Torres v. City of Madera

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Law
  • Date Filed: 08-22-2011
  • Case #: 09-16573
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hawkins for the Court, Circuit Judges Fletcher Concurrence by Circuit Judge Siler
  • Full Text Opinion

The standard for judging the objective reasonableness of an officer’s conduct when she mistakenly using her firearm rather than Taser on an individual already arrested, handcuffed, and in the back seat of a patrol car, still remains the “totality of the circumstances.”

On October 27, 2009, Madera City Police officers arrested Everardo Torres (Everadro) and Erica Mejia. Both were handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a patrol car. Everardo began yelling and kicking the rear car door from inside, though the parties dispute whether he was yelling, “Get me out of the car,” or rather, that his handcuffs were too tight. Officer Noriega, while outside, approached the car and opened the rear driver’s side door, unsnapped her holster, removed the Glock, aimed the weapon’s laser at Everardo’s center mass, and pulled the trigger, all without looking at the weapon in her hand. The parties agree that Officer Noriega had intended to reach for her Taser, which she kept in a thigh holster immediately below her holstered Glock. Everardo died later that evening from the gunshot wound. Everardo’s parents brought action asserting a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. Earlier, the Ninth Circuit held Officer Noriega’s conduct was governed by the Fourth Amendment reasonableness analysis, and therefore, the district court must consider in the first instance whether Officer Noriega’s mistake in using her Glock was objectively unreasonable. On remand, the district court found Officer Noriega’s mistake was reasonable as a matter of law and determined she was entitled to qualified immunity, because it would not have been clear to a reasonable officer in 2002 that a mistaken use of force violated the Fourth Amendment. The Ninth Circuit concluded that while a jury might ultimately find Officer Noriega’s mistake of weapon to have been reasonable, it was inappropriate for the district court to reach their conclusion in the face of the material disputed facts. Furthermore, the Court held Officer Noriega has not shown an entitlement to qualified immunity, thus summary judgment was improperly granted. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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