Take 5

Federal Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against U.S. Government Over Officer’s Death

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against the U.S. government over the death of Officer Darian Jarrott, who was shot and killed by Omar Cueva during a traffic stop. The plaintiff, Gabriella Jarrott, the mother of Officer Jarrott’s minor children and the personal representative of his wrongful death estate, had alleged that the government was negligent, leading to Cueva killing Officer Jarrott.

The case was dismissed due to the “discretionary function” exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity under 28 U.S.C. § 2680(a). The court found that the discretionary function exception still applies even if the law enforcement proviso is also applicable, therefore sovereign immunity is not waived.

The lawsuit had centered on an operation in January and February 2021, where agents with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, were investigating Cueva, a suspected drug trafficker. Officer Jarrott was not informed about the details of the investigation or the extreme danger posed by Cueva. On February 4, 2021, Officer Jarrott pulled over Cueva’s vehicle and was subsequently shot and killed by Cueva.

The court concluded that the HSI agents’ choice of how to investigate, approach, arrest, and prosecute Cueva was a discretionary decision. The court also noted that the agents’ plan to have the New Mexico State Police develop probable cause and then initiate a traffic stop was intended to bring about the apprehension of Cueva while protecting a confidential informant.

The court’s decision to dismiss the case was based on the principle of sovereign immunity, which means that the United States cannot be sued without its consent. The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides a limited waiver of this immunity for certain tort claims, but the court found that the discretionary function exception to this waiver applied in this case.

The court’s decision is a significant ruling on the scope of the discretionary function exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity, particularly in cases involving law enforcement operations. The case highlights the challenges faced by plaintiffs in bringing lawsuits against the U.S. government for alleged negligence in the course of law enforcement operations (Case 2:22-cv-00430-KWR-JHR Document 35 Filed 07/24/23).

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