Jury to Weigh Cop’s Immunity for DC Shooting

     (CN) — A jury must decide whether a D.C. cop had reasonable cause to shoot and kill a man suspected of throwing a bottle at a store window, a federal judge ruled.
     Tremayne Flythe was shot by a Washington, D.C. police officer while walking to his mother’s house for breakfast the day after Christmas 2009.
     Metro police had been searching the area around a liquor store after its owner reported that a man with dreadlocks walking a dog had thrown a bottle at his store window.
     Believing that Flythe met the suspect’s description, Officer Angel Vazquez approached him to ask some questions. Vazquez said Flythe then began toying with his jacket, pulled out a knife and struck him with it.
     The officer allegedly pushed or kicked Flythe away, fired two shots from his own service revolver and then ran away because the gun jammed.
     Officer Travis Eagan, who had been patrolling the same neighborhood, reportedly heard over the police radio as Vazquez commanded Flythe to drop the knife and fired his gun.
     Eagan said he then found Vazquez and chased after Flythe. While Eagan chased Flythe, the suspect allegedly turned on the officer with his hand on a knife. Eagan said he warned Flythe that he would shoot unless he dropped the knife, and then fired a fatal shot to the man’s chest when he continued to advance.
     Though a knife was recovered near Flythe’s body in the snow, Flythe’s fingerprints were not linked to the knife upon forensic analysis, according to court records.
     Flythe’s mother sued D.C. and the two officers, but U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras granted Eagan qualified immunity in 2013.
     In preserving assault claims against Vazquez and D.C., Contreras noted the differing accounts of the altercation offered by witnesses.
     Multiple people who saw Vazquez confront Flythe reported that Flythe had his hands up, palms forward, and did not have any weapon when Vazquez shot at him.
     A jury found the District of Columbia liable for assault and battery, but not excessive force, for the actions of both Vazquez and Eagan, and awarded Flythe’s mother compensatory damages of $119,000.
     On appeal, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the jury award and reversed the grant of immunity to Eagan.
     Contreras denied Eagan’s renewed request for qualified immunity Friday.
     “It would violate the mandate rule for this court to conclude that summary judgment is warranted even after the D.C. Circuit reversed the court’s prior entry of summary judgment,” Contreras said.
     The appeals court said a jury could find Flythe never threatened Officer Eagan with a knife, which would make the shooting objectively unreasonable.
     “Several pieces of circumstantial evidence cast doubt on Officer Eagan’s account, and could lead a reasonable jury to question whether Mr. Flythe was attacking Officer Eagan or posed a continuing threat to him as he turned to face the officer,” Contreras said, echoing the D.C. Circuit’s findings.
     The judge’s decision revives Flythe’s mother’s potential claim for punitive damages, but only against Eagan individually, not the District.

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