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Old October 11th, 2006, 01:54 PM   #1
Toncomb
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Default Can someone explain this ruling?

I was reading the man suing the SS post and this Mt.Pleasant case was in it. How exactly do you justify killing someone by saying they were going to hurt themselves so we shot them? I'm not questioning the officers decisions just wondering how that works.

http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bi...ase&no=980125p
If you don't want to read it all heres the highlighted area, where my comes in.
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all the defendants after finding, as a matter of law, that the officers acted reasonably when they shot Thomas. Sova v. City of Mt. Pleasant , 947 F. Supp. 1116, 1122-26 (E.D. Mich. 1996). Although the court specifically found Thomas was not committing a crime and was not fleeing the police when he was shot, the court determined that the threat he posed to himself in part justified the officers' use of deadly force against him.

And the whole story,

Thomas Sova suffered from depression. His depression caused his long-time girlfriend, Sonya Honeycutt, to break up with him. A month later, Thomas attempted to reconcile with Sonya. That night he was drinking with some friends at a local bar and called Sonya several times in an attempt to patch up their relationship. Sonya told Thomas she thought it would be best if they stayed apart until he recovered from his depression. Based on his reaction to their conversation, Sonya correctly feared he would try to commit suicide. She called her mother, who then called Thomas's parents to convey Sonya's fears about his mental and emotional state. The Sovas then got into separate cars to look for their son.

By 9:00 p.m., Thomas was drunk and decided to walk to his parents' house. No one was home when he arrived. It was at this time that Thomas apparently began harming himself. Thirty minutes later, Thomas's father returned home. Mr. Sova went around to the back of the house, walked through the screened-in porch, and found the back door to the kitchen locked. Through the door panes he saw blood on the kitchen floor. Fearing the worst, Mr. Sova ran next door and asked a neighbor to call 911 and an ambulance. The dispatcher received this call at 9:27 p.m. When Mr. Sova ran back to the house, Thomas appeared in the kitchen barechested, holding two butcher knives with blood running from gashes on his arms and chest.

Shortly thereafter, at 9:32 p.m., an ambulance and police officers Jeffrey Shell and Daniel Gaffka arrived. By this time, Thomas had moved to a window on the second floor. He broke a number of window panes with the knives and further cut himself on the broken glass as he yelled down at thepolice to go away. Thomas's mother arrived at this time. Noticing the tension, she attempted to defuse the situation by asking the police to leave, telling them that she and her husband could handle it. In response, the police told her they were in charge of the situation because Thomas was "ruining her windows" and "committing a crime by attempting suicide." (It is not a crime to attempt suicide in Michigan.) There is some evidence that Thomas then threatened to get a gun and that Mr. Sova told the police there were firearms in the house. Mr. Sova denies making such a statement.

Thomas then went back downstairs and walked from the kitchen, through the porch, and onto the lawn with the knives pointing skyward. The police had not set up a perimeter, so Thomas confronted a number of people in the yard. Thomas again asked the police to leave. When Mrs. Sova tried to comfort Thomas, he avoided her and got blood on her clothes. He returned to the kitchen and slammed the door, yelling for his parents to make the police "go away." Mrs. Sova tried to follow him inside, but the police moved her away from the porch.

The situation escalated immediately after Sgt. LaLone arrived on the scene at 9:36 p.m.; he shot Thomas dead within ten minutes of his arrival. Sgt. LaLone and Officers Shell and Gaffka moved into the screened-in porch with guns drawn at 9:38 p.m. When Thomas broke the kitchen window with a knife, Sgt. LaLone asked what he wanted. Thomas replied that he wanted the police to shoot him. When he moved toward the door, the officers then began screaming at him and crouched in firing positions. Sgt. LaLone yelled that Thomas should drop the knives before he came out. Thomas pulled the kitchen door open, pushed the screen door, and stepped onto the porch still holding the knives. Officer Gaffka immediately sprayed mace in his face, forcing him to retreat. Agitated, Thomas began breaking the door panes, dragging his arms across the shards, and slashing himself on the chest and arms. Shortly thereafter, he decided to leave the kitchen again. When he pushed the screen door open, Sgt. LaLoneand Officer Shell fired three times. Officer Gaffka did not fire his gun.

Two of the shots fired by Sgt. LaLone and Officer Shell struck Thomas. The first shot tore a hole in his heart. The second ripped through his right forearm. Upon impact, Thomas spun around in the doorway, stumbled through the kitchen, and collapsed in the hall. He was shot at 9:46 p.m., fourteen minutes after the first police officer had arrived on the scene. The Mt. Pleasant Police Department apparently lost the slugs that killed Thomas as well as the shell casings found on the scene. An autopsy showed Thomas's blood-alcohol level was 0.26 percent when he was shot. When the police searched the house they found several rifles laid out on the bed in the upstairs bedroom where Thomas had broken the window.

After Thomas's death, the Sovas sued the three officers, the police department, the chief of police, and the city in state court. When they amended their complaint to add a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the defendants removed the case to federal court. After extensive discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all the defendants after finding, as a matter of law, that the officers acted reasonably when they shot Thomas. Sova v. City of Mt. Pleasant , 947 F. Supp. 1116, 1122-26 (E.D. Mich. 1996). Although the court specifically found Thomas was not committing a crime and was not fleeing the police when he was shot, the court determined that the threat he posed to himself in part justified the officers' use of deadly force against him. 1 The court alsoemphasized how the police "were given less than fifteen minutes to take control of the situation." Id. at 1125. It did not acknowledge that the confrontation ended within fifteen minutes because the police shot and killed Thomas.

The court gave Sgt. LaLone and Officer Shell qualified immunity and found Officer Gaffka was not liable because he did not fire his weapon. Id. at 1125-26. The city, the police department, and the police chief were not liable because the court held the officers did not deprive Thomas of a constitutional right. Id. at 1127. Lastly, the court granted summary judgment on all the Sovas' supplemental state law claims. Id. at 1128- 30. The Sovas appeal to this Court for reversal.

Last edited by Toncomb; October 12th, 2006 at 11:23 AM.
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