In Washburn v. City of Federal Way, Justices say police didn’t do enough to protect a woman murdered at the hands of her longtime boyfriend.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewsk, Family Lawyers
Baerbel Roznowski was killed by her domestic partner, Paul Kim. The killing took place immediately following the service of an anti-harassment order on Kim by a Federal Way police officer. The anti-harassment order prohibited Kim from surveilling Roznowski, contacting her, or entering or being within 500 feet of her residence. The LEIS informed the officers that Kim was Roznowski’s domestic partner, that Kim did not know Roznowski had obtained an anti-harassment order, that Kim did not know the order would force him out of Roznowski’s home, and that Kim would likely react violently to service of the order. In the field marked “Hazard Information,” Roznowski noted that Kim had a history of assault. The LEIS also asked that a Korean interpreter help serve the anti-harassment order based on Kim’s limited proficiency in English.
The police officer who served the order either did not read the order or the LEIS or, at best, gave the documents a cursory glance. Either way, he did not bring an interpreter. When Kim answered the door, the officer saw Roznowski in the background inside the house. He did not interact with her or inquire as to her safety. He confirmed Kim’s identity, handed him the order, informed him he needed to appear in court, and left.
Experts testified that had the officer escorted Kim from the home, the murder likely would not have taken place.
A jury verdict against the City of Federal Way was affirmed. The court concluded that the city had a duty to Roznowski to act in a reasonable manner. The officer knew or should have known that the service of the anti-harassment order might trigger Kim to act violently. Given this knowledge and Kim’s proximity to Roznowski when served, the officer’s duty reasonably required him to take steps to guard Roznowski against Kim’s criminal acts.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.