The Paralysis Of Liability

Here is another one of those posts, like the Charity one I wrote a couple of weeks back, where the rightness of the position lies in how well it is articulated, either side can be right.

Last week a mentally ill man calmly walked into the ocean and in front of a number of people including both police and fire personal, slowly drowned himself, with no one lifting a finger to stop him:

We can glean a little bit of background from this:

Depressed and despondent, Raymond Zack stepped into the water off Robert Crown Memorial State Beach on Memorial Day and let the cold and tide slowly end his life as police and firefighters watched from the shore.

His stepmother — who rushed to the beach searching for Zack because she feared for his safety — said she cannot understand why no officer or firefighter waded into the water to save the 52-year-old man.

“They were there two hours,” Dolores Berry, 84, said about the emergency personnel. “Two long hours. There were kids playing and police and firefighters standing around. Nobody did a thing.”

In this morning’s paper they had a time line of the events. From the time of the first call, by the step mom who was on the beach, until when the police arrived was 5 minutes, at that point Raymond was out up to his waist in the surf. The fire crew arrived 5 minutes after that. Essentially, the emergency people at the scene got all the particulars from the step mom, that this was a suicide attempt from a mentally unstable man.

Before we go farther, my position on suicide is basically that people should be allowed to do whatever they want with themselves. I would install a diving board on the Golden Gate Bridge to facilitate the process. Compassion dictates that we have programs in place and trained folks available for those that need help, mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness, but I don’t buy the notion that all suicide victims are mentally ill. Some people just live crappy lives and if they want to end their miserable existence, that is their business, who am I to demand that they continue unabated in their misery?

But back to Raymond, the police excuse for doing nothing was this, Raymond was attempting to kill himself and was mentally ill, they did know if he was on medication so any attempt at rescue could have been met with both hostility and combat, rescuing someone who did not want to be rescued would have resulted in a fighting match in the water.

The fire guys’ excuse for not effecting a rescue was that they were not trained in this area, I guess no fire guy knows how to swim.

They called the Coast Guard, the agency who is directly responsible for water safety (as an aside, when a jumper swan dives off the Golden Gate, the Coast Guard, which has boats docked directly under neath the bridge, is the agency that responds) replied that the water in that area was too shallow for their boats.

So what ultimately transpired was a PR nightmare, capable safety officers standing by on the beach, doing nothing, while a distressed man slowly succumbs to the waves and drowns. And even then, after Raymond was face down in the water, apparently dead, it took a a civilian passerby to go into the surf and retrieve the lifeless body, how embarrassing.

Some other things to consider, the fire agency did have a water rescue program in place in the passed but, due to budget cuts, had to discontinue the program. Other liability factors, if a police of fire guy went in to effect a rescue and got hurt, a civil case good be made that since they were not adequately trained in this area, the state would be liable.

Part of being a good safety officer (good anything, really) is being able to think outside the box. What immediately came to mind to me was that I would have called the local animal control officer, there is always one on duty and they all carry tranq. rifles. I would have waded out there in to the surf and shot this guy with a tranq. dart, once he went woozy I would have secured him (if it took more than one officer, so be it) then dragged him back to shore.

But risks are part of the job:

What is a typical rescue? Each rescue is unique, and whether a person is trying to commit suicide should not be the criterion for doing whatever is necessary to stop it from happening. Police and firefighters face similar
situations every day. Risks are involved. Police and firefighters are paid to ensure our safety and, as they remind the public regularly, they must take risks to do their jobs.


You can bet that the city of Alameda will have to pay the step mom some big bucks from the civil suit that will ultimately ensue.

When I worked with safety officers in the passed, a good tenet to live by was this ,”It is always better to get sued over doing something, then doing nothing”, and these guys basically did nothing.

So there you are, is the city liable? Were these officers (both police and fire) derelict? Could there have been a better outcome to this? And does society as a whole have an obligation to prevent suicides?

Comments are closed.

  1. Hal_10000

    The budget cut thing crosses me as a bit of BS. We hear this all he time when budgets are cut. It seems like they oddly prioriize he important stuff for cutting.

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  2. Kimpost

    As I see it trained professionals, who might not be trained in the specific circumstances here, but still being professionals, stood by and watched a man die, because of procedural matters. The ones watching should be all be ashamed of themselves, regardless of protocol. Had I been there, I hope that I would have gone into the water, while informing my colleagues that I was going on a quick coffee break. Fuck liability. That’s a worry for another day.

    He stood in the water for an hour, which suggests that he might have had second thoughts on the whole suicide thing. Anyway, that’s not for fire fighters or police to worry about, in my opinion. Getting the troubled man out of the could water should have been their only priority.

    Fact 1: Man in trouble in cold water.
    Fact 2: Police officers and fire fighters are on site.
    Fact 3: Man could be rescued without apparent risk.

    Not acting was a disgrace. I think the whole incident is very disturbing, and sad. Might even say something bad about all of us, and of what we are turning in to.

    I think the city is liable, but that won’t bring the man back to life…

    When it comes to suicide society should try to prevent them, at least while they are happening. If someone really wants to commit suicide, it’s difficult to stop that from happening. So be it, but that shouldn’t stop us from stopping acts in progress, while asking if there’s something we could do to help. What if it’s just a desperate cry for help, as suicide attempts very often are?

    This reminds me of a story a year or so back of fire fighters standing by while watching a house burn down. The house owner had not paid his insurance (actually I believe it was a fire department fee in a rural area). Nobody died that time, but what the fuck. Do what you are trained to do. Worry about finances later.

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  3. AlexInCT

    Call me calous, but I have always been of the opinion that if someone wants to kill themselves, they should be allowed to do so, as long as it doesn’t harm others directly. Trying to stop suicidal people from doing what they want to do, while probably noble, is counterproductive. Mother nature and all that.

    The budget cut thing crosses me as a bit of BS.


    We hear this all he time when budgets are cut. It seems like they oddly prioriize he important stuff for cutting.

    Cut the non priority stuff, and people won’t miss it.

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  4. loserlame

    No bystanders around to help, either?

    I’m reminded of the old beggars who would come to hang out around the construction sites I worked at across Nigeria in the early 90s.

    They’d be ignored, chased off by security and cops with batons, come back and eventually die, their bodies casually picked bare by the surviving many. It wasn’t in the budget for chieftains Abiola, Sultan Dasuki or Babangida to save them, they were saddled with enough debt, having to pay for infidel whites (however critical of Reagan) to build their homes and offices.
    Different cultures, is all, no need to criticize. (We infidels always ducked out of sight, as ordered, whenever the Sultan made his noble rounds)

    Government workers botch it. What else is new?

    A “decent” suicide note would have been interesting to read. What was his motivation? Fear of global warming, guilt for causing the bulk of it, no free health care, lingering, annoying effects from past surgery, maybe disappointed in broken promises made by too many, his government that promised free health care? Sick of the smells and sounds of humans? I could understand any of these points.

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  5. richtaylor365 *

    Fact 3: Man could be rescued without apparent risk.

    The risk involved is a despondent (possibly strong, possibly drugged) man hell bent on drowning himself and not taking too kindly to someone interfering with his plans, not saying this reason is compelling enough to bar involvement (it’s not), but that was their excuse.

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  6. Kimpost

    Yeah, I saw that. Just don’t buy it. He should probably have been out of the water before they even knew that. But if anything, when a suicide attempt had been confirmed, a rescue effort should have been accelerated.

    “It’s confirmed guys. He is not another Jacques Cousteau. Let’s get him. If he turns out to be violent when we get there, we’ll just have to improvise. After all, no rescue operation is entirely without risk, and this is what we are paid to do.”

    Mostly, I think, that things like this piss me off, because they show just how passive we have allowed ourselves to become. Where’s the independent out-of-the-box thinking? Apparently none of the involved police or fire fighters had the ability to recognize the absurdity of the situation.

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    Well, if they called SWAT in they could have just shot, him and let the surf bring him in.
    As for kimposts question about bystanders. Im pretty sure that if any bystander tried to get in the water, while the police and fire where there, they would have been restrained and possibly arrested for interference, or endangerment.

    You can bet that the city of Alameda will have to pay the step mom some big bucks from the civil suit that will ultimately ensue.

    Meh, maybe, after all they were following their directives.

    my position on suicide is basically that people should be allowed to do whatever they want with themselves. I would install a diving board on the Golden Gate Bridge to facilitate the process.

    In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournells novel ” Oath of Fealty”, the arcology that the resident s of the novel reside inb have a dive-board on top of their 1 mile high building, for those who want to make a final

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  8. InsipiD

    Exactly. Never say “without apparent risk,” since there is clearly apparent risk. That the risk was basically typical risk for the situation is enough to say they should’ve done something, but people can and do die sometimes trying rescue others from similar situations. There is always risk.

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  9. richtaylor365 *

    Meh, maybe, after all they were following their directives


    Irrelevant, there is no way in hell that the city of Alameda is going to let this go before a jury, no effing way. They will pay the step mom pretty much whatever she wants.

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  10. richtaylor365 *

    I thought of good local example that might help here. On the Golden Gate bridge, on the other side of the guard rail is a cat walk, used primarily for maintenance in painting the bridge. The policy of the CHP (the police authority for that bridge) is that if they get a call of a jumper they will respond, upon arrival, if the subject is inside the guardrail, then the CHP will do everything possible, including arresting or detention, in order to stop the suicide. But if the subject is on the other side the guardrail and on the cat walk, then protocol changes. They will alert the Coast Guard and will try to talk the subject back up and onto the guardrail, but they will not leave the safe confines of that rail, they will not go out onto the catwalk because it is too easy for the jumper to fight and take the officer down with him. Now any motorist driving by would not fault the officer one bit for keeping his distance, too dangerous. Now contrast this with the Alameda incident, much fault was put on the officers because they would not even bother to get their feet wet. Where, on the Golden Gate, something was done, here, nothing was done.

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  11. loserlame

    So what if the guy had gotten belligerent and managed to hurt or kill that one cop breaking the law trying to help him? You could turn that scenario into a “typical America” story in numerous ways

    “Haha, cops breaking their own laws, again, trying to be “heroes”…….. when they’re not shooting bystanders and minorities illegally”

    “Haha, fat donut-eating cop couldn’t handle one wet guy in two feet of polluted water”

    “Haha, all of America should be on suicide watch”

    What if the guy was wearing a Bush T-shirt? Still feeling the pain of the poor and downtrodden, regardless?

    What if the guy had a gun and intending to shoot himself, but then used it on the cop? “Haha, nation of cowboys. Outrage, outrage, gun control, gun control”

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  12. richtaylor365 *

    loserlame, level with us, you are Jim’s younger (much) brother or cousin who he slips a few bucks to each week for ginning up traffic on his site. It’s times like this I miss Murgeo, at least I could understand him.

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  13. loserlame

    I’m afraid not. My only “goal” here is to perhaps get that heavyweight champion of the uninsured in the US, Michael Moore, to give me a handout to pay some doctor bills.
    See, Moore supposedly once gave Jim some (relative to a millionaire worth $20 mil) small change in a similar situation, so I thought I’d get in line, too.

    Moore’s fans’ other idol, President Obama, promised free health care, so I voted for him, but so far he’s mostly killing babies abroad – for oil, I’ve heard.

    I argue whats the difference between your government taxing you to finance universal health care (which you openly, 100% support), and your avoiding the costly bureaucracy by simply offering it out of your own pocket, until free health care is finally established?

    Not all of us have the luxury of youth, health, income and unlimited time to wait for Obama to return from Libya, victoriously, and finally give us that free Band-Aid

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  14. richtaylor365 *

    Alright, that’s cool, but a few things, this blog is NOT MW, if your goal is to get money from Michael Moore, why don’t you just pester him directly? I doubt he reads this blog so your pleadings in that area here are pointless. And if you don’t like your health coverage or have a particular bone to pick about Obama care, why not wait for a post about that, then complain away? But thread jacking is not good blog etiquette, and when your only contributions are steering every post towards your complaint about Moore or Obama care, you are likely to incur the wrath of both the authors and the administrator, not good.

    I assume you would like intelligent discourse with your comments, follow the rules and you will more than likely get it.

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  15. loserlame

    ? I was talking about cops and suicide when you asked me who I was and what I was doing here.

    And I myslef recently bemoaned certain folks hijacking the D-Day thread to go on about US’ unfair taxation, which is, surprise, kept vigorously alive by the same folks who talked about nothing but the “unfair US” over at MW in some form or another. They were the only ones left there in the end – Waldorf and Statler. And sidekick ossi.

    Next, freedom of speech stalwarts Moore and co. all filter comments and replies on their websites, publishing only praise, so I’m reaching out to all those who have dealt with him, financially or otherwise, to see if word might reach him about a charity he could contribute to anon. This is as good a place as any, I feel.
    Surely you won’t follow Michael’s lead and stifle freedom of speech? I was on-topic here.

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  16. loserlame

    Well, heck, let me posit right here that my debt is crushing and I’m growing really despondent. I could be homeless in a month or two if some rich dude like Michael Moore doesn’t work some of his old magic and give away money he doesn’t really need.

    Some folks say about the above suicide: “If I’da been there, I would’ve____”

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  17. richtaylor365 *

    I assume you are being facetious concerning the necessity of Moore’s intervention in your life. But no supporter of his would be caught dead on this blog, so if pigeonholing him for cash is your goal, I can think of much more efficient ways of shaking him down.

    And yes, other people thread jack as well, but it is still frowned upon. We give you enough topics here to stay busy and we all know about your stated goal of separating Moore from his wealth, good luck with that, but it is proper to stay on topic.

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  18. loserlame

    Truly caring people would surely spend a little time (not money, mind you) to help me get in touch with Moore and set us up for a chat.

    More on-topic: based on personal observations, I really don’t believe that the majority of bystanders who witnessed Zack’s drowning truly cared enough about his welfare, or possible future among them, as “one of them”, to put themselves in a situation even as mildly uncomfortable as getting cold and wet, maybe scratched up a bit and cussed out., instead conveniently hiding behind the inept law and putting the onus on a “uncaring society” and “greedy, inept government”

    Zack gave them a good story to tell at home and talk about how they were rooting for him, but alas….

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  19. richtaylor365 *

    Truly caring people would surely spend a little time (not money, mind you) to help me get in touch with Moore and set us up for a chat.

    We are all caring people here, but as I said before, this is not MW, people affiliated with MM do not visit this blog, nobody here can get you what you want, it is analogous to you fishing in a trash dumpster, it may be relaxing but there is no fish where your line is.

    I really don’t believe that the majority of bystanders who witnessed Zack’s drowning truly cared enough about his welfare,

    2 things you need to remember here, this was not your typical distressed innocent person who was drowning and yelling for help-if that was the case I bet many of those bystanders you speak of would have intervened, and secondly, there was emergency personnel on scene so no bystanders were compelled to act, if action was required then the appropriate “actors” were present.

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