Qualified Immunity

Court Rules Cop Who Shot Unarmed 15-Year-Old Is Protected by Qualified Immunity

The ruling once again shows the legal disgrace that is qualified immunity.


A panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has ruled that an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is protected by qualified immunity after shooting a 15-year-old boy as he made his way to school. The decision joins a towering pile of case law upholding a legal doctrine that protects government officials from facing civil suits for actions that would land a regular person in the clink.

In February 2015, four teenagers convened near their school, forming a tight circle to dance and listen to rap music, as was their ritual prior to attending classes. Shortly after they turned off the music and began to prepare for class, Officer Michael Gutierrez fired into the crowd, striking Jamar Nicholson Green in the back. Another teen, Michael Sanders, was holding a plastic Airsoft gun replica with a bright orange tip; Gutierrez says he mistook it for a real weapon and believed Sanders was pointing it at another teen in the circle, Jason Huerta.

All four teens say that Gutierrez, who was not wearing a uniform, did not identify himself, nor did he give them verbal warnings to drop the toy gun. After shooting Green, Gutierrez and additional officers on the scene held the teens at gunpoint, face down on the ground. The teens explained that the gun was fake, but the officers still handcuffed the teens and detained them for five hours—even Huerta, who Gutierrez said he believed to be a potential victim. Green remained in handcuffs as he underwent a medical examination.

The panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit wrote in summary that the shooting violated Green's due process rights. "Under the circumstances, a rational finder of fact could find that Gutierrez's use of deadly force shocked the conscience and was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment," they said. Even so, "the panel held that because no analogous case existed at the time of the shooting, the district court erred by denying Gutierrez qualified immunity for this claim."

In essence, because a similar case has not yet rendered a ruling applicable to Gutierrez's actions, the judges ruled that those actions were protected by qualified immunity. The decision echoes a recent one in Georgia, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that Coffee County Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Vickers was shielded from recourse after shooting a 10-year-old child in the knee while trying to shoot a non-threatening dog.

Both cases demonstrate the maddening nature of qualified immunity: State actors cannot be held to account unless a related precedent exists. But can how such a precedent come to be when civil servants keep hiding behind qualified immunity?

The 9th Circuit did, however, deny Gutierrez legal shielding for the teens' 5-hour handcuffed detainment, which they said blatantly violated their Fourth Amendment rights. Writing for the majority, Judge Jacqueline Nguyen said that a jury should hear the case.

"We agree with the district court that under these circumstances, plaintiffs' continued detention for five hours—well after any probable cause would have dissipated—and the use of handcuffs throughout the duration of the detention violated plaintiffs' clearly established Fourth Amendment rights to be free from unlawful arrest and excessive force," she said.

NEXT: Lawsuit: Florida Inmate Thrown In Solitary for Biting Guard While Having Seizure

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. >>>because a similar case has not yet rendered a ruling ... those actions were protected by qualified immunity.

    fucking weak. set a precedent, assholes.

    1. Look, the cop might get a slap on the wrist for keeping the kids (one of whom had recently and foolishly placed his body in front of a speeding bullet) handcuffed for five hours. He may also have to spend some paid vacation time to make up for a couple of days suspension. What more do you libertarian whackjobs want??

      1. Oh, I don't know - - -
        Maybe a nation of laws?

        1. I am making 10,000 Dollar at home own laptop .Just do work online 4 to 6 hour proparly . so i make my family happy and u can do

          ........ Read More

      2. Well he got home safe that night. Isn't that all that really matters?

      3. What more do I want? I want the cop to be publicly flogged. What the he’ll happened to yelling, “drop the gun and put your hands in the air” if he actually believed a toy with a bright orange tip was a real gun? (Likely a lie.)

        After the wiping, the cop should be up for murder. Also, the damages paid out to the victim’s family should come directly out of the cop’s retirement and from selling off his assets—not from the pockets of taxpayers who had nothing to do with it. Oh, and the judges who promote this stupid “qualified immunity” should be fired, disbarred, and publicly ridiculed.

        That’s what I want.

      4. "What more do you libertarian whackjobs want??"

        Prison time on a conviction for attempted murder.

    2. We need cops like a fish needs a bicycle. Cops prevent almost ZERO crimes, solve almost zero crimes, and are, all too often criminals themselves. If you don't believe me, look at the county of Carver, MN and what its crooked county prosecutor (PERSCUTOR WOULD BE A BETTER NAME) who jailed my daughter for trying to commit suicide because she was gay!! FUCK COPS EVERYWHERE, and the same with no-good prosecuting bitches.

      1. I'm thinking your daughter had other reasons.

        Largely related to you.

        1. Dude, don't be a dick.

        2. Wow, fuck you Jason.

      2. Well, what did you expect? The state can't afford to let us own our own bodies. One can only kill/die so long as the government approves - drinking one's self to death with legal booze, or being executed or drafted, for example. Otherwise, we're far too valuable for tax revenue and labor. When we step out of line, the prosecutor must set an example, lest there'd be a suicide epidemic and the government run out of governees!

        Prosecutors are in many ways FAR worse than bad cops, if only because they cover for and enable their criminality. One of the good things about the emerging police state is that more and more Americans are falling victim to its excesses and thus being forced to the realization that a government courtroom is the absolute last place one looks for justice. It isn't about 'safety' or 'the children' - it's all about control and money. Same as it ever was...

        (In all seriousness, sorry for your troubles and thank God your daughter failed at her attempt. I'm guessing the state bled you for some money, as well?)

        1. The right to commit suicide is the most fundamental right there is.

      3. Your daughter has died to kill herself, and you think a cop intervening was the problem....

        1. "and you think a cop intervening was the problem…."

          The cop wasn't anywhere close to being part of the solution. Being arrested and jailed has NEVER made anyone ever less suicidal.

  2. Here’s hoping the handcuff case starts a precedent that expands over time. But I’m guessing there is already precedent along those lines?

    Either way, this whole situation sounds disgusting.

  3. According to a story in the Courthouse News, Gutierrez fired at least three shots at Sanders, going 0 for 3 (unless you count shooting Green instead as a hit).

    And Jackie Lacey, District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles Justice System Integrity Division, came to the "conclusion that Officer Gutierrez acted in lawful self-defense and defense of another," so that's super.

  4. The 9th Circuit did, however, deny Gutierrez legal shielding for the teens' 5-hour handcuffed detainment, which they said blatantly violated their Fourth Amendment rights.

    What??? Those teen thugs had just been involved in a shooting!

    1. They are lucky the kid who was shot by the cop survived. Otherwise they would be facing felony murder charges.

  5. So: he shot a bystander in the back to protect him from being shot by someone holding a perceived weapon? Good shoot!

    1. That’s not all, the person he supposedly was acting to protect from being shot—the victim— was also ordered face down on the ground, handcuffed, and held for 5 hours along with the others! Seriously? WTF?

      This reminds me of the news story of the woman who called the cops, came to speak to them when they arrived, and was promptly shot dead by the cop in the passenger seat of the squad car.

  6. How the hell do you decide that somebody who had no reason to know that wildly shooting into a group of people might be wrong should simultaneously know that handcuffing those same people for 5 hours definitely is wrong?

    After consulting my employee handbook, I didn't see anything in there about whacking cops in the head with a hammer being prohibited, do you think I can get one of those qualified immunity waiver things? Do you think my boss can explain that I'll be given a training seminar on not whacking cops in the head with a hammer and that will be a satisfactory conclusion to the whole matter?

    1. It was all according to policy.

  7. The solution is simple apply the NAP, prohibit the government from initiating force.

  8. And is anyone surprised that it is the 9th circuit Court? I wonder how Gorsuch would view this case? Or Thomas? Might be an interesting case for the USSC to review. Revisiting qualified immunity seems like a no brainier. So they'll probably not take it up.

    1. I think Thomas and Gorsuch would be on opposite sides of any decision in this case. Thomas was of the opinion that teachers can strip search kids at school, so cops shooting kids at school would likely be fine and dandy to him.

      1. I don't know, possible.

      2. This looks really bad. The one problem I have with the article is that Reason does such a horrible job of accurately presenting facts anymore. So the whole thing could also be bullshit.

        1. This is from the introduction to the case:

          "As the teenagers—Michael Sanders, Abdul Wooten, J.N.G., and J.H.1—stood in a tight circle dancing and rapping, Sanders was holding a plastic Airsoft replica gun with a bright orange tip as a prop. Just as they turned off the music and were getting ready to head to school, J.N.G. was shot by Officer Michael Gutierrez of the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”). Officer Gutierrez fired his weapon because he mistook Sanders’s replica gun for an actual gun. Gutierrez fired multiple shots, one of which hit J.N.G. in the back. After the shooting, officers detained the group for over five hours while they investigated."

          1. Note that Gutierrez fired at least three shots at Sanders, going 0 for 3 with JNG intercepting one of the shots. I guess he still had a better day than Jimmy Garrapalo, but that's some bad shooting.

          2. The corollary of "if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is" applies. Everyone here is relatively anti police, so feeding into an agenda is simple. Just because police make mistakes doesn't mean they're bloodlusting subhumans who should be drawn and quartered on national television.

            1. Even honest mistakes that end in dead bodies (and yes, I know that's not the case here), should have potentially career ending consequences.

    2. That it was the 9th makes little or no difference. SCOTUS it self has explicitly dictated that for (un)Qualified Immunity analysis, the lower courts must define the right at issue as narrowly as possible.

      At least the 9th officially decided that the shooting did violate the victim's rights, so the precedent is there to deny qualified immunity the next time something like this comes up.

  9. I wonder how a "civilian" would fare if he shot someone without a legally-sufficient reason, got sued, and then defended himself on the grounds that there was no judicial precedent specifically saying the specific type of shooting he did was wrong?

    1. Of course, this may be a theoretical question because it wouldn't be a *civil* suit the civilian would be mainly worrying about.

    2. It does seem like the burden of proof has been inverted here.

  10. How horrifying.

  11. Felony murder charges for the (Airsoft) gun brandisher??

    1. The victim survived, so no felony murder. Is attempted felony murder a thing?

  12. I had a great time reading this. click here

  13. The kid was already steeped in the gun culture,this hero possibly prevented another mass shooting! The cops are the only ones that should have guns!

  14. Cops keep earnin' the hate one encounter after another. Not long before the scales are tipped.

    For an organization, like the police, to declare, lament and act like there is a war on the police, them sure do never seem to do much about stemming the tide. No concern or apparent interest in winning the hearts and minds but instead endeavor to continue with shock and awe. Foreign enemies get the former and US Citizens get the latter.

    The courts may have to deal with this on the other end of the legal spectrum vis a vis a sympathetically aggrieved and victimized person, without qualified immunity, seeking extrajudicial redress against their costumed oppressors while simultaneously eliminating a clear and present danger to the community, is found not guilty.

    Why does it seem that qualified immunity is essentially an absolute right absent any super specific precedent to the contrary. There are 20,000+ gun laws reigning in 2nd amendment rights but seemingly nothing remotely equivalent to restraining violent actors under qualified immunity aka a license to kill...maim, threaten, kidnap, terrorize and steal?

  15. Thanks for the blog, nice to read. tree service Gainesville

  16. Wow amazing blog. thanks for share. QQ Terpercaya

  17. Billy, dude, the whole idea of invisible Thought Police is upholding Party Doctrine is that they should shoot first, NOT waste valuable time on assessment or evaluating the situation. Why do you think the Party Platform dedication to these brave kid-killers refers to them as "First Responders" anyhow?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.