Phoenix Immune From ‘Baseline Killer’ Suits

     PHOENIX (CN) — The city of Phoenix did not owe families of victims of the “Baseline Killer” a special duty to identify and arrest the serial murderer, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled.
     Families of the victims filed several lawsuits against Phoenix in 2010 and 2012, alleging the city’s police department waited for months to process DNA evidence that potentially would have identified Mark Goudeau sooner and prevented some of the murders and assaults.
     Goudeau was convicted in 2011 of nine murders attributable to the Baseline Killer, and was sentenced to death.
     According to the lawsuits, the Phoenix Police Department’s crime laboratory gathered DNA evidence on two swabs from a 2005 double rape of two sisters but stored the swabs for months instead of testing them.
     Phoenix argued in court that they did not owe the families a duty of care just by providing police protection and testing DNA swabs, and a superior court judge agreed, finding the city cannot be sued by the families.
     “To impose a duty on city defendants that extends to unknown potential victims of an unknown suspect clearly would impose insurer-like liability on a law enforcement agency,” Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson ruled in 2014.
     The families appealed Anderson’s decision, but the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld his ruling Thursday.
     “Because the city did not endeavor to provide the families with specific protection against Goudeau, the city had no special relationship with the families and owed them no duty to identify and arrest Goudeau. Further, public policy did not impose a duty on the city,” Judge Randall Howe wrote for a three-member panel of the appeals court.
     “Obviously we are very disappointed with the ruling,” said Marc Victor, an attorney representing the families.
     “[The families] feel that the system has failed them in every regard,” Victor said. “First the criminal justice system had failed them, now the civil justice system has failed them.”
     Arizona’s immunity statutes provide that a public employee or entity is not liable for the failure to arrest a suspect unless they act with intent to cause harm or negligence.
     “Because the families’ allegations that the city did not test all the swabs during initial DNA testing or take other investigatory steps to identify Goudeau sooner are at their core allegations that the city failed to arrest him before September 2006, [state law] immunity applies,” Howe wrote.
     The families claimed a special relationship between them and the city did exist, since Goudeau would’ve been identified as the Baseline Killer if more DNA test results were performed, but the appeals court disagreed.
     “Merely investigating a crime, without any specific endeavor to provide specific protection that would otherwise create a special relationship, does not create a duty to a victim’s family,” Howe wrote.
     During Goudeau’s crime spree from 2005 to 2006 as the Baseline Killer, he committed nine murders, 15 sexual assaults and 11 kidnappings.
     A spokesman for the police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
     Victor says he plans to appeal the ruling.

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