Thursday, July 23, 2020
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Five officers acted reasonably in fatally shooting a man who, after a high speed chase, became trapped at the end of one-way street and, after the officers had alighted from their vehicles, turned the stolen van he was driving in the direction from which he came and charged at them, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held yesterday.
“We hold that the officers’ use of deadly force was objectively reasonable in this dynamic and urgent situation, where officers were faced with the immediate threat of significant physical harm,” Judge Lawrence VanDyke said in an opinion for a three-judge panel.
The opinion affirms a summary judgment in favor of the City of Murrieta, in Riverside County, and the officers, granted by District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner of the Central District of California. Qualified immunity, he said, applied.
Parents of the man who was killed, Junef Monzon, argued the significance of testimony by a passenger in the van that Monzon had, before he was shot, raised his arms over his head, surrendering. Crediting that testimony, as must be done on summary judgment, VanDyke said, it remains that the van was speeding toward the officers, crashing into one of their cruisers and pushing it at an officer, and continuing his advance.
“Judges and lawyers viewing an event like this in hindsight from the comfort of their armchairs are often tempted to dissect, evaluate, and second-guess the officers’ actions piecemeal. That would be a serious mistake. Cherry-picking specific facts in hindsight is not at all reflective of how this event transpired in real life. It all happened in less time than it took to type this sentence, before daylight, in a very dynamic and chaotic environment, where officers were forced to make split-second decisions about a driver who deliberately turned his car around and drove it toward and between them. The officers were faced with a reckless driver who had already endangered their lives and the lives of the public with a high-speed chase, had broken traffic laws, ignored commands to stop his vehicle, and steered and accelerated his van toward them in close quarters on an unlit street.”
The jurist continued:
“Although we must read the record in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, we do not—indeed, we cannot—dissect the record in a way that ignores the totality of the dynamic and quickly changing circumstances Monzon created by deliberately turning his car around and driving it toward and between five officers.”
Warning Not Given
The parents argued that the officers acted unreasonably because they did not giving warning of an intent to shoot. VanDyke responded:
“The urgency of this chaotic situation made a deadly force warning impractical because the van went from a standstill to crashing into a cruiser at over 17 mph in 4.5 seconds. And assuming that Monzon put his hands up in the air, we cannot look at that fact in isolation and ignore the quickly changing situation. The uncontested fact that Monzon was still driving and turning his car toward the officers while allegedly raising his hands in surrender (after having just hit a fence post and finishing a high-speed chase) must also be taken into account. In that circumstance, it was objectively reasonable for the officers to believe that whatever else Monzon was doing, he was not surrendering.”
The case is Monzon v. City of Murrieta, 19-55164.
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