Police Win Precludes State Suit Over Fatal Shooting

     (CN) – The California Supreme Court blocked a wrongful death-case from proceeding in state court, because police prevailed in a federal case regarding the same shooting incident.

     George Hernandez led police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Pomona, Calif., for 18 minutes after he failed to comply with an officer’s orders to exit his vehicle with his hands up. After crashing the car, Hernandez fled on foot.
     A police dog caught him first. According to the officers, Hernandez claimed to have a gun. One witness said Hernandez yelled that he did not have a gun. Officers shot Hernandez 22 times, killing him. Hernandez was unarmed.
     His parents and seven children sued the city of Pomona, alleging violations of Hernandez’ Fourth and 14th Amendment protections against search and seizure and excessive force.
     The family also claimed that the Pomona police “encouraged their officers … to shoot unarmed suspects and specifically individuals of Mexican ancestry and other minority groups.”
     The district court ruled for the police on the basis of qualified immunity, and said the police were protecting themselves from a suspect they believed to be armed.
     The Hernandez family then took the case to state court, arguing that the standard for “reasonableness” was sufficiently different to justify a new trial. The trial court dismissed the case on the basis of issue preclusion. However, the state appeals court ruled that the police victory in federal court did not preclude the Hernandez family from asserting in state court that the officer’s negligence before the shooting led to the use of deadly force.
     Justice Chin reversed, halting the negligence case for deadly force and pre-shooting conduct.
     “Hernandez, as part of his illegal flight from the officers … chose where to run; the officers merely followed his chosen path of attempted escape,” Chin wrote. “The officers were not obliged to simply let Hernandez go; they were authorized to press forward to make an arrest, using reasonably necessary force.”

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