Judge Helene N. White brings some sanity to a shooting at a moving vehicle case
Preliminary: On of my pet peeves about police conduct has been their propensity to shoot at moving vehicles as a technique to stop them. The problem is compounded when the police officers purposely put themselves in the path of the vehicle, instead of staying well out of the way of the path of the vehicle as officer safety concerns would obviously dictate. In too many cases, there seems to be a judicial reluctance to call the police officer out for putting herself in front of a moving vehicle and pointing a gun at the driver. I mean, if you care about your own life, that is one of the stupidest things you can do. Fortunately, in the case below, two of the three circuit judges on the Sixth Circuit (6C) panel) apparently understand this.
The dash-cam video does not conclusively show that a reasonable officer would have believed Lewis [, the suspect,] posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to Needham [, the police officer,] or others in the vicinity. Rather, viewed in the light most favorable to the Estate, it shows that Lewis—who was not suspected of any violent crime—was merely trying to flee a traffic stop in a vehicle, which alone is not sufficient to justify the use of deadly force. . . . Further, the video does not clearly show that Lewis “targeted” Needham when he accelerated the vehicle and attempted to flee. Although Lewis’s intent does not matter, the facts known to Needham at the time do. . . . Because Needham ran in front of the vehicle after Lewis had started the ignition and less than a second before he accelerated forward, it is not clear from the video that a reasonable officer would have perceived that Lewis was “targeting” him.
Moreover, the video strongly suggests—and Needham appears to concede—that Needham fired into the driver’s side window. This fact and Needham’s position at the side of the car suggest he was clear of the vehicle and not in danger when he fired his weapon. Needham contends he fired through the driver’s side window only because at the time, he was “trying to dodge the vehicle.” Needham Br. 21. Although that may be the case, the conclusion Needham asks the court to draw would require us to view the video in the light most favorable to Needham. However, a reasonable jury could reach a different conclusion, especially since the video appears to show Needham lowering his weapon as he jumps out of the vehicle’s path, and then raising it again as the vehicle drives by him. . . .