Officer Cleared on Shooting High, Naked Man

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Kenyado Newsuan was naked and unarmed, but high on PCP, when Philadelphia police shot and killed him in the street. The Third Circuit was split 2-1 Tuesday in affirming summary judgment for the officer.
     Officer Thomas Dempsey encountered Newsuan at around 6 a.m. on April 22, 2012. The ruling says 911 had been getting calls for the past four hours about sightings of a naked man on North Mascher Street.
     At 6 feet and 220 pounds, by Dempsey’s estimate, 31-year-old Newsuan was an imposing sight but unarmed.
     Dempsey claims that Newsuan screamed obscenities at him and ultimately charged at him.
     He says a stun gun had no effect; Newsuan grabbed his shirt and a struggle ensued.
     When Newsuan reached for Dempsey’s firearm, after multiple strikes to the officer’s head, Dempsey says he wedged his gun between his body and Newsuan’s and fired two shots into Newsuan’s chest.
     Newsuan still struggled for the gun, however — the officer says — so Dempsey fired again.
     Dempsey fired a fourth a time, killing Newsuan, he says, because Newsuan grappled yet once more for the gun.
     At least two neighbors reported that Newsuan slammed the officer into parked vehicles before reaching for Dempsey’s gun, but Newsuan’s girlfriend tells a different story.
     Newsuan’s estate brought a lawsuit against Philadelphia and Dempsey, but a federal judge ruled for the defendants at summary judgment.
     The Third Circuit affirmed Tuesday, prompting an impassioned dissent from U.S. Circuit Judge Jane Roth.
     “The death of individuals with mental health problems at the hands of the police continues to occur across the country,” Roth wrote. “The first line of defense against these incidents is the establishment of police regulations designed to prevent interactions between police officers and mentally disabled people from escalating into deadly confrontations.”
     Calling it obvious that Newsuan was mentally disturbed, Roth said Dempsey should have followed departmental procedure and called for backup before engaging with the man.
     By failing to do so, Dempsey set into motion an inevitable chain of events that led to Newsuan’s death.
     The dissent characterizes Newsuan’s being high on PCP as a mental health problem that police should must deal with through de-escalation.
     The majority meanwhile disputes that the events leading up to Newsuan’s death were not inevitably caused by Dempsey’s decision to proceed without backup.
     Writing for the court, U.S. Circuit Judge Julio Fuentes said Newsuan’s decision to attack Dempsey severed any ties between the initial interaction and the fatal shooting.
     If Newsuan’s own actions were the proximate cause of his death, then Dempsey is removed from Fourth Amendment scrutiny.
     “Whatever the Fourth Amendment requires of officers encountering emotionally or mentally disturbed individuals, it does not oblige and officer to passively endure a life-threatening physical assault, regardless of the assailant’s mental state,” Fuentes wrote.
     Philadelphia city attorney Craig Gottlieb has not returned a request for comment, nor has Alan Denenberg, an attorney for Newsaun’s estate with the firm Abramson & Denenberg.

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