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Officer Denied Immunity |in Mother’s Shooting

(CN) - A police officer is not entitled to immunity for shooting and killing a mother in front of her children when she stole his police cruiser because she was not endangering anyone, the Sixth Circuit ruled Friday.

In May 2011, Deputy Dustin Patrick saw Armetta Foster walking down the median of I-75 in Bradley County, Tennessee with her 10-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. She claimed her car had broken down, and she was walking to meet someone to pick her up.

He offered to give Foster a ride to the station, and got out of his cruiser to open the back door.

According to Patrick, Foster then slashed him with a knife, and ran into the driver's side of the police cruiser.

The deputy says he ordered Foster to get out of the car "two to three times," then fired his weapon four to five times. He paused, again ordered Foster out of the car, but she "gassed it," so Patrick resumed firing.

According to Foster's children, who witnessed the entire incident, their mother never pulled a knife on Patrick, but instead jumped on his back "like a piggyback ride."

Patrick then "moved his shoulder" to fling her off.

Foster's son, then six-years-old, said that Patrick began shooting when his mother put the car "in the drive motion."

Her daughter, however, says that Patrick began shooting before her mother got in the cruiser.

Patrick fired thirteen or fourteen gunshots, eight of which hit the woman.

She only drove a short distance on I-75 before she veered off the highway. Foster died at the hospital of multiple gunshot wounds.

Foster's father, Leonard Foster, filed a civil rights suit against Patrick, alleging that the officer used excessive force.

A federal judge denied Patrick qualified immunity, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed Friday.

"Although Foster was fleeing and the events were rapidly unfolding, Leonard has put forth evidence that Foster - who, to Patrick's knowledge, was unarmed and intent on flight - was not a threat to anyone when she fled in the cruiser," U.S. Circuit Judge Eugene Siler said, writing for the three-judge panel.

The court noted that Foster never used the car as a weapon by threatening to hit Patrick with his own vehicle, nor did she appear to be aware that there was a loaded shotgun above the driver's seat.

"This court has previously acknowledged the danger presented when a suspect 'driv[es] off in a stolen police car,' but has concluded that such danger, without more, is 'not so grave as to justify the use of deadly force,'" Siler wrote. "Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Leonard, Patrick did not have reason to believe that Foster would use the police cruiser or the weapons in compartments inside the cruiser to injure anyone."

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