“Its decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public. It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
– Justice Sonia Sotomayor
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of an Arizona police officer that shot a woman outside of her home.
In 2010, three officers responded to a call that a woman was acting erratically hacking at a tree with a knife. Sharon Chadwick was standing in the driveway of a house and Amy Hughes came out of the house holding a kitchen knife. She stopped approximately 6 feet from Chadwick. These two women were roommates, which officers did not know at this time. Hughes was calm, had the knife at her side and made no moves. Chadwick, in a statement said she did not feel threatened and that Hughes was calm and composed.
Police drew their guns, told Hughes to drop the knife. Whether she heard them or not is unclear, but one of the officers, Andrew Kisela, shot Amy Hughes four times. As she was screaming and bleeding, she yelled, “Why’d you shoot me?” Amy Hughes survived the shooting and sued the Kisela for using excessive force. The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco allowed the case to proceed; however the Supreme Court reversed the ruling.
The Supreme Court ruled that Officer Kisela, “was entitled to qualified immunity, a doctrine that shields officials from suits over violations of constitutional rights that were not clearly established at the time os the conduct in question.” Basically, the court stated that there wasn’t any clarity in a precedent that would have made it clear that if he had opened fire to protect Chadwick, this would have amounted to unconstitutional excessive force.
Hughes was nowhere near the officers, had committed no illegal act, was suspected of no crime, and id not raise the knife in the direction of Chadwick or anyone else. Kisela, alone resorted in deadly force in this case. Confronted with the same circumstances as Kisela, neither of his fellow officers took that drastic measure.
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, he was not entitled to qualified immunity.
…the court’s decision in the case, Kisela v. Hughes, No. 17-467, was part of a disturbing trend of “unflinching willingness” to protect police officers accused of using excessive force.
The court’s decisions concerning qualified immunity, she wrote, “transforms the doctrine into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.”
“Because there is nothing right or just under the law about this,” she wrote, “I respectfully dissent.”