afflictions. Eddie was killed in an armed stand-off involving the local SWAT team, a helicopter from the California Helicopter Patrol, and several deputies from the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department.
More than one hundred rounds were fired in the June 5, 2007 shoot-out that one neighbor likened to the Gunfight at the OK Corral. In addition to the deaths of Arthur and Eddie, three deputies -- Jon Yaws, Greg Murphy, and Melissa Meekma -- suffered gunshot wounds, as did a police dog named Donder.
Tragic loss: Arthur Mies, a motorcycle enthusiast, seen here on a run with his Motorcycle Club a few months before he was murdered by his emotionally disturbed son Eddie.
The injuries suffered by deputies Yaws and Murphy required multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalization, but they weren't life-threatening.
Immediately after the horrible events of June 5, even as she was absorbing the horrifying deaths of her husband and son, Karen Mies made a point of inquiring after the health of the injured deputies. She commented to a friend that her one tiny consolation was that the wounded deputies would survive.
The brutal truth is that, at least where Yaws and Murphy are concerned, it would have been better for Mrs. Mies if they hadn't pulled through.
Effusively praised for their "heroic" actions during the gunfight, Daws and Murphy have revealed themselves to be craven opportunists of the most contemptible variety by filing a $34 million lawsuit against Mrs. Mies and her husband's estate.
The suit contends that Karen Mies bears partial culpability for the injuries inflicted on the deputies by her son. Eddie Mies is characterized in the document as "a diagnosed schizophrenic" with a "criminal history" who displayed "paranoia and [a] propensity for violence." For these reasons, continues the lawsuit, Karen should have known it was "necessary to avoid allowing Eddie Mies access to firearms," and that she displayed actionable negligence in permitting such access.
In an interview with Sacramento's CBS affiliate, Yaws appeared to accuse the Mies family of conspiring to endanger his life and those of his wounded fellow deputies. When Jake Mies, Eddie's brother, made a frantic 911 call to report that his father had been shot, he told the operator that he didn't know who had committed the crime. Without specifying how he purports to know, Yaws insists that this was a deliberate lie, and that Karen must have been party to the deception.
"We were directly lied to when they" -- note well that Yaws says "they," not "he" -- "said they didn't know who had done it," asserted Yaws. "We thought it was a random person [on the ground] through the neighborhood. We would have handled it entirely differently if we had known it was someone from the residence."
Even if this assessment were correct -- and Yaws supplies us with no reason to think this is the case -- it's difficult to see how the knowledge that this was an aggravated domestic dispute would have changed the tactical situation. The police went in with overwhelming force, and threw up a heavy curtain of lead in a very brief period of time. As the SWAT team raced to the site, the police used the CHP helicopter to flush Eddie from the woods near the home. Shortly thereafter he was dead.
Yes, even with such an overwhelming advantage in numbers and firepower, there is a residual risk to law enforcement in any armed stand-off. Unless Yaws and Murphy believe it would have been better to pull out the police and call in a tactical nuclear strike, it's insurmountably difficult to see what more could have been done to minimize the risks to the officers -- who, one assumes, assume at least some risks.
Another significant tactical advantage enjoyed by the police is illustrated by the injury experienced by Deputy Melissa Meekma: She was hit by a round that found a seam in her bullet-resistant vest. (Interestingly, Meeka -- who appears to be more of a man than either Yaws or Murphy -- is not party to the vindictive lawsuit.)
The lawsuit embroiders a fiction disseminated to the public immediately following the shootout. Sheriff Jeff Neves, who was on vacation when the incident erupted, told the media that Eddie Mies had "tried to bait the officers" into a nearby thicket. (Sheriff Neves, it should be said, was entirely dependent on his deputies for an account of what happened that day.)
The public was later told that Eddie had prepared "an elaborate system of bunkers and tunnels" worthy of the labyrinth created by Colonel Hogan's resistance cell at Stalag 13. Eddie himself, according to the lawsuit, was "found dead in a bunker with a cache of weapons and ammunition, as well as a change of clothes."
One of these two deputies -- Melissa Meekma (l.) and Jon Yaws (r.) dealt manfully with injuries suffered in the line of duty. One hint: It wasn't the one on the right.
To say the least, this is a work of deluded fiction. To say the most, it's deliberate perjury.
Shortly after the suit was filed, Karen Mies took a reporter from the Sacramento Bee on a walking tour of the family's 2.5 acre property, where she and her late husband had raised six children. The "ammunition cache" was an old toolbox containing bullets, birdshot, and various odds and ends. The "change of clothes" was a jacket. At the time of his death, Eddie was armed with a shotgun and a revolver he had purchased legally as an adult.
The warren of "bunkers" and "tunnels" consisted of a handful of small depressions and sunken trails "where the kids used to play," Karen pointed out.
Eddie's psychological problems and "criminal" history are likewise the subject of a self-serving caricature by the plaintiffs. Although it had become obvious to his parents and friends that something was seriously wrong with Eddie, he was never diagnosed with schizophrenia or any other mental disorder, because he refused to seek medical help. His "criminal" record consisted of traffic arrests in Wyoming and Nevada.
Behind this dense fog of distortions, exaggerations, and deliberate misrepresentations lurks a critical unanswered question: Did Eddie actually shoot the deputies, or were they injured as a result of "friendly fire"? The official inquiry by the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office has yet to be finished. Bill Clark, the chief deputy DA, says that his office has been "too busy" to complete the inquiry. Of course, a protracted delay would serve the interests of the plaintiffs.
Lawsuits of the sort filed by Yaws and Murphy are generally foreclosed or dismissed on the basis of the "Fireman's Rule." That principle recognizes that police and emergency workers assume certain risks inherent in their jobs, and thus have -- at best -- very limited standing to sue citizens in the event they suffer injuries in the line of duty.
Phillip Mastagni, the police union ambulance-stalker hired by Yaws and Murphy to sue Mrs. Mies, told the Bee that "We are confident that the firefighter's rule will not bar the claim." Tax-feeders across the country have eagerly anticipated a successful lawsuit of this sort.
Witness the fact that, more than a decade ago, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME, the official tax-feeders' union) enacted a resolution denouncing the rule as a form of "unfair and indefensible treatment of public safety employees and law enforcement officers" and supporting efforts to "reform or abolish the Fireman's Rule wherever it exists."
To his credit, Sheriff Neves considers the lawsuit to be an embarrassment, and he has criticized his deputies for filing it.
"We need citizens to call us when they have a law enforcement need," Neves told the Sacramento CBS affiliate. "The last thing I can afford is to have a public policy that you can't call the Sheriff's office because you may be sued by one of the responders who is there to protect [you]."
In fact, this lawsuit, whether or not it succeeds, underscores the fallacy that law enforcement agencies exist to protect the public. Consider this: Had the police not responded after Eddie killed Arthur, and several other civilian deaths occurred before the gunman shot himself -- the usual course such tragedies take -- the survivors would not have been able to sue the police for negligence.
Owing to a large body of legal rulings, police are not liable to protect any individual whose life, liberty, or property comes under criminal assault. Yes, the marquee claim made on behalf of the police is that they exist to "protect and serve" the public. In both principle and practice their first duty is to serve the state by extracting revenue from the public, and -- where necessary -- to protect the institutions and functionaries of the State from the citizenry in the name of "public order."
Stringing up the crime scene tape: The most common service rendered by our "protectors" in blue to people who come under criminal assault.
Notwithstanding the genuinely heroic service occasionally rendered by exceptional individual officers, providing actual protective services to individuals is not a pressing priority for the police in an institutional sense.
The utterly vicious lawsuit filed by Daws and Murphy against a grieving widow who lost her husband and her son in the same morning is much more than just a spectacular act of gratuitous cruelty. It illustrates one more way the tax-feeding caste exalts itself above the hoi polloi. And it offers a potent reminder of the fact that if someone is in serious trouble, the police are the last people he should call.
(Sincere thanks to my good friend and fellow Fender-fancier, "Captain" Kirk, for alerting me to this story.)
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Dum spiro, pugno!