Officers Must Defend Killing Dad in His Home

     (CN) — A jury must decide whether or not police officers had cause to shoot and kill a father who broke into his own home after forgetting his keys, the 11th Circuit ruled.
     As related in court documents, Dirk Smith came home early from vacation after he and his wife had an argument.
     She called ahead and told the babysitter watching their two children not to let Smith into the family’s Georgia home until he sought counseling.
     When Smith arrived, the babysitter would not let him in, and he had forgotten his keys, so he broke into his own home.
     Frightened, the babysitter called the police who entered the home without a warrant. Once inside, they found Smith in the kitchen, holding a that he refused to put down until the officers lowered their guns.
     The officers Tasered Smith, who then ran into the bathroom and refused to come out. Smith’s son says he saw his father drop the knife as he ran from the officers.
     But the officers describe something else entirely. They claim Smith charged out of the bathroom with the knife in his hand. Two police officers opened fire, and fatally shot him.
     A federal judge concluded most of the officers’ actions that night were reasonable, but that the actions of the two officers who shot Smith, defendants Charles Ings and Richard LePage, must go before a jury.
     The 11th Circuit affirmed the ruling Thursday.
     “We conclude that the officers were authorized to enter the Smith home without a warrant under the exigent circumstances exception,” Judge Beverly Martin said, writing for the three-judge panel. “In light of the specific circumstances confronting the officers, it was reasonable to believe that an emergency situation existed.”
     The officers also reasonably Tasered Smith for refusing to obey police commands to drop his weapon, as they could have believed he posed a danger to himself or his children.
     However, assuming that Smith did not have a knife in the bathroom as his family claims, “the use of deadly force in this circumstance was a constitutional violation,” Martin said.
     “Mr. Smith had never made physical contact with the officers or explicitly threatened them; he asked them to put down their weapons and told them he was afraid; and he appeared to be trying to get out of the area after hiding in his bathroom and closet,” she continued. “The officers had no reason to believe that deadly force was necessary to prevent Mr. Smith’s escape, given that he had merely committed misdemeanor offenses and was completely surrounded.”
     The panel affirmed that a jury must decide whether Smith was armed and dangerous, and the officers acted in self-defense by shooting him, or if he had no weapon, and the officers shot an unarmed man in his own home.

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