Friday, November 4, 2011

Ninth Circuit: No Qualified Immunity in Excessive Force Case

The Ninth Circuit ruled today in Glenn v. Washington County that police officers did not enjoy qualified immunity from a civil rights suit for shooting and killing a suicidal youth.

Lukus Glenn, a recent high school graduate, returned to his parents' home late one night, drunk.  After a verbal altercation, Lukus pulled a pocketknife, held it to his neck, and threatened to kill himself.  Lukus's mom called 911.

Police arrived, knowing that Lukus was suicidal, and handled the situation as if Lukus posed a threat to others.  One officer shot six beanbag rounds at Lukus, and, when Lukus ran for cover, two other officers unloaded eleven rounds from their semiautomatics, killing Lukus.  Officers later claimed that they thought Lukus was running into the house and posed a threat to his parents.

Lukus's mom filed suit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, arguing that the officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The district court ruled that the officers enjoyed qualified immunity and granted their motion for summary judgment.

The Ninth Circuit reversed.  The court ruled that under the totality of the circumstances the officers were not entitled to summary judgment on their qualified immunity defense.  The court said that officers could have used some reasonable force to prevent Lukus from taking his own life, but that the force here exceeded standards that apply even when a suspect is threatening others.

The court also remanded the plaintiff's Monell claim against Washington County (which the lower court dismissed based on its entry of summary judgment in favor of the officers) and a related state law claim. 

The ruling means that the case can move forward at the district court.


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