Police Not Liable for Fatal Shooting in Air Gun Case

     (CN) – A Florida police officer did not use excessive force when he fatally shot a 15-year-old middle school student during a standoff after the teen brought a plastic air pistol to school that looked like a real gun, the 11th Circuit ruled.

     Christopher Penley’s parents, Ralph and Donna Penley, sued Lt. Michael Weippert and Sheriff Donald Eslinger, claiming Weippert’s use of lethal force was unnecessary and excessive.
     Christopher caused a panic when he took the air pistol to class with him at Milwee Middle School in Longwood, Fla. As students fled the classroom, Christopher briefly held at least one student hostage.
     He let the student go, and then roamed around the campus with the air pistol.
     When an officer with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office ordered him to drop his weapon, Christopher “held the gun under his own chin, responded that he was going to die one way or another, and ‘slithered’ into a bathroom,” the ruling states.
     A negotiator was called in to talk Christopher into giving up his weapon and emerging from the bathroom.
     Lt. Weippert, a SWAT team member since 1989, said Christopher walked in front of the open bathroom door three times, each time pointing his weapon at police.
     Weippert said he “began to conclude” that Christopher posed a danger to police, “to others and to the children that were exposed to that open area.”
     On a deputy sheriff’s signal, Weippert shot Christopher in the head with a scoped semiautomatic rifle. It was only after the shot was fired that police learned the gun was fake.
     The district court dismissed the Penleys’ lawsuit, finding Weippert’s decision reasonable given the circumstances.
     A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta agreed.
     “The loss of such a young life is an undeniable tragedy,” Judge Beverly Martin wrote. “However, with their suit, the Penleys ask us to conduct precisely the sort of 20/20 hindsight inquiry against which the Supreme Court and this Court have repeatedly cautioned.”

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