Supreme Court sides with officer in Arizona police shooting case

Jeffrey Lee

Anxious that Hughes was threatening Chadwick, one officer, Andrew Kisela, shot her four times through a chain-link fence. Two other officers were on hand with their weapons drawn, but thought talking was better than shooting in the circumstances. But Kisela then fired four shots, striking Hughes.

In affidavits, Chadwick later said that Hughes appeared non-threatening and that she did not understand what was happening when the officers ordered her to drop the knife, as she was on medication for bipolar disorder.

All that makes for an interesting test case of the thorny rules governing police officer liability for deadly force. But the courts ruled that was an illegal endorsement of religion. In recent years, it has been repeatedly invoked by the Supreme Court to quash litigation brought against police officers accused of using excessive force. Kisela had responded to reports that Hughes was in the street with a large knife "screaming and crying very loud"; when he arrived, he saw Hughes approaching another woman. To the rest, Kisela was too hasty in a situation where no one was in immediate danger and two colleagues who also had their guns drawn were convinced that more talking was worthwhile. "This contributes significantly to the difficulties in holding police accountable", he said. "For even assuming a Fourth Amendment violation occurred-a proposition that is not at all evident-on these facts Kisela was at least entitled to qualified immunity". "But the federal courts can not exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiff's claims". When she began to walk toward Sharon Chadwick, police yelled for her to drop the knife.

In her dissent, Sotomayor noted that Kisela was the only officer on the scene who used deadly force, and that he did so without warning that he would open fire.

If all this sounds like a fancily worded version of a Reddit argument about any given high-profile police killing from the past few years, that's because it basically is.

The Supreme Court rejected a similar appeal in 2014 when it refused to hear arguments from thousands of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, who sought to sue Middle Eastern companies and people for allegedly providing support to al-Qaeda. "It does so based on a legal doctrine - qualified immunity - that the Supreme Court invented out of whole cloth to help create a policy of near-zero accountability for law enforcement". The jury recommended a sentence of life without the possibility of parole by a vote of seven to five, but the judge overrode that reccomendation and sentenced Lee to death. But at a minimum, Sotomayor added, there is enough dispute about the facts and the law in Kisela's case that the court should not have reversed without the benefit of briefing or oral argument on the merits.

But the majority of Chief Justice John Roberts' court is systematically biased in favor of police, in Sotomayor's view, and thus too quick to swing the ax in favor of officers.

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