Slain deputy's family can't sue county for wrongful death, judge decides

The lawsuit alleged Pierce County deputies are not safe due to negligent understaffing

By Alexis Krell
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — A judge has dismissed a wrongful death lawsuit brought against Pierce County by the family of sheriff's deputy Daniel McCartney, who was fatally shot while responding to a call.

McCartney, 34, was shot Jan. 7, 2018 while responding to a home invasion robbery in the Frederickson area. He's survived by his wife and three young sons.

Deputy Daniel McCartney was shot and killed while responding to a home invasion in 2018.
Deputy Daniel McCartney was shot and killed while responding to a home invasion in 2018. (Officer Down Memorial Page)

The lawsuit filed earlier this year alleged deputies are not safe due to inadequate staffing. It sought damages as well as "an order mandating sufficient staffing or other equitable relief that will prevent a repeat of another wrongful deputy death."

Superior Court Judge Karena Kirkendoll granted the county's motion to dismiss the complaint Monday, according to court records. The family has appealed the decision.

The county's motion said in part: "Because the Complaint alleges facts establishing Deputy McCartney's awareness of the hazard at issue, claims he was present and exposed to that danger due to supposed negligent understaffing by the County, and admits he voluntarily confronted that risk as part of the work for which he was being compensated, the instant action is barred by the professional rescuer doctrine as a matter of law."

Quoting from another case, the motion said that doctrine means: "Professional rescuers assume certain risks inherent in their jobs and may not collect damages from those whose negligence brings about such risks."

Discretionary governmental immunity also bars the lawsuit, the county argued.

A response filed on behalf of the family argued the county misapplied the professional rescuer doctrine "that should be abolished as an absolute immunity anyway and analyzed under assumption of the risk that leaves factual issues in this matter for trial. The County alternatively claimed the similarly baseless defense of discretionary immunity even though permitting its deputies to work unsafely was not a liability free choice for Pierce County."

McCartney served in the U.S. Navy and then for six years as a police officer in Hoquiam. He applied to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department in 2014 and was hired.

"Understaffing is not an inherent risk of working as a law enforcement officer," the lawsuit said. " Pierce County was duty bound to provide sufficient staff or alternatively to decline a law enforcement response and to inform the public of the inability to keep its residents safe by timely responding to calls with sufficient staffing."

The shooter who killed Deputy McCartney was sentenced to life without parole. Two others also were sentenced in connection to his death, and one suspect fatally shot himself at the scene.

(c)2021 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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