LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) – A unanimous Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in a legal dispute stemming from 2010, when a couple of bystanders were shot while the deputies searched for a wanted man in Lancaster.
The justices overturned an award of $4 million in damages to the couple and ordered a lower court to take another look at whether the deputies could be held liable for the shooting.
Sheriff’s deputies Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson were searching for a parolee-at-large in October 2010 when they raided the makeshift residence of Angel Mendez and his wife, Jennifer, without a warrant, court records show.
They saw an armed Angel and opened fire, seriously wounding him and a pregnant Jennifer. Angel was forced to have his leg amputated as a result of his injuries. Jennifer suffered a shattered collar bone.
But Angel wasn’t the suspect they were searching for, and it turned out he was carrying a BB gun.
Deputies had been told before they entered the cluttered backyard that a man and woman were staying in a shack there, according to court records. When they opened the door, one of the officers saw a man holding a gun, shouted “gun” and two officers fired 15 shots.
Angel said he had picked up his BB gun at the time officers entered in order to move it. The couple filed suit in 2011, alleging excessive force and federal civil rights violations.
A federal appeals court ruled that the deputies were liable because they provoked a violent confrontation by entering the shack without a warrant.
But Justice Samuel Alito said such a “provocation rule” is not compatible with excessive force claims under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. If the officers were reasonable in using force to defend themselves, Alito said, a court should not go back in time to see whether the incident was provoked.
Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the case, which was argued before he joined the high court.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)