Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Opinion Rejects Contention of Hostage in Getaway Car That Liability Exists Based on Her Injuries From Jumping From Moving Vehicle for Fear She Would Be Killed by Bullets Fired by Police
By Sandra Hong, Staff Writer
Two Stockton police officers who shot multiple rounds at a fleeing vehicle with hostages known to be inside acted reasonably based on the circumstances, the Third District Court of Appeal held yesterday, affirming summary judgment in a lawsuit against the officers by one of the hostages.
She alleges the improper use of deadly force compelled her to leap from the speeding vehicle, causing her serious injuries.
“Based on the totality of circumstances surrounding the officer defendants’ conduct, we conclude their respective uses of deadly force were reasonable as a matter of law,” Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch declared in the opinion joined by Acting Presiding Justice Cole Blease and Justice Harry E. Hull Jr.
Hoch’s opinion upholds San Joaquin Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Kronlund’s grant of summary judgment to Stockton police officers Douglas Anderson and Edward Webb and the City of Stockton and its police department.
Stephanie Koussaya was taken hostage, along with Kelly Huber and Misty Holt-Singh on July 16, 2014 by three armed men while working as a teller at a Bank of the West in Stockton. The three men were Alex Martinez, Jaime Ramos, and Gilbert Renteria Jr.
They used all three women as human shields to escape the robbery scene, forcing them into a Ford Explorer belonging to Huber.
A high-speed chase ensued. Huber was pushed out of the vehicle after being shot in the leg by Ramos. Koussaya and Holt-Singh remained captive for more than an hour, during which time Martinez exchanged fire with police.
Koussaya jumped out of the racing vehicle, later explaining she believed she would be killed in gunfire exchange if she didn’t. Minutes later, police officers fired “several hundred rounds” into the vehicle, killing Martinez and Renteria, as well as the remaining hostage, Holt-Singh.
Koussaya’s complaint alleged causes of action for assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and general negligence.
Hoch said Anderson and Webb had probable cause to believe fellow officers and bystanders were endangered by Martinez, who was shooting out the back of the speeding vehicle.
“No reasonable juror could conclude otherwise,” Hoch said, citing the 2009 Court of Appeal opinion from the Fourth District’s Div. One in Brown v. Ransweiler.
In Brown, the court deemed a police officer’s use of deadly force against a suspect to be reasonable where there is probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a “significant threat of death or serious physical injury” to the officers or others.
Hoch noted Anderson fired at the back of the vehicle after Martinez shot an AK-47 rifle multiple times, disabling at least one police car. Anderson and Martinez exchanged fire at least three times during the pursuit.
Webb fired at Martinez in self-defense, Hoch said, explaining that Martinez fired at Webb’s patrol car, prompting Webb to pull over and return fire.
Koussaya argued that the reasonableness of the officers’ actions could not be determined on summary judgment because they had violated a general departmental order relating to firing at vehicles during high-speed pursuits.
Hoch observed that “the existence of an applicable general order does not establish the standard of care for using deadly force.”
Rather, the standard is set by the 2013 state Supreme Court opinion in Hayes v. San Diego, which describes “reasonableness of an officer’s conduct is determined in light of the totality of circumstances.”
Additionally, violating general orders or rules of an organization does not automatically impute a breach of standard, Hoch said, remarking: “That is not the law.”
Koussaya also contended that there was a violation of a lieutenant’s specific order not to shoot at the vehicle. Hoch noted that while there is a factual dispute as to whether that applied to Anderson—a captain who outranked the lieutenant—“we nevertheless conclude violation of the order was reasonable as a matter of law in these specific circumstances.”
The case is Koussaya v. City of Stockton, C089159.
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