Negotiators and Liability
by Jack Ryan, J.D.
Negotiators may also become the focal point of attack following the death of a barricaded subject. A person suing the negotiator will make the argument that the negotiator violated generally accepted practices of negotiation and that this violation created the situation which required the use of deadly force. Gammon v. Blakeley and the Euclid Police Department,i provides an example of an attack on negotiators leading up to a use of deadly force. On September 3, 1993, the Euclid Police Department received a call from an identified complainant who indicated that a group of juveniles were threatening to shoot police officers as well as the complainant’s husband. Hour’s later police received a phone call from a parent of two of the juveniles which provided similar information.
Police spotted the juveniles some time later and pursued them on foot. The juveniles fled into a two-story vacant house. Police officers formed a perimeter outside, while the juveniles fired shots from the windows causing damage to police vehicles. The SWAT team was called as well as two crisis negotiators, including Officer Blakeley who led the negotiations. Officer Blakeley was able to contact the juveniles by phone and had intermittent conversation with them throughout the evening. “Over the course of the evening, Jason Gammon demanded money, a helicopter, and cigarettes. Jason Gammon told the police that he would die that night either by the police killing him or by suicide.” Gammon was also threatening to shoot one of the other juveniles who were with him in the house.
At some point in the evening, Officer Blakeley attempted to throw cigarettes to Gammon through a second floor window. When the attempt failed, Gammon became enraged and pointed his gun out the window. This prompted an officer on scene to fire at Gammon, but he missed. Officer Blakeley decided to make another attempt at delivering cigarettes, however, this time it was agreed they would be delivered at a back door on the ground floor. Officer Blakeley did not consult with the officer in charge before attempting to deliver the cigarettes. Officer Blakeley placed the cigarettes by the back door and began to walk away. At that point Gammon began yelling from a second floor window for Blakeley to stop. When Blakeley did not stop, Gammon reached down, picked up a handgun and pointed it out the window toward Blakeley. Two officers observed the gun pointed in Blakeley’s direction and immediately fired in defense of Blakeley. The shots killed, Gammon.
In the resulting lawsuit, an expert witness provided an opinion indicating that the “officer in charge at the scene failed to properly supervise and communicate with his officers as he did not know Officer Blakeley was going to deliver the cigarettes to the youths. The expert stated that Officer Blakeley should not have made an unprotected approach to the house, especially without all of the other officers being aware of what Blakeley was about to do.” The court noted that the plaintiff was relying “on the evidence offered by her expert witness that the conduct of the police officers was contrary to accepted police standards. That conduct led to the death of Jason Gammon.”
In rejecting the claims of the Gammon family, the court noted that Officer Blakeley was in danger of serious bodily harm or death when Gammon was pointing a gun at him. The court further recognized that the two officers who fired their weapons were faced with a “split-second” decision based upon the lethal threat against Officer Blakeley. In conclusion the court asserted that while alternative approaches may have been better advised, hindsight concerning the outcome did not change the split-second threat the officers faced. Thus, the claim was dismissed.
i Gammon v. Blakeley and the Euclid Police Department, 1997 Ohio App. LEXIS 5424 (Ct. App. Ohio 8th Dist. 1997).