The Supreme Court ruled Monday that officers are immune from lawsuits unless it is “beyond debate” that a shooting was unjustified and clearly unreasonable.
WASHINGTON — 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.
By an 8-1 vote, the justices tossed out an excessive-force suit against Texas state Trooper Chadrin Mullenix, 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, Israel Leija Jr.
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 Fourth Amendment.”
In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted the majority for “sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing.”
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The court’s decision comes at a time of growing concern over police shootings.
In cases where officers are not prosecuted, families sometimes sue in federal court and allege a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Monday’s decision could affect many such cases.
The case decided Monday involved a man in Tulia, Texas, who fled from a drive-in restaurant when police tried to arrest him. He was believed to be drunk and carrying a gun. He led officers on a nighttime chase that reached 110 miles per hour.