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Court to Cops: Shoot First and Think Later

SCOTUS encourages excessive force by shielding police from liability.

"Why'd you shoot me?" Amy Hughes, screaming and bleeding, asked Officer Andrew Kisela after he fired four rounds at her through a chain link fence. Thanks to the Supreme Court, a jury will not get a chance to consider that question.

In a case that illustrates how hard it is to hold police officers responsible for using excessive force, the Court on Monday ruled that Kisela is protected by "qualified immunity" from civil liability for the injuries he inflicted on Hughes in May 2010. The decision, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor observed in a dissent joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "tells officers that they can shoot first and think later."

Kisela, an officer with the University of Arizona Police Department in Tucson, was responding to a "check welfare" call about a woman who was hacking at a tree with a kitchen knife. Arriving at the home that Hughes shared with Sharon Chadwick, he saw Hughes emerge from the house with a kitchen knife in her hand and approach Chadwick, stopping about six feet from her.

Hughes, who talked to Chadwick but did not seem angry, was holding the knife at her side, with the blade pointing away from her housemate. Chadwick, who later described Hughes as "composed and content," said she never felt she was in any danger.

Kisela and the two other officers with him nevertheless drew their guns and ordered Hughes to drop the knife. It is not clear whether she heard the commands.

Chadwick said it seemed to her that Hughes did not understand what was happening, an impression shared by Kisela's colleagues. The cops, although in uniform, never verbally identified themselves as police officers, and the whole encounter was over within a minute.

Kisela, who later said he was trying to protect Chadwick, opened fire immediately and without warning, hitting Hughes with all four bullets. She survived but easily could have been killed.

Neither of the two other officers at the scene resorted to deadly force. Kisela could have used his Taser instead of his gun. He could have repeated the command to drop the knife. He could have at least warned Hughes that if she did not comply he would fire.

At the moment she was shot, Hughes had committed no crime and was not menacing anyone. After Hughes sued Kisela under a federal law that allows people to recover damages for violations of their constitutional rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that "a rational jury…could find that she had a constitutional right to walk down her driveway holding a knife without being shot."

Kisela appealed to the Supreme Court, which did not address the question of whether he had used excessive force. Even if he did, seven justices agreed, Kisela cannot be held liable because the 9th Circuit's precedents, as of May 2010, had not clearly established that shooting Hughes violated her rights.

While none of the 9th Circuit's cases addressing excessive force involved circumstances exactly like these, that does not mean Kisela had no way of knowing that what he did was unlawful. "Because Kisela plainly lacked any legitimate interest justifying the use of deadly force against a woman who posed no objective threat of harm to officers or others, had committed no crime, and appeared calm and collected during the police encounter," Sotomayor writes, "he was not entitled to qualified immunity."

The Supreme Court's conclusion to the contrary is part of a pattern. In a recent California Law Review article, University of Chicago law professor William Baude notes that the Court almost always sides with government officials in qualified immunity cases, which makes judges less likely to let people sue them.

As illustrated by criminal cases in which juries let cops off the hook for outrageous conduct, giving victims of excessive force their day in court hardly guarantees justice. But preventing juries from hearing cases like these guarantees injustice.

© Copyright 2018 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Hackmaschine Mutter||

    Shoot first and ask questions later, and don't worry, no matter what happens, I will protect you.

  • Number 2||

    "the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that 'a rational jury…could find that she had a constitutional right to walk down her driveway holding a knife...'"

    So the Ninth Circuit doesn't believe in common-sense Knife Control?

  • FlameCCT||

    The 9th Circus doesn't believe in common sense!

  • Ship of Theseus||

    the 9th Circuit's precedents, as of May 2010, had not clearly established that shooting Hughes violated her rights.

    This sentence floors me. How can anyone think her rights weren't violated?

    Life? Liberty? Property? Yeah, this pretty much violated all of the basics. Of course, he didn't actually kill her, but not for a lack of effort.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    Also, this would be 'Exhibit A' for why it's incredibly stupid for people to call for only the cops to have guns.

  • Stephen54321||

    Having a gun does NOT protect anyone from America's police. It merely gives the police an excuse to kill you.

  • Ship of Theseus||

    ^Logic fail.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Yeah, that was Tony level stupid.

  • Stephen54321||

    Cynical Asshole: "Yeah, that was Tony level stupid,"

    Really?

    OK, then name one encounter between an American police officer and an armed American citizen where the citizen used his/her gun against the officer in self-defence, and not only survived the encounter but did not wind up in jail on a charge of murder or manslaughter.

  • sarcasmic||

    Obey or die.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The question is, as a matter of law, does the offucer have qualified immunity or not? What hsppened in thr incident is only relevent if it changes his immunity ststus. If the ruling wass correct by the law, then, if a different result is desired, the law must be changed. The court's scirecard in setting aside qualifed immunity is not relevent, the court cannot not be judged on percentages of its results.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I'm normally not a grammar/ spelling Nazi and one or two typos I can ignore and let go, but seriously, dude. Take a couple seconds to proofread that shit before you hit submit next time.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Would it be too much to ask for having only one comment section per article, no matter if it is posted in multiple locations on the site?

  • BigT||

    Justices Thomas and Kagan went along? There must be more to this case than is presented here. From the article it should be at least 7-2 for the citizen.

  • Ryan Frank||

    From sources that actually covered the news:

    - Original 911 call about an 'erratic woman' attacking a tree with a knife
    - Cops arrive, confirm with caller that Hughes was who they were talking about
    - Cops see Hughes approaching 3rd party with knife in hand - order her to drop the knife
    - Hughes claims she didn't hear command, 3rd party later testifies that they don't believe Hughes was a threat, but they did hear the command to drop the weapon
    - Cop shoots Hughes in the belief he is defending 3rd party

    On the point of law:

    - This case was specifically about suing the police officer as an individual, not the department
    - In order to do that you have to prove that not only were your rights violated but that the officer had to know what he was doing would be a violation of your rights
    - The original 9th circuit was terrible from a legal standpoint, one of the cases cited as proof the officer should have know this situation was a violation of Hughes rights actually took place after the shooting, another cite was to the Ruby Ridge case where a sniper shot an unarmed woman - the majority decision rejected that the cases cites were similar situations

    TLDR:
    - Qualified immunity is a load of horseshit, but legally this was the correct ruling.

  • shane_c||

    I think there are people that will automatically take a side in a case depending on how certain justices voted or just oppose anything "the 9th Circus" does. That is not thinking for yourself.

  • Griffin3||

    Police should be held to the same standard as a civilian in the same situation, if anything adjusted upwards for their training and equipment. What would the charges be if a non-officer confronted a lady in her driveway with a knife, and shot her four times as she stood there, making no threatening gestures?

    Keep distorting the meaning of qualified immunity, and these officers will someday learn that qualified immunity means immunity from government prosecution, not immunity from a trained, effective family member.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Keep distorting the meaning of qualified immunity, and these officers will someday learn that qualified immunity means immunity from government prosecution, not immunity from a trained, effective family member.

    I wouldn't be surprised if at some point in the near future, someone goes all Punisher on their asses.

    Of course, when/ if that happens it'll be all "brave heroes in blue" horseshit 24/7.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Household things that I routinely walk around with that are as dangerous as a knife:

    Chainsaw
    Lopper
    Limb trimmer
    Lawn mower
    Snowblower
    Ice chopper
    Shovel
    Saw
    Drill

    Give government an inch, and they'll take a life.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    How are you still alive?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Tequila makes me invulnerable

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Kisela cannot be held liable because the 9th Circuit's precedents, as of May 2010, had not clearly established that shooting Hughes violated her rights.

    The fuck?!

  • Gary T||

    This really getting utterly ridiculous.

    The Supreme Court has gutted the premise and intent of the §1983 civil rights statutes, to protect and recover damages that citizens suffer at the hands of government actors. First with the totally court created "qualified immunity" which is NOT in the statute, THEN with the ever more so stringent also court-created micro-detailed way it is allowed to be applied.

    They are essentially saying that unless every detail of an obvious violation of civil rights has been previously ruled illegal, then whatever case that is filed can be shielded by qualified immunity.

    What it is now and has become in reality is UNQUALIFIED IMMUNITY.

    As the hurdle you have to reach to make a claim against a state official or cop becomes ever so much higher, the practical availability of the statute is being extinguished. They are in so many words saying, don't even try.

    What has to happen is that Congress needs to amend the civil rights statute to clarify that this qualified immunity defense is gone, simply not available to violating state officials.

    There is enough outrage right now to start a petition, and for our lawmakers to act. It has to stop.

  • Rossami||

    It is well-past time to end the experiment that is qualified immunity. Hold police and prosecutors to the same standards that they hold the rest of us to.

  • billdeserthills||

    Unfortunately that only leaves one way of dealing with police--shoot them before they can shoot/kill You

  • WillPaine||

    Everyone; please see Tennessee v Garner; 1985; it was a seminal case wherein the Supreme Court ruled an officer cannot shoot a fleeing person, when they present no danger to either the officer/s present, or the public. They called killing an unarmed man, knowing he was unarmed, and no threat, a taking of property, i.e. his life. Bizarre, life as property, but, and that's how they ruled. It's an easy, fascinating read.

    Lee Camp "Redacted Tonight" To Be Heard! great stuff.

  • Abe Froman||

    Cops cannot be trusted. Cops lie all the time and everywhere. They lie for no reason other than that they can get away with it. They lie, lie, lie, and lie again. They lie on their arrest reports, they lie in court, they lie to get a fellow cop out of a jam. They lie with abandon. They lie with aplomb. They lie with sincerity. It's the first lesson in police academy: "How to lie sincerely." This is the reason you never, never trust a cop. Every word out of their mouths is a lie. And if they don't like being called a bunch of scum-bag liars, let's see them call out their fellows when they know they're lying.

    That will never happen. Why? Because cops have NO integrity, NO honor, NO ethics, NO morals. Well, Perhaps they do have a bit of honor, that which is commonly referred to as "honor among thieves". After all, even the disreputable and unethical adhere to certain moral codes. Cops also have their code: 1) Never tell the truth about a fellow cop. 2) Take your cut and keep your mouth shut.

    They only have fake, faux, pretend honor they lavish on a fallen comrade, the same that they offer their fallen cop dogs. Cops are really lower than dogs. Dogs can't help acting like wild beasts as they are trained to act that way. Cops have no excuse.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    The U.S.is a full blown police state. Any cop, federal, state, city, county, university, school cop,and all the other costumed thugs cam maim and murder anyone, anywhere, anytime with absolutely no consequences criminal or civil. It is the greatest threat to liberty in the current age and grows more dangerous with every passing day. But the culture instead obsesses about Russian meddling and some crazy fuck shooting up a high school.

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