Monday, November 7, 2011
Court Revives Suit by Parents of Boy Killed by Police
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday revived a lawsuit filed by the parents of a suicidal teenage boy killed by the police officers his mother had summoned for assistance.
Material questions of fact as to the actions of 18-year-old Lukus Glenn and the responding officers precluded the district court’s conclusion that the officers’ resort to deadly force within four minutes of their arrival was reasonable as a matter of law, the panel said.
Glenn allegedly came home from a high school football game in September 2006 intoxicated and became angry when his parents would not allow him to leave on his motorcycle. He began to damage household property, including windows and the front door, and the windows of cars parked in the driveway.
When his parents and his friends were unable to calm him, Glenn’s mother said she called 911 because she thought “the police would have the expertise and experience to deal with an emotionally distraught teenager.”
The transcript of the 911 call states that she told the dispatcher Glenn was “out of control, busting our windows, and has a knife and is threatening us.” She later clarified that the knife was “just a pocket knife,” and informed the operator that Glenn was “really, really intoxicated.”
Glenn’s mother reported that he was “threatening the knife to his neck and he keeps saying he’s gonna kill himself if the cops come,” and “he’s not leaving until the cops shoot him and kill him.”
The 911 dispatcher then informed the Washington County Sheriff’s Department that officers were needed at the Glenn home for a domestic disturbance involving a “fight with a weapon.”
Officers who responded to the scene allegedly approached Glenn, who was on the driveway of his parents’ home and holding the knife to his neck, with their weapons drawn, and began screaming commands at him.
When Glenn did not comply with the shouted commands, an officer carrying a beanbag shotgun then fired all six of the gun’s rounds at Glenn. The officers’ brief acknowledges that Glenn “appeared surprised, confused, and possibly in pain,” after being struck by the rounds.
Numerous witnesses said that Glenn began to move away from the beanbag fire toward an alcove between the house and garage, apparently retreating, but after he took one or two steps, the officers opened fire with their semiautomatic weapons.
They fired 11shots, eight of which struck Glenn in the back, chest, stomach, shoulder and legs. All the lethal fire purportedly occurred before the last beanbag round was fired, and less than four minutes after the first officer arrived on the scene.
Glenn’s mother subsequently filed a complaint against the officers and Washington County alleging a wrongful death claim under Oregon law, and a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment.
The defendants moved for summary judgment, which U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman of the District of Oregon granted last June, based on his finding that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity.
Writing for the appellate court, Judge Raymond C. Fisher posited that “in some circumstances some force might be warranted to prevent suicide,” but “[o]n the facts presented here, viewed favorably to the plaintiff, the officers’ use of force was not undisputably reasonable.”
He added that Glenn’s possession of a knife, and the possibility he could pose a threat to the officers and bystanders, was “an important consideration,” but not a dispositive one, since at the moment the officers shot him with the beanbag gun, “there was little evidence that he posed an ‘immediate threat’ to anybody.”
“By all accounts,” Fisher noted, Glenn “was suicidal on the night in question and the threats of violence known to the responding officers focused on harming himself rather than other people,” and he “stayed in the same position from the moment officers arrived and showed no signs of attempting to move until after he was fired upon.”
The justice also acknowledged that alternative means of force could have been used, no clear warning was given before force was employed, Glenn was not actively resisting the officers, and had committed no crime.
“We recognize that the officers have offered evidence that could support a verdict in their favor,” Fischer said, but because “the disputed facts and inferences could support a verdict for either party,” a jury should have been given the opportunity to assess the reasonableness of the force used.
Judges Ronald M. Gould and Richard A. Paez joined Fischer in his decision.
The case is Glenn v. Washington County, 10-35636.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company