A Tacoma woman
should receive a $138,000 jury award for damages she suffered when
Tacoma police officers violated her rights and used excessive force
against her six years ago, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit released an opinion
Monday that upheld a March 2005 verdict in favor of Susan Frunz.
Three Tacoma police officers – Sgt. Alan Morris, Sgt. Gary Stril
and officer David Alred – broke into Frunz’s home in November 2000.
They pointed a gun in her face, demanded to know who she was,
ordered her to the floor, told her to shut up, handcuffed her and
searched her house – all without a warrant. Then they didn’t arrest
anyone or file a report.
The opinion, written by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, called
the facts in the case “remarkable.”
“As the officers doubtless knew, physical entry into the home is
the ‘chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is
directed,’” Kozinski wrote, quoting from a 1972 decision.
The jury award, which the city must pay, included punitive
damages against all three officers.
The appeals court said only misguided optimism would lead the
City of Tacoma to appeal the jury’s unanimous verdict.
“Surely, the citizens of Tacoma would not want to be treated in
their own homes the way the jury found officers Stril, Morris and
Alred treated Frunz and her guests,” Kozinski wrote. “A prompt
payment of the verdict, accompanied by a letter of apology from the
city fathers and mothers, might have been a more appropriate
response to the jury’s collective wisdom.”
The court also gave the city two weeks to provide a reason why it
shouldn’t have to pay double court costs and attorneys’ fees for
filing a frivolous appeal.
City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli said the city hasn’t evaluated
whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and is
focused on responding to the issue of whether the appeal was
“Just in general, this office is very mindful of the requirement
that anything you bring before the court has to be well-grounded in
fact and law, and that’s certainly the standard we applied in this
case,” she said.
It all began Nov. 18, 2000, when a neighbor called 911 to report
seeing Frunz in the house in the 1700 block of South 40th
The neighbor said a restraining order barred Frunz from entering
the house, but the officers didn’t check to see if that were true
before breaking into the house.
Frunz was getting divorced at the time but couldn’t convince
police that a court had awarded the house to her.
During trial in front of U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton, the
city argued that officers had a right to enter the home without a
warrant because they thought a crime – burglary – might have been in
The three officers still work for the department. There was no
internal investigation of the incident, Pauli said.
Karen Hucks: 253-597-8660