A sheriff’s sergeant who suffered head injuries on the job three years ago can continue his lawsuit against Spokane County and the sheriff’s department, a state appeals court ruled this week.
The decision lets David Fray seek damages for negligence from his employer - something police officers in Washington have not been allowed to do since 1977.
Fray filed suit in 1995, claiming bad decisions by a supervisor and a dispatcher contributed to injuries he sustained when he answered a call for help from four loggers held at gunpoint by an angry landowner.
His current boss, Sheriff John Goldman, said he would not comment on the merits of Fray’s lawsuit. But Goldman said Fray, like all police officers statewide, need to find ways to get the same disability benefits other public and private employees have.
“This case points out serious issues we’re facing in law enforcement - the question of adequate staffing and the rise in violent crime we’re dealing with,” Goldman said Friday.
Fray’s lawsuit already has resulted in changes in how many patrol units the sheriff’s department schedules throughout the day, Goldman said.
When the call for help came in October 1993, Fray was assigned to respond to a wooded area 30 miles north of the city. On the way, he learned a man was threatening loggers with a gun because he believed they were stealing timber.
Fray was told a second deputy was being dispatched and would arrive 7 to 10 minutes after him. But then the shift supervisor, Sgt. Jim Finke, changed his mind and recalled the officer, who was just ending his shift, to save on overtime, court records show.
Instead, Finke decided to send another deputy, who was just coming on duty. The dispatcher was told to warn Fray that no help would be available for another 30 minutes.
Court records show the dispatcher never relayed the information. Fray answered the call on his own and was struck in the head with the butt of a rifle when he tried grabbing the gun from its owner.
Fray’s suit asks the court to award damages to be determined at trial.
The Court of Appeals decision simply lets Fray renew the suit that a Superior Court judge dismissed in late 1995.
That dismissal was based on state laws that said officers, since 1977, could receive disability benefits but had no right to sue for civil damages arising from workplace negligence.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.