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Immunity for Cops in Killing of Suicidal Man

(CN) - New Orleans police officers who shot and killed a suicidal man holding a knife had reason to fear for their safety and are entitled to qualified immunity, the 5th Circuit ruled.

Tyralyn Harris called 911 in April 2010 for help when her suicidal ex-husband Brian Harris locked himself in their bedroom and told her to take their two children out of the house.

Harris suspected her ex might have taken sleeping pills to end his life.

In the 911 transcript, Harris told the dispatcher her husband barricaded himself in a room. "I don't think he want to live no more," she said. "I need somebody to come help him."

Harris told the dispatcher her husband, with whom she had reconciled, did not have guns but might have a knife.

"They need to send an ambulance, too, or somebody," she said. "They need to bring him to the hospital because something's wrong with him."

When the officers arrived at the house, Harris told them her ex-husband was depressed after losing his job and might be suicidal.

Video captured by the officers' Tasers showed what happened next.

After forcing open the bedroom door, the officers entered the room, yelling, "let me see your hands."

The video shows Harris in bed with the covers pulled up. When the officers pulled the blanket off him, they saw Harris was holding a folded knife.

He ignored their orders him to drop the weapon and the officers then used their Tasers but missed Harris. A second Taser attempt failed to incapacitate Harris, who at this point was standing up and holding the knife above his right shoulder in a stabbing position, and flailing at the Taser wires.

When ordered to "drop the knife!" Harris responded, "I'm not dropping nothing."

Officer Stephen McGree then fired three shots at Harris, killing him.

The 5th Circuit agreed with a federal judge Tuesday that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions.

"When looking at the 'moment of the threat' that resulted in Officer McGee's use of deadly force, it is clear from the Taser video that Mr. Harris was standing up out of bed and had raised the knife above his head at the time the shots were fired," Judge James Graves Jr. wrote for the three-judge panel. "Accordingly, the district court properly held that under these circumstances, the officers reasonably feared for their safety at the moment of the fatal shooting."In addition, Tyralyn consented to the officers' entry by giving them keys to the bedroom where Brian had locked himself in.

"Mr. Harris's possible suicide attempt constituted exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless entry into his bedroom."

The court based its opinion solely on its analysis of the moment before the fatal shooting.

"We express no opinion regarding the appropriateness of the officers' conduct that preceded the moment of the shooting in this case," the 10-page opinion concludes.

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