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Court Won’t Revive Civil Suit Against California Highway Patrol

June 19, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court today refused to revive a $100 million lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol by the parents of a woman raped and killed by a member of the police force.

The court, without comment, let stand a ruling that threw out the civil rights suit.

Merlin and June Bishop sued after their 23-year-old daughter, Robin, was killed by Patrolman George Michael Gwaltney on Jan. 11, 1982.

Gwaltney was sentenced to 90 years in prison for depriving Ms. Bishop of her civil rights.

Prosecutors said Gwaltney stopped the young woman while she was driving from Los Angeles to her home in Las Vegas, Nev. They said he handcuffed her, raped her in the back seat of his car and then shot her.

In their suit, the Bishops said Gwaltney’s superior officers were aware of his ″prurient propensities,″ and that he had forced other women to have sex with him after stopping them for supposed traffic violations.

The suit accused the Highway Patrol of condoning such conduct as long as its officers handed out enough traffic tickets.

″Gwaltney’s antics and attitude were known to his supervisor and encouraged as part of a pattern and practice of playboy tolerance,″ the Bishops said.

A California appeals court threw out the suit last January, saying it ″is entirely without merit, if not specious.″

The appeals court said the federal civil rights law the Bishops invoked is limited to claims against ″persons.″

″There is not a shred of (legal) authority to support the assertion that the state of California is a person,″ the state court said.

Even if the Highway Patrol could be sued under the federal civil rights law, the state court said, the Bishops would have to show that the attack on their daughter was part of its official policy.

The Bishops ″did not and could not allege that the California Highway Patrol had an official policy that its officers should rape and kill female motorists,″ the state court said.

The case is Bishop vs. Gwaltney, 88-527.

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