U.S. Supreme Court Decides Excessive Force Police Case
June 1, 2017
A United States Supreme Court ruling on a California case this week offers greater protection for police who use force in the line of duty. The court ruled that when police force is reasonable, there is no valid excessive force claim. The decisions is a rejection of the “provocation rule” adopted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that creates liability for law enforcement officers that use reasonable force if a separate Fourth Amendment violation contributed to their need to use force.
In this case, County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, plaintiffs were sleeping in a shack behind the main house on the property. Although the officers knocked on the door of the house, they entered the shack without a warrant and without prior notice. One of the plaintiffs was resting with a BB gun on his lap and, as he rose, he was shot along with the other occupant of the shack.
The Ninth Circuit concluded that the force was reasonable, but found the officers liable for the use of force because they had “provoked” the shooting by entering the shack without a warrant. Under the Supreme Court’s ruling, plaintiffs may be able to recover damages under a warrantless entry claim, but plaintiffs are not entitled to damages for excessive force because the officers used reasonable force under the circumstances.