OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A federal judge tossed most claims against police officers who shot and Tasered a mentally unstable black man as he shouted profanities while brandishing a table leg.
Sean Pryor claims officers from the Clearlake Police Department in Northern California violated his civil rights when they entered his house and shot him seven times and Tasered him twice after receiving a call that Pryor had threatened to kill his stepbrother.
U.S. District Jude Claudia Wilken rejected Pryor’s unlawful entry claim, finding the officers “had sufficient grounds” to believe that Darryl Ayatch, Pryor’s stepbrother, had “common authority to consent to their entry into the house for the purposes of containing Pryor.”
“In addition, the officers reasonably believed that Ayatch’s consent overrode Pryor’s objections, given the threat of violence they detected, Pryor’s destructive behavior, and indications that both brothers were present at the residence based on their mother’s permission,” the decision states.
Exigent circumstances also supported the officers’ entry into the home owned by Ayatch and Pryor’s mother, Wilken found.
The officers had noted broken wine bottles and a broken door on the front lawn, and Ayatch had given them a key with the admission that he did not live there any longer but still passed through as he pleased, the court said.
A reasonable jury also would not find that Officer Michael Ray violated Pryor’s rights under the Fourth Amendment by first firing his Taser, according to the ruling.
“Ray first fired his Taser when he heard shots being fired,” Wilken wrote. “Although Ray did not know at that moment whether Pryor was firing a weapon, before entering the home he considered the possibility that Pryor could have access to firearms. There was little time for Ray to determine for certain whether Pryor was firing a gun. Given the danger posed by gunfire, there existed a strong governmental interest in ensuring that Ray was immobilized.”
The shots actually came from fellow officer Carl Miller.
Pryor also failed to support his claim that the first Taser shot was unreasonable because it was provoked by Officer Miller’s use of excessive force in shooting Pryor.
Wilken noted that the officers acted independently and there was no evidence that Ray participated in Miller’s decision to shoot Pryor.
Officer Ray, who deployed the second Taser shot when Pryor failed to heed his command to roll over, also enjoys qualified immunity, according to the ruling, though a jury could find that the action constituted an intermediate level of force where no immediate threat existed.
Since courts did not determine until after these events transpired that Tasering could constitute an intermediate use of force, “Ray’s conduct did not violate any clearly established constitutional law.”
The court also tossed Pryor’s claim that Lt. Greg Clausen or Police Chief Alan Wade McClain set in motion a series of acts that they knew or should have known would cause Ray and Miller to use excessive force.
Though the police had information that Pryor might be mentally unstable, the officers at the scene did not necessarily know that and were not required by law to independently check for that information, Wilken found.
Pryor also failed to show that similarly situated individuals were treated differently, or that the defendants pursued a certain course of action because of his race or mental illness, which is required to sustain an equal protection claim.
The complaint further lacks evidence to show that the city of Clearlake negligently trained its police officers and tolerated bigotry and indifference to the mentally disabled, according to the ruling.
Pryor also did not tie the hiring of Ray and Miller to his injury.
Wilken rejected Pryor’s use of Facebook posts to show that the police department’s indifference to derogatory remarks do not amount to a cognizable custom for purposes of a Monell claim, according to the ruling.
The doctrine takes its name from Monell v. NYC Department of Social Services, a 1978 Supreme Court case that first established local government accountability for unconstitutional acts.
Since the defendants did not move for summary judgment on Pryor’s claims against Miller for excessive force, the judge left that claim in tact, along with Pryor’s claims for battery against Ray.
Though initial mediation failed, the court ordered the parties to meet for a further settlement conference.