ABA Journal reports “Cop who killed fleeing driver is protected by qualified immunity, SCOTUS rules”

ABA Journal: The driver, Israel Leija Jr., had fled after a police officer approached his car at a drive-in restaurant and told Leija he was under arrest, according to the Supreme Court opinion. Leija drove at speeds between 85 and 110 miles per hour during the chase. Twice he called the Tulia police dispatcher, claiming that he had a gun and would shoot at officers if they didn’t give up the chase. The dispatcher also received a report that Leija might be intoxicated.

Officers set up tire spikes at three locations, including at Cemetery Road beneath an overpass. Mullenix drove to the Cemetery Road overpass and considered shooting at Leija’s car to disable it. Mullenix asked the dispatcher to ask his supervisor if the plan was worth doing, and got out of the vehicle; it’s unclear whether he heard his supervisor’s advice to wait to see if the spikes worked. Mullenix fired when the car approached, killing Leija…. Read more at the ABA Journal.

Last week, a I posted a law brief of this case on my website Blog: The Law Offices of Cory H. Morris.  When the New York Times reported this case it found that “Mullenix v. Luna, No. 14-1143, was different, the majority acknowledged, because ‘traffic was light on I-27.’ But it added that there existed ‘no case from this court denying qualified immunity because officers entitled to terminate a high-speed chase selected one dangerous alternative over another.’ ” This is the first time the Supreme Court has given an open license for police to, as was done in this case, kill in such instances. The LA Times reported the case as well, noting that the “[t]he court’s decision comes at a time of growing concern over police shootings, including the killing last week of a 6-year-old Louisiana boy who was in the back seat of his father’s car.”

The Washington Post also ran a story on the case, highlighting one of the salient issues surrounding police accountability: “Supreme Court decided Monday that a Texas state trooper who shot and killed a fleeing suspect in a high-speed chase cannot be held civilly liable for the man’s death, even though the officer’s superior had told him not to shoot.”


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