Saturday, September 15, 2012

California Supreme Court Decision Supports Civil Claim By Victim of Sexual Assault by A Police Officer Against the Public Entity that Employs The Officer

In the case of Mary M., the California Supreme Court held:  “[W]hen . . . a police officer on duty misuses his official authority by raping a woman whom he has detained, the public entity that employs him can be held vicariously liable.  This does not mean that, as a matter of law, the public employer is vicariously liable whenever an on-duty officer commits a sexual assault.  Rather, this is a question of fact for the jury.  In this case, plaintiff presented evidence that would support the conclusion that the rape arose from misuse of official authority.  Sergeant Schroyer detained plaintiff when he was on duty, in uniform, and armed.  He accomplished the detention by activating the red lights on his patrol car.  Taking advantage of his authority and control as a law enforcement officer, he ordered plaintiff into his car and transported her to her home, where he threw her on a couch.  When plaintiff screamed, Sergeant Schroyer again resorted to his authority and control as a police officer by threatening to take her to jail.  Based on these facts, the jury could reasonably conclude that Sergeant Schroyer was acting in the course of his employment when he sexually assaulted plaintiff.”  (Mary M., supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 221, fn. omitted.)