Cops Face Scrutiny on Force Used With Suicidal
(CN) - Sheriff's deputies may be liable for the death of a suicidal person if they are unreasonable in their use of deadly force, the California Supreme Court ruled.
Shane Hayes of Santee, Calif., held a large knife as he advanced toward San Diego County deputies who shot and killed him in September 2006.
The deputies had arrived after a neighbor called to report screaming. Hayes' girlfriend, Geri Neill, told them that Hayes had tried to kill himself earlier in the evening by inhaling car exhaust.
When the deputies entered the house, they did not know that Hayes had been drinking heavily or that he was taken into custody four months earlier for trying to kill himself with a knife.
One of the deputies asked Hayes to show his hands. Seeing the knife in one of those hands, they fired as Hayes came closer.
Chelsey Hayes, Shane's daughter, was 12 years old when the shooting occurred. Through a guardian ad litem, she filed federal and state claims against the county of San Diego and the deputies.
She asserted Fourth Amendment claims for her father to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. She also claimed a 14th Amendment due process violation for the loss of her father.
Chelsey's state-law claims were against the deputies for negligence and the county for negligent hiring, training, retention and supervision.
A federal judge ruled in favor of the deputies, stating they did not owe Hayes a duty of care for their conduct before the shooting.
Chelsey appealed, and the 9th Circuit asked the California Supreme Court in 2011 to weigh in on whether the deputies can be found liable under state law. In a decision written by Justice Joyce Kennard, the court answered yes.
"Law enforcement personnel's tactical conduct and decisions preceding the use of deadly force are relevant considerations under California law in determining whether the use of deadly force gives rise to negligence liability," she wrote.
"Such liability can arise, for example, if the tactical conduct and decisions show, as part of the totality of the circumstances, that the use of deadly force was unreasonable," Kennard added, referring the actual outcome of the case back to the federal courts.