Precedent But Not That Precedent

Yesterday, 4 June 2019, word began to spread about the interweb that the state of Florida had filed criminal charges against a former “deputy” who allegedly failed to act in the face of an active killer.  I use the word allegedly because now with criminal charges having been filed, the individual is presumed innocent until otherwise proven in court.

As news of the charges has spread, I have seen numerous comments to the effect of:

“The Supreme Court ruled that the police have no duty to protect…”, followed up by statements that the case will be thrown out due to the aforementioned ruling.

Such statements are (wrongly) based on two cases: Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d. 1, D.C. Ct. of Appeals (1981), and Town of Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 454 U.S. 748 (2005).

In Warren, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department was sued in what started as two separate cases asserting a public duty protect.  The D.C. Court of Appeals (not the Supreme Court) ultimately ruled that the police had a duty to provide service to the public at large but that it had no duty to protect individuals barring any sort of special relationship.

In Castle Rock, a federal civil rights lawsuit brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claimed that failure to enforce a restraining order (we call them protective orders in the great state of Georgia) violated the plaintiff’s rights.  She claimed that the restraining order gave her a “property interest” to the enforcement of the order under the Due Process Clause.  The Supreme Court rejected that argument stating that the restraining order did not attach a property interest and thus “no legitimate claim to entitlement” existed.

Both of the above-cited cases were civil suits.  Nothing in the rulings bars the prosecution of state-level criminal charges.

The actual charging document, including the probable cause statements, can be read here.

In short, the state is alleging perjury based on a sworn statement by the accused that he didn’t hear shots (other than initial shots) after he arrived at the building in which the murders took place.  The state is further alleging that the accused’s failure to act as he was trained resulted in neglect and abuse of minor children.  It should be noted that the affidavit refers to official agency policy (which isn’t law) and a contract between the agency and the school system.

I do not pretend to know how the case will ultimately be resolved.  I write this article simply to point out the erroneous statements regarding existing precedent and to assert that this single criminal case in state court in Florida does not and will not result in any sort of binding precedent throughout the rest of the country.  If he is convicted, it does not even establish binding legal precedent in Florida.  That’s not how precedent works.