The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday reversed a lower court denial [orders, PDF] of qualified immunity in a civil rights suit involving a shooting by a University of Arizona Police [official website] officer.
Hughes, who was shot four times in May 2010, sued Officer Andrew Kisela under 42 USC §1983 [text, PDF] alleging Kisela used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In response, Kisela argued qualified immunity because although the officers were not in apparent danger at the time of the shooting, Hughes was an immediate threat to her roommate Chadwick.
The District Court initially granted [order, PDF] summary judgment to Kisela, but the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] reversed, denying the officer qualified immunity. The lower court opinion stated that a rational jury “could find that [Hughes] had a constitutional right to walk down her driveway holding a knife without being shot.”
In its opinion, the Supreme Court stated that the lower courts failed to support the conclusion that Kisela used excessive force and that no cases relied upon supported a denial of qualified immunity.
The court said:
Hughes had moved to within a few feet of Chadwick and failed to acknowledge at least two commands to drop the knife. Those commands were loud enough that Chadwick, who was standing next to Hughes, heard them. This is far from an obvious case in which any competent officer would have known that shooting Hughes to protect Chadwick would violate the Fourth Amendment.
The case will now be remanded to the lower courts for further proceedings.