(CN) - A Michigan police officer who shot an unarmed woman on New Year's Eve lost his bid to have an excessive-force claim against him dismissed. The 6th Circuit said it wasn't clear that the officer thought he was being fired at, as he claimed.
Officer Terry Lewis responded to a "shots fired" call on Dec. 31, 2006, in Flint, Mich.
It's apparently a tradition in Flint to fire guns into the air and into a nearby lake on New Year's Eve, according to the ruling.
As Lewis was rounding up three men who may have fired the shots, he heard a "loud metal sounding" noise to his left. A side door opened, and Lewis said he saw a hand with something metallic in it and a flash of light, which he took for a muzzle flash. He immediately fired, claiming he thought he was being shot at.
His bullet hit Tracy Jefferson, an unarmed woman standing in the doorway. She had nothing in her hand but the doorknob. The shot injured her, but it wasn't fatal.
She accused Lewis of battery and violating her constitutional right to be free from excessive force.
Lewis argued that the case should be dismissed based on qualified immunity, but the district court denied his motion.
The Cincinnati-based appeals court affirmed, saying Jefferson produced "adequate evidentiary support" for her version of events.
Jefferson had insisted that her hand never left the doorknob, and there was no ambient light source that could have produced the alleged flash.
"Though we are hesitant to doubt Officer Lewis' testimony that he saw a flash, 'the court may not simply accept what may be a self-serving account by the police officer. It must look at the circumstantial evidence that, if believed, would tend to discredit the police officer's story,'" Judge Boyce Martin, Jr. wrote, quoting the 9th Circuit in Scott v. Henrich (1994).
"In this case, Ms. Jefferson's testimony regarding the lack of ambient light is sufficient to support an inference that could discredit Officer Lewis' testimony."
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