NationNation Now

Related story: Supreme Court upholds police shooting after high-speed car chase

ShootingsCrimeLaw EnforcementCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemSamuel A. Alito
Supreme Court says police may shoot to kill a temporarily cornered motorist after a high-speed chase
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said officers deserve benefit of the doubt when they're in a high-speed pursuit

The police may use deadly force to shoot and kill a motorist who leads them on a reckless, high-speed chase, even if the suspect's car is temporarily cornered, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a unanimous decision, the justices threw out an "excessive force" claim brought against Arkansas police officers who chased a speeding car across the bridge into Memphis and shot the driver when he refused to give up.

In the past, the court had said police may use force to stop a fleeing motorist because he represents a danger to the public. But the law has been unclear on whether "deadly force" can be used against the occupants of a stopped car.

In the case decided Tuesday, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said the officers were justified in shooting the motorist because he continued to maneuver his car after he had been temporarily stopped by a squad car. As the motorist, Donald Rickard, tried to drive away, police fired 15 shots in all, killing him and a passenger.

Alito also said officers deserve the benefit of the doubt when they are engaged in a high-speed pursuit. "We analyze this question from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight," he wrote in Plumhoff v. Rickard.

The case began on a summer night in 2004 when officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda because the car had only one headlight. When an officer sought to question the driver, he sped away.

The chase reached 100 miles per hour when Rickard crossed the bridge into Memphis. Sgt. Vance Plumhoff led the pursuit and collided with the fleeing vehicle, sending it spinning into a parking lot.

Though Rickard's car was cornered, he put it into reverse and spun the wheels. When Rickard refused to surrender, Plumhoff fired three shots into the vehicle. The car then spun away, and officers fired more shots, killing the driver and his passenger.

Rickard's daughter sued, alleging the officers violated the 4th Amendment by using "excessive force" to make an arrest. A federal judge and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the suit to proceed on the theory that a jury should decide whether the shooting was excessive.

But the Supreme Court decided there was no constitutional violation. "It is beyond serious dispute that Rickard's flight posed a grave public safety risk, and here the police acted reasonably in using deadly force to end that risk," Alito wrote. It would be "a different case," he added, if the initial shots "had clearly incapacitated Rickard" or "if Rickard had clearly given himself up."

"But that is not what happened," he concluded.

 

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
ShootingsCrimeLaw EnforcementCourts and the JudiciaryJustice SystemSamuel A. Alito
  • White House intruder arrested after entering front doors
    White House intruder arrested after entering front doors

    An intruder scaled a White House fence and made it all the way into the building Friday evening before he was caught and wrestled to the ground by security officers, the Secret Service said. President Obama and his family had already left for Camp David when the incident occurred.

  • Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past
    Man who killed daughter and grandchildren had violent past

    Don Spirit, a Florida grandfather who fatally shot his daughter Sarah Lorraine Spirit and six grandchildren before killing himself, had a long history of domestic violence — at one point pushing his pregnant daughter against a refrigerator and assaulting and threatening his former...

  • Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?
    Rain pounds Texas: A sign the drought is ending?

    In Texas, where the governor once urged the public to pray for rain, this week’s torrential storms might finally be a sign of lasting relief for the state plagued by years of drought. Or maybe not.

  • For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war
    For many in Congress, a first test on issues of war

    Lawmakers' votes this week on whether or not to train and equip Syrian opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State were arguably the most consequential after nearly two years in which Congress is likely to set a new low for productivity.

  • Egyptian militant admits links to 1998 U.S. embassy bombings

    A longtime Egyptian militant with ties to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden admitted in federal court Friday that he had links to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, a surprise guilty plea that the judge sharply questioned because it reduces his prison time from a potential life sentence to...

  • Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels
    Four takeaways from the vote in Congress to arm Syrian rebels

    What was supposed to be a no-drama final session of Congress before the campaign season turned into anything but as President Obama's new strategy to combat the threat from Islamic State resulted in a wrenching vote that is likely to reverberate through the midterm election and...

Comments
Loading