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Qualified Immunity case before the United States Supreme Court may help

Can a person be convicted of homicide despite having no weapon, no intention, and no reason to kill a co-conspirator? The United States Supreme Court may decide this in the case of City of Hayward v. Jessie Lee Jetmore Stoddard-Nunez

On March 2nd, 2017, Jessie Stoddard-Nunez and his younger brother Shawn were at a party at their apartment. Their friend, Pakman, also attended the gathering. While at the party, Shawn and Pakman consumed alcohol. As the men drank, they became intoxicated and violent. Packman physically fought with Stoddard-Nunez, punching and restraining him. Eventually, Pakman and Shawn left the apartment and drove away despite both being intoxicated. 

Office Troche was on patrol at the time with a ride-along passenger. Troche noticed Pakman’s Honda Civic driving erratically, as Pakman ran a stop sign, red light, and was swerving lanes. Troche began to follow Pakman’s vehicle. Pakman then parked the car in a parking lot and Troche blocked him into the parking lot with his vehicle. 

Pakman did not comply with Troche’s orders to turn off his vehicle and step out of the car. Instead, Pakman attempted to flee the scene. Pakman swiped the police cruiser while attempting to escape. In response, Troche shot at Pakman to stop the threat, but Pakman kept driving and exited the parking lot. Troche continued to shoot after the car was driving away, and fired nine shots at Pakman’s vehicle. Troche continued to fire even after the potential threat had passed. A few blocks away, Pakman lost control of the car and fled on foot. Shawn was still in the passenger seat injured by a stray bullet from Troche’s gun. 

Pakman was charged with the murder of Shawn and felony assault on a police officer. Pakman accepted a plea dealt and had his murder charge brought down to involuntary manslaughter in connection with Shawn’s death. 

When an officer does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional right of which a reasonable person would have known that officer is subjected to the doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officer even when they have violated the constitution. 

Police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless there is existing precedent with nearly identical facts to the case at issue. 

In this case, the Ninth Circuit held that the officer was not entitled to qualified immunity because the car turned away from the officer. The court held that this constituted firing when no longer in danger, and was excessive use of deadly force under clearly established law. Troche tries to argue that he was still in danger and that the Ninth Circuit relied on precedent that was too general to his case. However, there is evidence that most of the gunshots, including the one that killed Shawn, came from the rear, which would mean that these shots were fired after Pakman had driven away. 

Additionally, a previous decision of the Supreme Court has established that a passenger in a motor vehicle who has been shot by an officer intending to stop the vehicle has been seized for the purpose of the Fourth Amendment. This would amount to an improper seizure. 

There are many disputed facts in this case, but if the United States Supreme Court grants certiorari in this case, hopefully, they will see that the Ninth Circuit probably had it correct. An officer should not be permitted to shoot and kill civilians when there is no threat of serious bodily injury or death. 

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