Monday, November 9, 2015

Sonia Sotomayor lambastes justices for backing officer who shot fleeing suspect | Law | The Guardian

Israel Leija fled the police in his car. During a high speed chase he called the Tulia, TX police dispatcher and claimed he had a gun. As Leija approached a police trap - a spike strip - Chadrin Mullenix, a policeman,  opened fire at the vehicle to stop it. Leija died in the hail of gunfire. The Fifth Circuit upheld the District Court which denied the defendant's motion to dismiss on grounds of qualified immunity the civil rights claim that Leija's Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable seizure had been violated. The action, brought under 42 USC 1983, is subject to a vigorously stated defense: the doctrine of qualified immunity shields officials from civil liability so long as their conduct “‘does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.’” In Mullenix v. Luna the Supreme Court reversed the normally conservative Fifth Circuit, thus dismissing the case. 

Sonia Sotomayor alone dissented. - gwc

Sonia Sotomayor lambastes justices for backing officer who shot fleeing suspect | Law | The Guardian

by Dan Roberts

Supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor accused her fellow justices of “sanctioning a shoot first, think later approach” after they overwhelmingly backed a police officer who ignored orders and shot a fleeing suspect in Texas.
Eight members of the nine-strong bench overturned a lower court ruling against trooper Chadrin Mullenix and found he was entitled to immunity from lawsuits. Legal experts say the ruling will likely make it harder to sue police in the future for using deadly force.
Mullenix was sued by the family of Israel Leija after he fired into Leija’s fleeing car despite having been told by a superior to wait for the vehicle to reach a series of tire spikes that had been set up nearby.
Leija, a 24-year-old from the rural town of Tulia, had sped off after being issued with a warrant for breaking the terms of his probation, but had threatened police that he would shoot if they did not call off an 18-minute car chase that reached speeds of up to 110mph.
“How’s that for proactive?” said Mullenix, after allegedly ignoring a request to wait and see if the spikes worked before attempting the unusual manouevre of stopping the speeding car by firing at it with his rifle from an overpass. Earlier, the trooper had been told in a counseling session that he was not enterprising enough.
“The comment seems to me revealing of the culture this court’s decision supports when it calls it reasonable – or even reasonably reasonable – to use deadly force for no discernible gain and over a supervisor’s express order to ‘stand by’,” wrote Sotomayor in her dissent.
“By sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing, the court renders the protections of the fourth amendment hollow,” she added.
Sotomayor argued instead that “any reasonable officer could not have thought that shooting would stop the car with less danger or greater certainty than waiting”, suggesting he should have waited to see if the tire spikes worked first.
Earlier, the fifth circuit court of appeals had agreed that Mullenix violated the rule that a police officer may not “use deadly force against a fleeing felon who does not pose a sufficient threat of harm to the officer or others”.
But the majority of the supreme court reversed the appellate court decision in a ruling published on Monday, arguing that although no gun had ever been found, Leija’s threat to use one meant the trooper was justified in believing there was a danger.
“In this case, Mullenix confronted a reportedly intoxicated fugitive, set on avoiding capture through high-speed vehicular flight, who twice during his flight had threatened to shoot police officers, and who was moments away from encountering an officer,” they wrote.

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