(CN) – The 9th Circuit dismissed a family’s excessive force claims against a Washington police officer who shot at the driver of a stolen minivan 11 times, killing him.
Jason Wilkinson was shot at 11 times and killed by Vancouver Officer Rick Torres during a messy pursuit where Wilkinson was driving a stolen minivan. Torres and other officers managed to stop Wilkinson by spinning the van off the road, causing it to hit a telephone pole. Wilkinson tried to back up the van, but it spun out of control and its front end knocked down an approaching officer.
The officer got up quickly, but Torres claimed he was afraid that the van would run him over, so he started firing into the van.
Wilkinson died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Wilkinson’s family sued, claiming Torres violated Wilkinson’s right to be free from excessive force. A federal judge allowed the claims to proceed, citing an active dispute over whether shooting 11 rounds from a 15-round magazine was excessive.
A 2-1 panel in Seattle reversed on appeal, concluding that Torres had acted reasonably given the circumstances — particularly the fact that he was forced to make a “split-second decision.”
The appellate panel also rejected the family’s claim that Wilkinson had been “executed” by Torres.
“No intent to harm separate from a legitimate law enforcement objective is evidenced by the mere fact that Torres shot Wilkinson, especially in the escalating situation,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote.
Judge Consuelo Marshall dissented, saying the case should have gone to a jury.