Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 7, 2012

Balancing act

Filed under: Alameda, City Council — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

The City of Alameda recently filed a demurrer in the lawsuit filed by the relatives of Raymond Zack seeking compensation in a wrongful death.  Essentially the City’s lawyers are asking for the judge to dismiss the entire complaint.

The filing itself is a pretty interesting read.   If you have time you can check it out on the Domain Web site using the case code of RG12632015.   The demurrer essentially says that the plaintiffs have no cause of action and therefore the whole case should be booted.   One of the cases cited in the demurrer is one from the City of Fremont where the City was sued from wrongful death and actually received an award from a jury.   Later upon appeal, the ruling from the jury was overturned.

In this case the decedent was threatening suicide and brandishing a weapon which he refused to surrender to police.   Apparently he shot himself and police believed he was shooting at them so they shot at him and he later died from gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted one. Anyway, lawsuit ended in successful jury award which later was overturned and here are some of the parts which are relevant to the Raymond Zack situation:

We agree with the Allen court’s conclusion that police officers providing assistance at the scene of a threatened suicide must concern themselves with more than simply the safety of the suicidal person. Protection of the physical safety of the police officers and other third parties is paramount.

In keeping with the analysis employed by the Allen court, we conclude that imposing liability for the negligent handling of a threatened suicide improperly elevates the interests in preserving the life of the person threatening suicide over the interests of public safety and the physical safety of police officers.

Furthermore, exposing police officers to tort liability for inadequate or unreasonable assistance to suicidal individuals could inhibit them from providing intervention at all. fn. 25 The resulting loss of an important resource in dealing with threatened suicides would be devastating to such affected communities.

Our Supreme Court has acted to dispel “widely held misconceptions” that law enforcement’s public safety function imposes a duty on police officers to protect individual constituents as opposed to the general public. (Williams, supra, 34 Cal. 3d at pp. 23-24.) Although police officers regularly respond to [68 Cal. App. 4th 275] third parties’ requests for assistance, they are not professional Good Samaritans subject to a ” ‘novel’ ” claim of malpractice whenever their response falls short of ” ‘what reasonably prudent police employees would have done in similar circumstances.’ ” (Id. at p. 24, fn. 3, quoting with approval Warren, supra, 444 A.2d at p. 8.) ” ‘A person does not, by becoming a police officer, insulate himself from any of the basic duties which everyone owes to other people, but neither does he assume any greater obligation to others individually. The only additional duty undertaken by accepting employment as a police officer is the duty owed to the public at large.’ ” (34 Cal. 3d at pp. 23-24, original italics.)

Admittedly, law enforcement largely acts to preserve the peace by its interactions with individual members of the public. Nevertheless, the role of law enforcement in society is to act in the general public interest. Permitting potential suicide victims and their families to hold police officers personally liable for the negligent handling of a suicide crisis conflicts with the public nature of protection services police officers provide to the community at large.

Moreover, imposing a duty on law enforcement to take reasonable steps to prevent a threatened suicide would have significant budgetary implications and improperly insinuate the civil justice system into the allocation of law enforcement resources. The degree of training devoted to suicide intervention and prevention would be dictated by events in the civil courtroom, and not necessarily by the needs of the community. Compelling the reallocation of finite public resources may serve to benefit individuals in a suicidal crisis, but that benefit may be at the expense of other, more pressing law enforcement needs and programs.

Much more interesting stuff from that opinion, while the facts aren’t exactly on point, the general issues of law that arise will definitely come up in the Raymond Zack lawsuit.


  1. so they were “protecting the beach” when they were watching him drown? Good job! and if their argument is that they were protecting the public by condoning off the beach, how did a young lady “slip” through their tight security cordon to wade (not swim) out to Zach’s body to drag it in? and don’t forget the police/fire never claimed they didn’t have a duty that day, they just said they lacked training. This is still very embarrassing for Alameda.

    Comment by commonsense — August 7, 2012 @ 7:52 am

  2. If I’m on a jury I’m probably going for the family of Mr. Zack. However as a citizen of Alameda I want my city attorney to totally defend the city as that is her job. Just my opinion.

    Comment by John. P (L) — August 7, 2012 @ 8:30 am

  3. What annoys me is that the only family member on the scene was his surrogate mother who clearly suffered great distress having sounded the alarm only to watch them gather and do nothing, but when lawsuit time comes around, his blood relatives pile on. He was an adult who needed care and they didn’t live with him or support him. Why should they be allowed to profit from his death? I’m not saying compensation should not be paid but it may not go to the right person.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — August 7, 2012 @ 8:49 am

  4. The whole ordeal was a shame and a disgrace ,
    Finding out at the time of an emergency they were not paid to enter water on an island is a joke and nothing else but political naneuver like flipping pancake with the mayor :-}
    watching someone drown for almost an hour is beyond any qualifications .
    Fortunatelly a small women stripped down and went retrieve the body.
    But theyclimbed on theit truck to get a better view of the droening for 54 minutes, after 20 mn in the frigid water that Man was totally harmeless ,
    The only thing the firemen are good at is removing any and all election signs opposing their financial gain and security “at the time are in desperate situation “and for that they are very efficient. and yes I do Have photo of them doing so to prove it. In violation of the first amendement and the constitution on which this Great Country is based . W e have a rogue fire dept accountable to no one , it is time to set the record straight , they are public employees, hire to protect and serve. no more no less
    Not serve themseves .
    “Lauren how did they get my name from your blog”
    I also like to know why was the extended pick up truck from the pacific fire station driven by an obese civilan man in white tee shirt with a women and a young boy , was doing driving around town encinal hight street and entered a residence on fountain at 17:30 wine’s fair sunday , “told you before the fire
    chief as not the only one for a free ride , this is a liability only authotized staff are suppose to use those truck for city business.
    Too bad I have allready served in a jury for the year .
    As far as calling them the Alameda Fire Dept , this is a joke
    Something you should look into Lauren , it is an eye opener without OFD , AFD cannot function , so much for mutual response.
    Maybe Mr Russo , who read these post, 0r the public relation hired by the AFD , or poor Captain Weaver who with a compensation package close to $250 000 3 times the average resident income claim he cannot afford to leave in the City, would like to elaborate.

    Comment by mijoka — August 7, 2012 @ 11:18 am

  5. mijoka:

    You asked:

    “Lauren how did they get my name from your blog”

    Given that I don’t know who you are, I don’t know how to answer that question.

    Comment by Lauren Do — August 7, 2012 @ 11:45 am

  6. Some problems with the “relevance” of the arguments in your post to Raymond Zack’s death.You suppose a faulty premise:namely, that Raymond Zack was actually threatening suicide. He wasn’t standing on the ledge of a tall building or the Golden Gate Bridge or even the Fruitvale Bridge. WADING out where his feet still touched the bottom, where many people have stood without any ill effects whatsoever did not put him in an inherently life-threatening situation that we know of. However, somehow, he did drown. We don’t really know why, since the “autopsy” doesn’t seem to have revealed what medications [not the same tests as for dangerous drugs] he was taking or what medical, say cardiovascular, conditions he had. What we DO know is:1) APD had 5150’d him before & taken him to a psychiatric facility. From this prior experience, they had to know he was neither violent nor was likely to be carrying a weapon. They had no reason to believe he was a threat to anyone but himself. 2.) His closest associate, Mrs. Berry, was sufficiently worried about him enough to say anything that would get the police to go out and help him. Suicide is a loaded word but who wouldn’t use hyperbole to get the police & fire to act? Unfortunately, & spectacularly, it didn’t work.

    This reminds me a little of the Marin Man Tasered in his Home by county sheriff deputies, because he wouldn’t go to a psychiatric facility with them after saying a pain in his leg was so bad he “wanted to shoot himself”. In both cases, [error in opposite directions], public safety exhibited a stunning lack of Judgment, compassion,& understanding of the way humans express themselves. [Marin county ended up paying out about a million bucks].

    Comment by vigi — August 7, 2012 @ 12:02 pm

  7. vigi: Didn’t you thank Councilmember Doug deHaan only a few months ago for bringing up the term “suicide” in connection to the Raymond Zack case? First it’s not a suicide, then it is a suicide, now it’s not again?

    Comment by Lauren Do — August 7, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

  8. Sorry. I’m not obsessed with what Doug DeHaan says at any given moment. I’m a doc, he isn’t. I cut him some slack.

    Comment by vigi — August 7, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

  9. Were any of the first responder getting paid overtime? It was a holiday weekend.
    Where was our new fire chief ?

    Comment by rudy — August 7, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

  10. They were all originally at Bay Farm Veterans Park for Memorial Day

    Comment by vigi — August 7, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

  11. There is an alternative , it is called a Citizen Militia , that will overrule the Police dept and certainly those incompetent firemen which cannot achieve anything without the assistance of the Oakland and yes Fremont fire dept . all be required to know how to swim…
    Hey Alan you never replied onmy posting against the tax measure to pad your paycheck , why not? too much truth in it .
    The Zack’s Family law suit might be throwned out of court , it does not make any difference you have lost the respect of the comunity .
    Just like in the City of Bell , and there are some stricking similarities .

    Comment by mijoka — August 9, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  12. 4: “The whole ordeal was a shame and a disgrace.”

    Mijoka, I agree with this first sentence of your assessment of what happened last Memorial Day, but not much else of your post.

    The City of Alameda’s official responses have reversed most, if not all, of the bad decisions made by our previous FT fire chief (the one before Mike D’Orazi) and the Interim City Manager that created the “shame and disgrace” you described. I think you should examine what has been done to restart and improve the AFD’s water rescue program in the past year with more accurcy and in a more objective light. AFD hasmade huge progress since 5/31/2011.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — August 10, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    • Thank you John for correcting me ,
      everyone need it once in a while .
      This being said just ask the Oakland Fire dept how often they dispatch crew in Alameda , plain and simple fact .
      since they could not answer the call under the mutual aid for the fire on shore court , a crew from Fremont came in.

      To the AFD credit they do excel in removing election sign, such as the last one to increase sales taxes by 1/2 % to cover their Benefits by doing so they trampled on the constitution , the freedom of speach and yes very much broke several States laws . The Alameda PD did not lower to that level , yet they were very much were in the same situation , nor did we see public Employees which for the most part do leave in Alameda behave like the AFD

      There is a stricking similarity with the City of Bell , their City Manager increased the taxes by 1/2 increment to end up tax bracket higher than , Yes Beverly Hills ! At this time in Bell they are all facing the judges……{retribution}

      In our case it would have affected the peoples you claim to defend the most , the low income earner !
      So which side are you the Firemen earning an average of 3 x the Alameda Residents claiming they cannot afford to leave in the City ? just curious . at $250 000 a year you can get any house on Bay Farm .

      Comment by mijoka — August 11, 2012 @ 10:34 am

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