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No Immunity for Cop Who Killed Elderly Man

BOSTON (CN) - A Framingham, Mass., police officer will have to face trial after accidentally shooting and killing an unarmed, elderly black man, the First Circuit ruled.

Eurie Stamps' family sued for wrongful death and a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights after Framingham police officer Paul Duncan accidentally shot Stamps in the head while he was facedown in his home during a SWAT raid, according to the ruling.

More than 10 SWAT team members raided Stamps' home in January 2011, executing a search warrant on suspicion that Stamps' stepson, Joseph Bushfan, was selling crack cocaine out of the apartment with another person that police wrongfully believed lived in the home, court records show.

The raid, which took place after midnight, involved the use of a flash bang grenade tossed through the window of the kitchen while officers used a battering ram to breach the apartment.

Stamps was in the hallway of the apartment when the SWAT team entered, and he was immediately ordered to get on the ground, the ruling states.

Stamps reportedly put his hands out and complied. While he was on the floor, face down, Duncan pointed his gun at Stamps, which he had switched from safety to semi-automatic. At some point, Duncan accidently fired, killing Stamps.

Review of the incident found that Duncan thrice violated safety protocols, by setting his gun to semi-automatic without a perceived threat, by pointing the gun at Stamps instead of in a safe direction, and by resting his finger on the gun's trigger.

Although the town acknowledged that Duncan violated safety protocols, the town moved for Duncan to be protected by qualified immunity, arguing that the shooting was accidental and did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

The Boston-based appeals court rejected that reasoning Friday.

"Where an officer creates conditions that are highly likely to cause harm and unnecessarily so, and the risk so created actually, but accidentally, causes harm, the case is not removed from Fourth Amendment scrutiny," Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for a three-member panel.

Qualified immunity shields government officials from civil liability as long as the official's actions did not violate statutory or constitutional rights. Framingham and Duncan argued that the officer should be protected because the fatal shot was unintentional, but the First Circuit didn't buy it.

"The heart of their argument is that regardless of Duncan's actions leading up to the moment he pulled the trigger, the inadvertence of the shot shields him from Fourth Amendment scrutiny," Lynch wrote. "We cannot agree. The defendants' proposed rule has the perverse effect of immunizing risky behavior only when the foreseeable harm of that behavior comes to pass."

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