excessive force

In a per curiam (unauthored) unanimous opinion in City of Escondido v. Emmons the Supreme Court granted one police officer qualified immunity and instructed the Ninth Circuit to decide again whether another officer should have been granted qualified immunity. As it has done many times before, the Supreme Court criticized the Ninth Circuit for defining the right at issue (here to be free from excessive force) at too high a level of generality.

In April 2013 police arrested Maggie Emmons’ husband at their apartment for domestic violence. A few weeks later, after Maggie’s husband had been released, police received a 911 call from Maggie’s roommate’s mother, Trina. While Trina was on the phone with her daughter she overheard Maggie and her daughter yelling at each other and Maggie’s daughter screaming for help.

When the officers knocked on the door no one answered but they were able to try to convince Maggie to open the door by talking to her through a side window. An unidentified male told Maggie to back away from the window. Officer Craig was the only officer standing outside the door when a man walked out of the apartment. Officer Craig told the man not to close the door but he did and he tried to brush past Officer Craig. Officer Craig stopped him, took him to the ground, and handcuffed him. The man was Maggie’s father, Marty Emmons. He sued Officer Craig and Sergeant Toth, another officer at the scene, for excessive force.

The Supreme Court issues a few summary reversals a term where it overturns a lower court decision without briefing or oral argument. Few summary reversals receive much attention because they are “usually reserved . . . for situations in which the law is settled and stable, the facts are not in dispute, and the decision below is clearly in error.” While the majority of the Supreme Court sees Kisela v. Hughes this way, Justice Sotomayor disagreed in a headline-grabbing dissenting opinion describing this case as allowing police officers to “shoot first and think later.”   

Officers arrived at Amy Hughes’s house after being told a woman was hacking a tree with a kitchen knife. Officers saw Hughes emerge from her house carrying a large kitchen knife at her side. Hughes stopped no more than six feet away from her roommate, Sharon Chadwick. After officers told Hughes twice to drop the knife and she did not comply, Officer Kisela shot her four times.

CSG Midwest
Starting this year, Michigan law enforcement agencies must keep track of the reason for, and the circumstances surrounding, a law enforcement officer’s resignation.
The result of state legislation passed in 2017 (SB 223), this new requirement aims to prevent officers who resign due to accusations of misconduct from being hired by another department unknowingly.
“Many times, police departments don’t want to risk a lawsuit by giving out a bad report on a former employee; other times, there’s a deal cut between the officer and the police chief or sheriff,” says Sen. Rick Jones, the sponsor of SB 223, who is a former sheriff with 31 years of experience in law enforcement. Such a deal, he adds, would allow an officer to resign in lieu of termination, which allows him or her to remain certified and to have a clean employment record when pursuing another job in law enforcement.

It is rare for the Supreme Court to rule that a lower court improperly granted a police officer qualified immunity. It is perhaps even rarer for the Supreme Court to clarify its tried and true qualified immunity standard.

In Hernandez v. Mesa the Supreme Court ruled that the lower court erred in granting qualified immunity to a police officer based on facts unknown at the time of the shooting, but favorable to the officer. More generally, it clarified that the facts learned after an incident are not relevant to granting or denying qualified immunity.  

In a unanimous opinion in County of Los Angeles v. Mendez the Supreme Court rejected the “provocation rule,” where police officers using reasonable force may be liable for violating the Fourth Amendment because they committed a separate Fourth Amendment violation that contributed to their need to use force. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the Ninth Circuit’s provocation rule.

Police officer entered the shack Mendez was living in without a warrant and unannounced. Mendez thought the officers were the property owner and picked up the BB gun he used to shoot rats so he could stand up. When the officers saw the gun, they shot him resulting in his leg being amputated below the knee.  

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