Supreme Court Gives Police Using Deadly Force in Chases More Immunity

WASHINGTON (Tribune Washington Bureau/TNS) -

The Supreme Court made it harder Monday to sue police for using deadly force against fleeing suspects, ruling that officers are immune from lawsuits unless it is “beyond debate” that a shooting was unjustified and clearly unreasonable.

By an 8-1 vote, the justices tossed out an excessive force suit against a Texas police officer who ignored his supervisor’s warning and took a high-powered rifle to a highway overpass to shoot at an approaching car. The officer said he hoped to stop the car but instead shot and killed the driver.

The high court said the benefit of the doubt in such cases always goes to the police officer who sees a potentially dangerous situation. The court has “never found the use of deadly force in connection with a dangerous car chase to violate the Fourth Amendment,” the justices said in an unsigned 12-page opinion.

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor faulted the majority for “sanctioning a ‘shoot first, think later’ approach to policing.”

The court’s decision comes at a time of growing concern over police shootings, including the shooting last week of a 6-year-old Louisiana boy who was in the back seat of his father’s car.

The two officers in that case have been arrested on suspicion of murder.