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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

City May Have ‘Ratified’ Cop’s Shooting of Teen

HOUSTON (CN) - Parents of a mentally-ill teenager shot to death by a police officer can advance a new theory of liability, a federal judge ruled.

Under the guidance of her son's psychiatrist, Pam Hobart says she called 911 for assistance in February 2009 when her 19-year-old son Aaron Hobart refused to see the doctor. By that point, Aaron had been off his medication for three months and was suffering from delusions from schizoaffective disorder.

Pam said she requested an officer with the crisis intervention team, but that the first person to show up was Officer Jesus Estrada, a 23-year-old who lacked the necessary training to help her belligerent but unarmed son.

Within 54 seconds of entering the house, Estrada fired his gun, lodging four fatal bullets in Aaron. Estrada and Pam give conflicting accounts of Aaron's attack on the officer prior to the shooting.

Steve and Pam Hobart sued the city of Stafford, Estrada and Chief of Police Bonny Krahn in October 2009.

In April, U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison refused to grant the defendants summary judgment, but green-lit an amended complaint with ratification-based claims.

He sided with the police chief Wednesday as to that new theory of recovery.

The Hobarts failed to show that Krahn was liable for a subordinate's excessive use of force based on ratification, according to the 28-page order.

But Ellison had less sympathy for the city of Stafford on the issue.

"The court admits that ratification is rarely a viable theory in this circuit," Ellison wrote. "If only a few of the facts in this case were different, this court would be obliged to conclude that no reasonable jury could find that the city was liable based on ratification. However, the totality of the facts here, including the physical evidence from the February 18, 2009 incident, evidence of Officer Estrada's state of mind, and indications in the record that Chief Krahn did not consider it his role to evaluate the reasonableness of Officer Estrada's assessment of the threat level convince this court that a reasonable jury could find the city liable on a ratification theory."

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