Tuesday, December 14, 2004

How to turn the country into a police state: lesson #813

This from today's LA Times under the woefully inadequate headline "Supreme Court Makes It Tougher to Sue Police." Personally I might have titled it something like "Supreme Court Says It's Okay to Gun Down Citizens in the Street Like Dogs":
On Feb. 21, 1999, Officer Rochelle Brosseau of Puyallup, Wash., near Tacoma, went to a home to arrest Kenneth Haugen, who was accused of selling drugs and stealing tools from a co-worker. Haugen hopped into his Jeep and fumbled with the keys. Brosseau ordered him to stop, drew her gun and smashed a hole in a window.

When Haugen began to pull away, Brosseau shot him in the back. He sped from the driveway but pulled off the road after half a block and passed out. He sued the officer, alleging that the shooting was an "unreasonable seizure" in violation of the 4th Amendment.

The federal courts have been split over whether a jury should hear Haugen's lawsuit.

A federal judge in Washington dismissed his claim, but the 9th Circuit revived it two years ago in a 2-1 ruling and said a jury should decide whether the shooting was an unreasonable use of force.

Judge William A. Fletcher pointed out that Haugen did not have a gun and was not charged with a violent crime, and there was no evidence that his flight presented a threat to others. Judge Stephen Reinhardt joined him.

In dissent, Judge Ronald Gould said "the majority's sweeping position . . . promises an easy escape to any felon willing to threaten innocent lives by driving recklessly."

. . . lawyers for Brosseau appealed to the Supreme Court.

In an unsigned opinion Monday, the Supreme Court justices threw out Haugen's suit and said the officer deserved to be shielded, even if her actions may have been incorrect.

"Qualified immunity shields an officer from suit when she makes a decision that, even if constitutionally deficient, reasonably misapprehends the law governing the circumstances she confronted," the court wrote. Brosseau saw Haugen as "a disturbed felon, set on avoiding capture" who may have plowed his car into others in his path, the court said.

Only Justice John Paul Stevens dissented.
I'm calling this the euphemism of the day, "constitutionally deficient"; it sounds like something you need to take vitamins for.

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