The Supreme Court made it harder Monday to sue police for using deadly force against fleeing suspects, ruling that officers are immune from lawsuits unless it is “beyond debate” that a shooting was unjustified and clearly unreasonable, reported the Los Angeles Times.
By an 8-1 vote, the justices tossed out an excessive force suit against a Texas police officer who ignored his supervisor’s warning and took a high-powered rifle to a highway overpass to shoot at an approaching car. The officer said he hoped to stop the car but instead shot and killed the driver.
The ruling bolsters previous decisions that give police the benefit of the doubt when they encounter a potentially dangerous situation. The court noted in an unsigned 12-page opinion that it has “never found the use of deadly force in connection with a dangerous car chase to violate the 4th Amendment.”
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted the majority for “sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing.”
The court's decision comes at a time of growing concern over police shootings, including the killing last week of a 6-year-old Louisiana boy who was in the back seat of his father's car.
The two officers in that case have been arrested on suspicion of murder.
In cases where officers are not prosecuted, families sometimes sue in federal court and allege a violation of the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Monday’s decision could affect many such cases, including a pending appeal from Los Angeles involving the police shooting of a suspected gang member.
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