Following last February’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, some students claimed local government officials were at fault for failing to provide protection to students. The students filed suit, naming six defendants, including the Broward school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office , as well as school deputy Scot Peterson and campus monitor Andrew Medina.
On Monday, though, a federal judge ruled that the government agencies ” had no constitutional duty to protect students who were not in custody.”
This latest decision adds to a growing body of case law establishing that government agencies — including police agencies — have no duty to provide protection to citizens in general:
“Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur,” said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. “Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”
The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the government has only a duty to protect persons who are “in custody,” he pointed out.
Moreover, even though the state of Florida has compulsory schooling laws, the students themselves are not “in custody”:
“Courts have rejected the argument that students are in custody of school officials while they are on campus,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “Custody is narrowly confined to situations where a person loses his or her freedom to move freely and seek assistance on their own — such as prisons, jails, or mental institutions.”
Hutchinson is right.
The US Supreme Court has made it clear that law enforcement agencies are not required to provide protection to the citizens who are forced to pay the police for their “services.”
In the cases DeShaney vs. Winnebago and Town of Castle Rock vs. Gonzales, the supreme court has ruled that police agencies are not obligated to provide protection of citizens. In other words, police are well within their rights to pick and choose when to intervene to protect the lives and property of others — even when a threat is apparent.
In both of these court cases, clear and repeated threats were made against the safety of children — but government agencies chose to take no action.