by William N. Grigg
Police have no enforceable duty
to protect an individual threatened by criminal
violence. A lawsuit recently filed in New Hampshire demonstrates that police are taught to assume that citizens have a moral and legal duty to protect them
Mrs. Mutrie’s only connection to the events of April 12 is the fact that she owned the home where the shootout took place. The lawsuit filed by the officers claims that she “indirectly supported and facilitated” illegal activity that supposedly occurred on the premises. She has not been charged with a crime.
In addition to being an act of simple vindictiveness, the lawsuit against Beverly Mutrie is probably an attempt by the municipality – which wasn’t cut in for a share of the “forfeiture” haul – to confiscate her home. An interrogatory interview of Mrs. Mutrie focused entirely on her insurance coverage. The DEA seized three vehicles found on the property
and $14,320 in cash that was found on the body of Brittany Tibbetts
The raid itself may have been prompted by concerns that the case against Cullen Mutrie was weak. An aspiring firefighter who spent much of his time in the gym, Cullen came to the attention of a state narcotics task force in July 2010 when an officer serving a restraining order found anabolic steroids during a search of the home. In a bench trial, Cullen was found guilty of domestic assault against a live-in girlfriend. He was put on probation and required to undergo an anger management assessment.
In January, an informant working with the state drug task force allegedly bought a small amount of oxycodone from Cullen’s girlfriend. Over the next several weeks, while the police continued their surveillance of the home, Cullen reconsidered his initial guilty plea on the steroid-related charges. His attorney, Stephen Jeffco, filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence as the product of an illicit search. As Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams points out, the case was “set for trial when the shootout began.”
Police arrived at Cullen’s home on April 12 to serve a no-knock warrant. Two of the officers, who were acquainted with Cullen and aware of the home’s surveillance cameras, gestured to be let inside. When Cullen refused to grant entry, Task Force agents forced open the door. Cullen reportedly opened fire, wounding four of the officers and killing Chief Maloney. An eight-hour standoff ensued, during which time the alleged murder-suicide took place.
If Cullen Mutrie, who was 6’3” tall and weighed 275 pounds, was involved in criminal conduct, what was his mother supposed to do about it – spank him? Assuming that she was aware of his activities, she could have called the police, who had already been investigating her son for nearly two years. If she had been an accomplice or an accessory, Mrs. Mutrie would face criminal charges, rather than what amounts to an extortion attempt.
The persecution of Beverly Mutrie is neither the first, nor the worst, case of its kind.
In June 2007 Karen Mies, a 66-year-old hospice nurse from Shingle Springs, California
, suffered two losses no wife and mother should ever endure. Her husband, 72-year-old Arthur, was killed in an entirely unanticipated act of irrational violence on the part of their 35-year-old son, Eddie.
After the police were notified, Eddie was killed in an armed stand-off
involving the local SWAT team, a helicopter provided by the state police, 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. In addition to the deaths of Arthur and Eddie, three deputies — Jon Yaws, Greg Murphy, and Melissa Meekma — suffered gunshot wounds. The injuries suffered by deputies Yaws and Murphy required multiple surgeries and lengthy hospitalization, but weren’t life-threatening.
In the months prior to that horrible day, Eddie’s behavior had become erratic, leading his friends and family to wonder if he suffered from a psychological condition. Karen and Arthur had tried, unsuccessfully, to find suitable help for their troubled son – but they certainly didn’t anticipate that his problems would culminate in murder.
The deputies claimed that Karen – who was not charged as an accomplice – shared the culpability for the injuries allegedly inflicted on the deputies by her son. Eddie Mies was characterized in the document as “a diagnosed schizophrenic” with a “criminal history” who displayed “paranoia and [a] propensity for violence.” For these reasons, insisted the deputies, Karen should have known it was “necessary to avoid allowing Eddie Mies access to firearms,” and they claimed that she displayed actionable negligence by permitting such access.
In a television interview, Yaws appeared to accuse the Mies family of conspiring to endanger his life and those of his fellow officers. 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. Yaws characterized this as a deliberate lie, and accused Karen of being a party to the deception.
“We were directly lied to when they 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 had been true, it’s difficult to see how the knowledge that the shooting was an aggravated domestic dispute would have changed the tactical situation. The police deployed overwhelming force, then used a CHP helicopter to flush Eddie into the open where he was quickly killed by the SWAT team.
Immediately after the incident the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office peddled a self-dramatizing version of the episode in which Eddie Mies supposedly “tried to bait the officers” into a thicket near the house. The department also claimed that he had devised “an elaborate system of bunkers and tunnels” akin to the labyrinthColonel Hogan’s resistance cellcreated beneath Stalag 13
. The lawsuit asserted that Eddie was “found dead in a bunker with a cache of weapons and ammunition, as well as a change of clothes.”
After the suit was filed, Karen Mies took a reporter from theSacramento 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 useless junk. 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.
In similar fashion, Eddie’s psychological problems and “criminal” history were generously embroidered by the deputies. Although his behavior had become alarming to his friends and family, Eddie was never diagnosed with schizophrenia or any other mental disorder. His “criminal history” consisted of traffic arrests in Wyoming and Nevada.
Although it is clear that Eddie had killed his father, it was never firmly established that he actually shot the deputies, who may well have been injured as a result of “friendly fire.” When asked about this possibility, Bill Clark, who at the time was chief deputy DA for El Dorado County, blithely replied that his office had been “too busy” to complete its official inquiry.
Lawsuits of the sort filed against Beverly Mutrie and Karen Mies are generally foreclosed or dismissed on the basis of the “Fireman’s Rule,” which recognizes that police and emergency workers assume certain risks inherent in their jobs.
In 1996, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees
(AFSCME, the official tax-feeders’ union) enacted a resolution
denouncing the “Fireman’s 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.” The AFSCME, through its affiliate, the National Law Enforcement Officers Rights Center, has quietly lobbied for modifications to the “Fireman’s Rule” while looking for a promising lawsuit that could abolish it outright.
The lawsuit against Karen Mies was quickly snuffed out by a gale-force outburst of public revulsion, at least some of it inspired by the fact that the female deputy who had been wounded didn’t join in the suit.
The shootout that prompted the lawsuit against Beverly Mutrie is much better suited to the needs of the cynical tax-feeders’ lobby. It involves the death of Chief Michael Maloney, who – in a cinematic touch — was eight days from retirement
(at age 48, following a 26-year law enforcement career that was otherwise devoid of danger).
If Beverly Mutrie had been visiting her son on April 12, and been shot by one of the officers during the raid, her assailant would be shielded from a lawsuit by the spurious principle of “qualified immunity.” The lawsuit filed against her is intended to advance the perverse principle that citizens have a legal responsibility to act as the equivalent of human shields for police officers – a development that is both revolting and entirely predictable.