The Precedent Setting Case

Topic Progress:

June 1850 in Washington County, Maryland—Jonathan Pottle, a Boston banker, had arrived in Washington County to recover a debt from a defaulted mill owner, whom judgement was made against.

Along with a sheriff’s deputy, Pottle went to the mill to foreclose on it when he was taken hostage by the mill workers after he refused to pay them the wages that the mill owner had not.

Although help was requested from the deputy and the sheriff, he was denied any assistance from the authorities. After being held prisoner for 4 days, Pottle agreed to pay them $2,500 and was released. Claiming negligence on the part of the shieriff’s department, Pottle took the matter to the Supreme Court where the final ruling made precedence in many more recent cases of alleged police negligence.

The ruling stated that:

“Law enforcement has the responsibility to protect the public peace, but not the liability to protect individuals from criminal actions directed against them.”

Warren v. District of Columbia (1981)

Claims of negligence due to:

  • the dispatcher’s failure to forward a call with proper urgency
  • the responding officers’ failure to check the rear entrance and properly investigate the house to ascertain if there was any activity inside, which is standard police procedure
  • the dispatcher’s failure to dispatch the second call for police assistance.

Warren and 2 other women were victims of a home invasion, rape, assault, and kidnapping that lasted fourteen hours. A 4-3 decision in the court stated that police personnel or the government employing them are not accountable for their failure to provide appropriate police protection unless a special relationship exists.

Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005)

Suit filed against Castle Rock, Colorado, its police department and three individual police officers for failing to enforce a restraining order and failing to respond properly to complaints of a restraining order violation.

Jessica Gonzales obtained a restraining order against her husband during divorce proceedings, requiring him to remain at least 100 yards from her and their three daughters except during a specified visitation. Her husband took their three daughters illegally and Gonzales repeatedly tried to get police to take action to get her children back.

Her husband eventually appeared at the Castle Rock police station where he instigated a shootout that took his life. The dead bodies of his 3 children were later found in his car. The opinion of the court surmised that the enforcement of the restraining order is not mandatory under Colorado law.

Laws are not concrete and are often left up to interpretation. Even if police are ready, willing, and able to ‘serve and protect’ the peace and individuals—special relationship or not—many criminal activities happen quicker than an officer can respond in ideal circumstances.

A complete ban on guns does not take many away from the people who are not obeying the law in the first place. The criminal types have little regard for the law. There also tends to be some grey area when it comes to the protection from the police, who can’t be everywhere at once anyway.