(CN) – The 9th Circuit on Tuesday asked the California Supreme Court to decide if police officers have a duty of care when checking on a person known to be suicidal. As the justices resolve this question, the court will hold an appeal involving a San Diego man who was shot and killed by two deputies.
Shane Hayes had attempted suicide by inhaling gas fumes the night before San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies Mike King and Sue Geer showed up at his home on a domestic-disturbance call in September 2006, according to the ruling. He’d also tried to stab himself with a knife several months before.
The deputies had a brief conversation with Hayes’ girlfriend before entering the house where Hayes was holed up, but they neglected to get details about his past suicide attempts and did not know that he was intoxicated.
“Although the deputies had been sent a notification that Hayes was intoxicated, neither deputy checked for such a notification before entering the house, and both were unaware of this information,” the ruling states. “The deputies had also not checked whether there had been previous incidents involving Hayes and were unaware that he had been taken into protective custody four months earlier in connection with his suicide attempt involving a knife. Finally, the deputies did not discuss whether the department’s Psychiatric Emergency Response Team should be called.”
They also neglected to ask “about Hayes’s physical characteristics or if anyone else was in the house,” according to the ruling.
When the deputies entered the house, they found Hayes in the kitchen holding something behind his back. Hayes raised his hands as instructed, brandishing a knife, tip pointing down. King and Greer each fired two shots from about 8 feet away that fatally wounded Hayes.
Hayes’ minor daughter sued the deputies in California District Court for wrongful death, arguing that their “preshooting conduct” had been negligent and had created the altercation that led to her father’s death.
The District Court sided with the deputies, finding that they owed no duty of care to Hayes before entering the home.
In her petition for rehearing before the San Francisco-based appeals panel, Hayes’ daughter requested that the circuit ask the California Supreme Court to rule on the issue before moving forward.
In an order published Tuesday, the panel agreed, finding that there is no controlling precedent on the issue because of a dispute as to whether the California Supreme Court would follow rulings by two state appellate courts – on which the District Court ruling relied – that law-enforcement officers owe no such duty of care.
The panel asked the justices to resolve “whether under California negligence law, sheriff’s deputies owe a duty of care to a suicidal person when preparing, approaching, and performing a welfare check on him.”
The 9th Circuit stayed the daughter’s appeal pending final action by the California Supreme Court.