The Washington Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a
$1.1 million judgment awarded after a jury found a Federal Way police officer was negligent in how he served an anti-harassment order to a man who then killed his longtime girlfriend.
Chan OK “Paul” Kim, 73, fatally stabbed Baerbel Roznowski, 68, at the home they shared three hours after officer Andy Hensing delivered the anti-harassment order May 3, 2008.
The officer failed to read the document – which stated Kim was prone to violence and didn’t clearly speak English — and left with Kim still in the home even though he saw Roznowski in the background, according to court documents.
Hensing “knew or should have known that Roznowski and Kim were both present and that his service of the anti-harassment order might trigger Kim to act violently,” said the unanimous opinion authored by Justice Mary Fairhurst.
Kim left the home to run an errand after he received the anti-harassment order, which stated he must move his belongings out of Roznowski’s house and keep more than 500 feet away from her. He returned shortly afterward and attacked Roznowski with a knife.
A friend of the couple, who were together 16 years, called police to check on them three hours after the order was served. Officers found Roznowski dead and Kim trying to kill himself.
Kim pleaded guilty to second-degree domestic-violence murder and was sentenced in 2010 to more than 20 years in prison. That same year, a King County jury awarded Roznowski’s estate $1.1 million after her two daughters sued the City of Federal Way.
The city unsuccessfully appealed the case.
Tacoma attorney Jack Connolly, who represented Roznowski’s family, said the Supreme Court’s ruling is an important one that will help others seeking help from domestic violence.
“It essentially says anti-harassment needs to be enforced by the police and can’t be ignored or put down to a lower level of order,” he said. “They’re court orders and if they’re not enforced, people get hurt.”
In its appeal, the city argued the officer was not negligent because his only required duty with an anti-harassment order was to deliver it. Police must help the victim get the abuser out of the house and arrest the abuser only if the officer had delivered a domestic-violence protection order and the abuser had violated that order, the city contended.
The justices disagreed, writing that Hensing “owed Roznowski a duty of ordinary care in serving the anti-harassment order.”
When Roznowski went to the court seeking a protection order, she was told to file for an anti-harassment order, Connolly said. Domestic-violence protection orders typically are reserved for cases with proven physical abuse, he said.
Although Roznowski stated in the order that Kim was capable of violence, the incident that prompted her to seek help was verbal abuse, the attorney said. Less than a month before she was killed, Roznowski called 911 because she feared Kim was going to assault her during an argument about him moving out.
Police Chief Brian Wilson said the Supreme Court made it clear for all law enforcement departments what an officer’s duty is with regard to serving protection orders.
“The city has not fully reviewed the court’s decision,” he said in a written statement. “However, it appears the Supreme Court has addressed the heart of the matter and has clearly articulated the duty of a police officer when serving domestic violence and non-domestic violence orders. We fully accept the Supreme Court’s decision in this matter.”
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653