Police Shot a Man Driving Away, Can’t Keep Their Stories Straight, Get Qualified Immunity Anyway
Police violated the constitutional rights of an Alabama man when they repeatedly shot at his car, first as he inched forward in it nonthreateningly and then as he drove away, hitting him either five or six times and requiring that he receive emergency surgery, a federal court ruled last week.
The same panel found that the officers are entitled to qualified immunity and thus cannot be sued in connection with the incident. The legal doctrine allows state actors to violate your rights without fear of civil liability if the exact manner in which they misbehaved has not been declared unconstitutional in a preexisting court precedent. (A practical example: Two cops in Fresno, California, allegedly pocketed $225,000 while executing a search warrant, but the victims were not permitted to sue because no ruling on the books said that stealing under those precise circumstances is a violation of someone’s rights.)
On June 14, 2014, Bessemer Police Department (BPD) Officers Daniel Partridge and Christopher Asarisi responded to a complaint from a woman who reported what she thought was a domestic violence dispute somewhere nearby and that she thought she heard two gunshots. When the cops arrived, they found Marcus Underwood and Ray James, who appeared to be arguing.
The men immediately dispersed; Underwood, who got in his car, responded that they were just “clowning.” Both officers say they told him to stop, but Underwood inched forward with “the foot off the brake,” according to Asarisi. The officers allegedly then began shooting at his vehicle, prompting Underwood to accelerate and collide with Partridge, who was not injured. They fired a total of 20 shots and continued to shoot from behind as Underwood drove away. He ultimately crashed the vehicle into a house and needed immediate medical attention.
Analyzing the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found that the officers violated Underwood’s Fourth Amendment rights. “While Underwood was not obeying orders to stop and was evading talking to the police, Underwood was not driving aggressively or in a threatening way,” wrote Circuit Judge C
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