Jus­tices side with police in shoot­ing case

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - POLITICS - BY SAM HANANEL

WASH­ING­TON — A unan­i­mous Supreme Court on Tues­day sided with sher­iff’s deputies in a le­gal dis­pute stem­ming from 2010, when an in­no­cent cou­ple was shot while Cal­i­for­nia deputies searched for a wanted man.

The jus­tices over­turned an award of $4 mil­lion in dam­ages to the cou­ple and or­dered a lower court to take an­other look at whether the deputies should be held li­able for the shoot­ing.

Deputies were search­ing for a parolee when they en­tered the back­yard shack in Lan­caster, north of Los An­ge­les. See­ing an armed man, they fired shots that se­ri­ously wounded him and his preg­nant girl­friend.

But the man wasn’t the sus­pect they were search­ing for, and it turned out he was car­ry­ing a BB gun. A fed­eral ap­peals court ruled the deputies were li­able be­cause they pro­voked a vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion by en­ter­ing the shack with­out a war­rant.

Jus­tice Sa­muel Al­ito said such a “provo­ca­tion rule” is not com­pat­i­ble with ex­ces­sive force claims un­der the Fourth Amend­ment, which pro­hibits un­rea­son­able searches and seizures. If the of­fi­cers were rea­son­able in us­ing force to de­fend them­selves, Al­ito said, a court should not go back in time to see whether the in­ci­dent was pro­voked.

“We hold that the Fourth Amend­ment pro­vides no ba­sis for such a rule,” Al­ito said. “A dif­fer­ent Fourth Amend­ment vi­o­la­tion can­not trans­form a later, rea­son­able use of force into an un­rea­son­able seizure.”

Deputies had been told be­fore they en­tered the clut­tered back­yard that a man and woman were liv­ing in a shack there, ac­cord­ing to court records. When they opened the door, one of the of­fi­cers saw a man hold­ing a gun, shouted “gun” and two of­fi­cers fired 15 shots.

The man, An­gel Men­dez, said he had picked up his BB gun at the time of­fi­cers en­tered in or­der to move it. As a re­sult of the shoot­ing, Men­dez’s leg had to be am­pu­tated be­low the knee. His girl­friend was shot in the back.

Jus­tice Neil Gor­such did not take part in the case, which was ar­gued be­fore he joined the high court.

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