6/5/2018Federal Appeals Court Rejects Police Immunity In Motorist Shooting
Sixth Circuit rejects request for immunity from Tennessee police officer who gunned down an unarmed teen who attempted to drive away.
A police officer will not get a free pass after firing multiple shots at a non-dangerous suspect who was trying to get away. The Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals on Thursday gave the green light to the excessive force lawsuit filed by the father of Dillon McGee against the Madison County, Tennessee sheriff's deputy who gunned down the unarmed eighteen-year-old. A three-judge panel noted the account of events of September 26, 2014, given by Sergeant Thomas Knolton and Deputy Ben Moyer failed to match witness statements. The court decided to let a jury sort out the truth.
On that September day, Sergeant Knolton intended to arrest McGee, who was a suspect in a simple misdemeanor assault case. The officer found McGee's silver Nissan Versa outside Maverick Convenience Store as McGee was about to drive off. Driving an unmarked silver Impala, the deputies pulled into the parking lot, stopping in front of McGee's silver Nissan Versa. They did not use their lights or siren, and they were not in uniform, though they wore bulletproof vests.
As the Impala pulled up, McGee cranked the wheel to the right to slowly proceed out of the parking spot toward the exit without hitting the unmarked car. According to witnesses, the deputies got out of the vehicle without announcing themselves, guns drawn. Sergeant Knolton fired twice through the front windshield, missing McGee and the passenger, Robert Aspiranti. Aspiranti described what went through his mind as he saw two unidentified men with guns pointed at them.
"Someone was trying to kill us," Aspiranti said. "With this day and time, there's crazy people out there that do all sorts of stuff."
A witness said Sergeant Knolton then sidestepped twenty feet to keep up with the Versa as it headed to the exit. A few seconds later, he fired three rounds through the driver's side window. The last shot killed McGee. Despite the forensic evidence, the deputy testified that he was standing in front of the car and that the teenager was heading directly toward him, causing him to fear for his life.
The three-judge appellate panel noted that police officers may not shoot a non-dangerous fleeing felon. To determine whether the officers' conduct was reasonable depends on establishing, as McGee's family argues, that the officers did not identify themselves and the Nissan was headed away from the officers.
"We lack jurisdiction to resolve factual disputes," Judge Helene N. White wrote for the panel. "If the jury believes plaintiff's version of the facts, Knolton's conduct violated the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the district court did not err in denying summary judgment."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 160k PDF file at the source link below.