Supreme Court rules police officer cannot be sued for shooting Arizona woman in her front yard

Supreme Court rules police officer cannot be sued for shooting Arizona woman in her front yard
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The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a lawsuit an Arizona woman tried to bring against a Tucson officer who shot her four times in her front yard in May 2010.   

In an unsigned opinion, the court said the officer, Andrew Kisela, was entitled to qualified immunity in the shooting of Amy Hughes. 

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Kisela and three other officers were called to Hughes’s house after a neighbor called 911 to report that Hughes was in the yard hacking a tree with a kitchen knife and acting erratically.

When officers arrived, Hughes emerged from the house carrying a large knife at her side and approached her roommate, who was standing in the front yard, stopping six feet away from her.

Officers, believing Hughes was a threat to her roommate, drew their guns and told her twice to drop the knife. Kisela ultimately shot her four times through a chain-link fence.

The court’s decision Monday reverses a 9th Circuit Court ruling in favor of Hughes. The lower court said Kisela had used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. 

The Supreme Court, however, said Kisela was entitled to qualified immunity because there is no prior case setting a precedent that his use of force in this situation would be excessive. 

“Use of excessive force is an area of the law ‘in which the result depends very much on the facts of each case,’ and thus police officers are entitled to qualified immunity unless existing precedent ‘squarely governs’ the specific facts at issue,” the court wrote.

“Precedent involving similar facts can help move a case beyond the otherwise ‘hazy border between excessive and acceptable force’ and thereby provide an officer notice that a specific use of force is unlawful.”

In a scathing dissent, which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court has never required a factually identical case to satisfy the “clearly established” precedent standard.

“It's decision is not just wrong on the law; it also sends an alarming signal to law enforcement officers and the public,” she wrote. 

“It tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”