Family of deputy killed on duty files wrongful death lawsuit against Pierce County

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The family of a sheriff’s deputy fatally shot while responding to a call has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Pierce County, alleging deputies are not safe due to inadequate staffing.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daniel McCartney’s family and estate Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court.

“Pierce County knowingly put Deputy McCartney in the untenable position of responding without any immediate back-up,” part of the lawsuit said. “But for Pierce County’s failure to properly staff and train its deputies, Daniel McCartney would likely still be alive.”

The lawsuit seeks damages as well as court action to prevent inadequate staffing.

“Deputy Daniel McCartney, his estate, and his family do not want another family to suffer the loss of a father, husband, and leader like Deputy McCartney,” the lawsuit said. “They seek an order mandating sufficient staffing or other equitable relief that will prevent a repeat of another wrongful deputy death.”

McCartney, 34, was shot Jan. 7, 2018 while responding to a home invasion robbery in the Frederickson area. He’s survived by his wife and three young sons.

The Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Friday: “Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel McCartney was tragically killed in the line of duty after confronting armed men who were attempting to escape the scene of a home invasion robbery. The suspects responsible for Deputy McCartney’s murder were identified and arrested by our detectives, and later prosecuted and sentenced to prison.

“Because Deputy McCartney’s heroic death was not caused by his fellow deputies or the county he faithfully served, the lawsuit will be defended by Pierce County. The Sheriff’s Department continues to mourn the loss of Deputy McCartney.”

The lawsuit gives this account of what happened:

The county allocated 18 deputies for the Mountain Detachment, where McCartney worked, but only 15 were assigned there.

“For any given shift, Pierce County expected two deputies in D-10 (the Mountain Detachment) to patrol over 700 square miles — nearly 40% of Pierce County,” the lawsuit said. “Pierce County set minimum staffing levels approximately 16 or more years ago without increasing staffing minimums to correspond or keep pace with population growth.”

Before the shooting, McCartney worked from 3 p.m. Jan. 6 to 6 a.m. Jan. 7.

“Deputy McCartney returned home and had less than six hours of sleep before he returned to work for his regular swing shift,” the lawsuit said. “When a fellow deputy became ill, and with the agency understaffed, Deputy McCartney agreed to cover the fellow deputy’s graveyard shift on January 7, 2018 to January 8, 2018. Unfortunately, Daniel McCartney never made it home from that shift.”

The lawsuit goes on to allege: “Pierce County Sheriff’s Department knew or should have known it was putting deputies on patrol without hiring deputies into available positions, and without the number of deputies needed to patrol safely. As a result, deputies, like Daniel McCartney, were forced to work double shifts with very little sleep.”

When McCartney was dispatched to the home invasion it was in a district next to his, an area “likely not as familiar to him as the deputies assigned” there, the lawsuit said. The home was known for drug trafficking.

After he arrived McCartney chased two men who ran, radioed that shots had been fired and then was silent.

On the way to the scene, a sergeant “ordered Deputy McCartney’s mic to be ‘opened’ so that Deputy McCartney could be heard across the communication channels,” the lawsuit said. The sergeant “learned later that the ‘open mic’ feature promised with Pierce County Sheriff’s Department’s new radios would work only by clearing the channel of all other radio traffic rather than allowing deputies to hear simultaneous communications.”

When back-up deputies arrived, they found McCartney with a gunshot wound to his neck. He died at St. Joseph Medical Center.

The shooter was sentenced to life without parole. Two others also were sentenced in connection to McCartney’s death, and one suspect fatally shot himself at the scene.

“On the night Deputy McCartney died, it is believed there were 12 deputies on duty, plus one sergeant, to cover the entire 1,806 square miles in Pierce County Sheriff’s coverage area – or one deputy for every 150 square miles – or the equivalent of one deputy to cover the entire city of Seattle – alone,” the lawsuit said.

The Sheriff’s Department needed 40 more deputies, 12 to 18 more sergeants, and three to seven more lieutenants, not accounting for “the 25% of deputies historically unavailable due to leave, vacancies and training, or contracted coverage for Edgewood and University Place,” the lawsuit alleges.

“Pierce County knew the Sheriff’s Department was sufficiently understaffed and that as such, patrol deputies were not safe,” the lawsuit said. “... In 2009 and again in 2018, prior to Deputy McCartney’s death, consultants submitted comprehensive reports on Pierce County’s short staffing. One of the consultants reported ‘there are times when only one officer is available for a call, which, depending on the call, can be unsafe.’”

Two Mountain Detachment deputies had been ambushed previously, and one had died, the lawsuit said.

“At the time of Deputy McCartney’s death, records show that the department did not have a training plan to ameliorate the danger of short staffing; training records were poorly tracked; training budgets were limited; and management and supervisory training were not consistent,” the lawsuit said.

It also accused the County Council’s “organization and voting structure” of allowing micromanaging “that resulted in too few positions and too few dollars being appropriated to staffing districts,” such as McCartney’s.

“Pierce County’s Council should have left staffing priorities to the elected Sheriff and Pierce County’s Council should have appropriated monies to bring staffing to sufficiently safe levels,” the lawsuit said. “Alternatively, Pierce County’s Council should have reconstructed its law enforcement obligations so that staffing was sufficiently safe.”

McCartney served in the U.S. Navy, and then for six years as a police officer in Hoquiam. He applied to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in 2014, and was hired.

“Deputy McCartney and his family had a reasonable expectation that the job risk was within the scope of risk that would be reasonable for a department the size and funding of Pierce County Sheriff’s Department,” the lawsuit said. “Understaffing is not an inherent risk of working as a law enforcement officer. Pierce County was duty bound to provide sufficient staff or alternatively to decline a law enforcement response and to inform the public of the inability to keep its residents safe by timely responding to calls with sufficient staffing.”

This story was written by The News Tribune.