Agency Duty to Train Hostage Negotiation / Tactical Combat
By Jack Ryan, J.D. / PATC
A case concerning whether an agency has an obligation to train officers with hostage negotiation or tactical combat training provides an example of the federal court’s reluctance to hold an agency liable for the lack of specialized training that exceeds the requirements of state mandates.i
In Ross v. Town of Austin, the United States Court of Appeal was faced with a case where an estranged spouse confronted a police officer after attempting to shoot his wife at the school where she worked. As the assailant left the school, he was involved in a car accident. An officer on the way to the shots fired at the school observed the accident and observed Gregory Miller, the estranged husband, exit one of the vehicles in possession of a shotgun. As Miller approached a convenience store, Officer Noble pulled into the store’s parking lot preventing Miller from entering the store. Officer Noble exited his vehicle, took cover, yelled at bystanders to get down and ordered Miller to put down the gun. The court reported that Noble had several opportunities to fire at Miller, but did not do so out of concern of hitting other bystanders. With his path to the convenience store obstructed, Miller entered a liquor store and took Kenneth Ross, the clerk, hostage.
Dispatchers from the county called the liquor store and spoke with Miller. He indicated that he would not release his hostage unless he was allowed to speak with his estranged wife. Officer Noble then authorized the dispatchers to contact the wife. Once Miller was connected with his wife, a heated conversation took place which ended with a gunshot. Miller had killed Kenneth Ross and then killed himself.
Tamra Ross, the wife of the hostage brought a lawsuit against the Town of Austin alleging that the failure to train officers in tactical combat and hostage negotiation caused the death of Ross. “Had Noble received such training, she reasoned, he would have conducted himself in a way that would have better protected Kenneth from Miller’s actions. Such training might have led Noble, for example, to avoid ‘channeling’ Miller into the liquor store, to decide to shoot Miller (perhaps because he would have selected a better suited weapon or have been wearing a bulletproof vest), or to secure a peaceful resolution to the hostage situation.”
In refusing to create a rule requiring advanced training, the court noted that the Town of Austin is small with a population of 5000.
i Ross v. Town of Austin, Indiana, 343 F.3d 915 (7th Cir. 2003).
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