Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Opinion Says She Should Have Been Able to Tell Jurors of Behavior She Witnessed; Was Relevant to Whether Officer Should Have Realized Man Was Mentally Ill
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reversed a judgment in favor of the City of Bakersfield in an action by a mother whose son was fatally shot by a police officer in a confrontation, with the court holding that her testimony should have been admitted as to her observations of the son’s aberrant behavior which, she contended, the officer should have realized reflected mental illness.
Bakersfield police officer Aaron Stringer fired at the son, Michael Dozer, when he charged at the officer with a bike lock utilized as a weapon. Stringer came to the scene upon receipt of a report that Dozer had spashed gasoline on a woman and had attempted to set her on fire.
Plaintiff Leslie Crawford contended in her civil rights action that Stringer should have realized from Dozer’s behavior that he was mentally ill and spoken to him slowly and called for backup. Stringer testified as to his perception that Dozer “was under the influence of a narcotic.”
Yesterday’s reversal of a defense judgment in a civil rights action is based on the decision by Magistrate Judge Stanley Albert Boone of the Eastern District of California to exclude testimony. The opinion for a three-judge panel was written by District Court Judge Gary Feinerman of the Northern District of Illinois, sitting by designation.
“The district court abused its discretion…in holding that Crawford’s proposed testimony was irrelevant on the ground that Stringer, at the time of the shooting, did not know about the past events to which Crawford would have testified. Crawford’s testimony regarding Dozer’s past behavior and treatment was relevant to whether he was in fact mentally ill at the time. Evidence that Dozer had previously behaved in ways consistent with mental illness and had been taken to mental health providers for treatment. makes it more likely that he continued to suffer from mental illness on the day of the shooting. In turn, whether Dozer was in fact mentally ill that day is relevant to whether he would have appeared to be mentally ill, and thus to whether Stringer knew or should have known that Dozer was mentally ill; after all, the existence of some underlying fact tends to make it more likely that a person knew or should have known that fact.”
“Thus, Crawford’s testimony about Dozer’s past behaviors and treatment was relevant even though Stringer had no knowledge of them.”
The case is Crawford v. City of Bakersfield, 16-17138.
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