Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Police Shooting of a Non-Threatening Suspect Following A Car Chase Gives Rise to Viable Civil RIghts Case

Suing the police is a difficult endeavor because the qualified immunity doctrine shields government officials from liability for their exercise of discretion, unless their actions violate clearly established rights. Most civil rights cases against police officers fail for this reason. Moreover, after a trial court decides the qualified immunity question the case is immediately appealable. This means that years can go by before the plaintiff can even begin to engage in discovery on the merits, much less get a trial.

Sometimes though the evidence demonstrates a clear case under 42 U.S.C. section 1983, the applicable civil rights statute. For example, police officers who fire rounds into a suspect's vehicle when the chase ends but who have no reason to believe they are threatened are not going to be entitled to qualified immunity. That's what happened in Thompson v. City of Lebanon, Case No. 14-5711 (6th Cir., July 26, 2016). The police in that case killed the suspect.

Thompson's case merely survived a qualified immunity challenge. It took more than six years from the date of the incident to get a ruling from the court of appeals. The case now goes back to the trial court for further proceedings, assuming the defendants do not ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Justice delayed is justice denied. This case is prime example.