CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit denied immunity Thursday to a police officer who shot a truck driver he’d been brawling with after the man put his hands in the air and twice said, “I surrender.”
“We cannot read the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and, on the record as it presently stands, conclude as a matter of law that the officer is entitled to qualified immunity,” U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Scudder wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. “Doing so would mark a stark departure from clearly established law regarding an officer’s use of deadly force.”
In 2013, Craig Strand, a truck driver, stopped his truck in Merrillville, Indiana, to take a mandatory drug screening. Unable to find parking at the drug testing facility, he asked for and received permission to park his truck at a nearby Planned Parenthood office.
Officer Curtis Minchuk was working security at Planned Parenthood, in uniform.
Unaware that Strand had authorization to park there, Minchuk wrote Strand two parking tickets.
When Strand came back to his truck, he attempted to explain his situation to the policeman, but Officer Minchuk allegedly asked for a bribe.
Strand refused to pay, and took out his phone to take pictures showing the absence of no-parking signs in order to contest the tickets.
At this point, Minchuk allegedly ordered Strand to leave immediately, and Strand said he would leave as soon as he was done taking pictures.
Minchuk said, “I told you to get the f*** outta here,” slapped Strand’s cell phone to the ground, and tore his shirt off his body, according to court records.
The policeman demanded Strand’s ID, and Strand countered by demanding Minchuk’s badge number.
The argument escalated into a full-on brawl, with both men hitting each other on the ground. Strand punched Minchuk at least three times in the face, and put his hands around the officer’s throat.
But, court records show, it was Strand who ended the fight when he stood up, backed away 4 to 6 feet, put his hands up and said, “I surrender. Do whatever you think you need to do. I surrender, I’m done.”
Minchuk responded by shooting Strand in the abdomen.
Strand survived the shooting, and was later convicted of battery of a police officer.
He filed a civil rights lawsuit against Minchuk and the town of Merrillville, and a federal judge refused to grant Minchuk immunity for his use of deadly force.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed Thursday, finding that, “For Minchuk to prevail at this stage, the record must show that he fired while Strand still posed a threat. Instead, the record shows that Strand had backed away, voiced his surrender, and up to five, ten, or fifteen seconds may have elapsed while Strand stood with his hands in the air.”
Judge Scudder’s 16-page opinion was joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Michael Kanne and Amy St. Eve. All three judges on the panel are Republican appointees.
“Strand’s confrontation with Officer Minchuk involved no high‐speed car and foot chase, no report of a violent crime, and no reason to believe an offender was armed,” Scudder wrote. “Here…the circumstances are unclear such that we cannot discern with any confidence whether Strand continued to pose a threat to Officer Minchuk.”