Dispute in wrongful death case questions officer’s duty status

Photo courtesy of Rusty Strait
Rusty Strait.

■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter

In last week’s edition we printed Hemet City Attorney Eric Vail’s response to the plaintiff’s allegations in a wrongful death suit involving a Murrieta man and Deputy Chief of Police Rob Webb.
Vail said the city is representing Webb because Webb was clearly acting within the course and scope of his police duties when he helped his neighbor subdue a man, who later died. Webb was not on duty in Murrieta, however, early Christmas morning 2012 when he assisted the neighbor in the scuffle that ended with the death of 21-year-old Anthony Norman.
Whether Webb was acting within the course and scope of his police responsibilities, even though he was off duty has already been a point of discussion in court.
Attorneys for Norman’s heirs have since stated, “The key issue is whether Webb was an off-duty officer (acting within the course of (his) officer’s duties.”
Plaintiff’s thought not and therefore did not sue Webb in his capacity as a police officer and thus “did not sue his employing agency, Hemet P. D.”
No precedents were cited in any of the pleadings where a government agency argued for its officer being considered as acting within the “course and scope” of his job when he got involved in an off-duty incident. To the contrary, government agencies generally argue that their officer was not acting in course and scope of his or her job. They do this in order to avoid liability on the part of the government agency for which the person works.
Cities and the like want to limit their liability. They therefore require their officers to do very specific things when asserting their police powers off-duty and outside their employing jurisdictions.
In this case, court papers filed by the plaintiff argue that Webb did none of the acts consistent with cases where an officer is found to be acting within the course and scope of his job, according to the plaintiff’s attorney, John Messina. “I would be surprised if other attorneys who represent governmental agencies would not be shocked to know what Hemet’s attorneys are doing to expand the City’s exposure to liability,” Messina says.
This case has aroused the interest of the Hemet community and we will continue to follow it to the end of the forthcoming trial, set for late July 2017. Meanwhile, for those who may be interested, there is a motion hearing at Southwest Courthouse, 30755 Auld Road, Murrieta, Courtroom SW-302 at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 12, 2017. Attorneys Nathan Oyster and David Holnagel will represent Deputy Chief of Police Rob Webb.
To contact Rusty Strait, write him at rustystrait@gmail.com.

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