The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a police officer who shot and killed a fugitive in a high-speed chase. In the dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor condemns our culture of police brutality, which not only allowed the officer to be reckless in his actions but ultimately granted him immunity. Our police brutality lawyers highlight Justice Sotomayor’s dissent and discuss the merits of this case.
The incident that led to this lawsuit occurred in March 2010 in Texas when an allegedly armed and intoxicated fugitive, Israel Leija Jr., was fleeing from local police. As the chase ensued, a trooper for the Texas Department of Safety, Chadrin Mullenix, stood on an overpass considering how to handle the situation.
Earlier that day, Mullenix was given a talk by his superiors urging him to be more proactive on the job. Mullenix planned on setting up spike strips to stop Leija’s car, a tactic his supervisor approved. As Leija’s car approached, however, Mullenix independently decided to shoot at his car instead, which he had no training in. His supervisor told him to stand by to see if the spikes worked first, but Mullenix ignored this order and fired six shots at Leija just seconds before his car hit the spikes.
Four bullets hit Leija in his head, neck and shoulders, killing him. When Mullenix saw his supervisor after the fatal shooting, he remarked, “how’s that for proactive?”
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After his death, the Department of Public Safety determined that Mullenix had acted recklessly, and Leija’s mother filed a lawsuit against him. She claimed Mullenix violated her son’s Fourth Amendment right – citizens’ right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. – by using unreasonable force. In the civil suit, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mullenix’s actions were objectively unreasonable, and he was not qualified for immunity from Leija’s mother’s lawsuit.
On Monday, November 9, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed, ruling that Mullenix’s actions did not violate constitutional law, granting him immunity. The majority rationalized Mullenix’s actions, stating that the appropriateness of deadly force in car chases remains up for debate. Since the line between acceptable and unreasonable force is hazy, they stated, Mullenix was granted the benefit of the doubt.
Justice Sotomayor was the only justice to dissent. She stated that Mullenix ignored the Fourth Amendment, which states that there must be a governmental interest in the level of force used to seize a suspect. She argues that, since Mullenix had not training in shooting to disable a vehicle, did not have permission to shoot, and did not wait to see if the spikes worked, he had no plausible reason to choose shooting at Leija.
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She said Mullenix’s comment to his superior after killing Leija only highlights the culture of unjust police immunity in this country. She states that supporting Mullenix’s decision to use deadly force for “no discernible gain and over a superior’s express order to ‘stand by,'” renders citizens’ rights under the Fourth Amendment hollow. According to Sotomayor, the Court’s decision to grant Mullenix immunity sanctions the “shoot first, think later” police culture in the United States.
Experience with Police Varies by Race
The University of Chicago recently studied how experiences with law enforcement vary by race. Researchers asked black, Latino, Asian and white Millennials about policing, guns and the legal system in the U.S. In the report, white Millennials said they were not routinely asked to explain themselves to police, while black Millennials are stopped frequently for simple questioning.
All respondents reported that they believed the police were there to protect; however, when asked if they trust the police, 44% of black respondents said yes, compared to 71% of white respondents. When asked if they or someone they know had experienced police harassment or violence, 54% of black Millennials said yes, while just 28% of Asian and 32% of white Millennials said yes.
This study, Black Millennials in America, was released by the Black Youth Project at the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago.
The police misconduct lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have 30 years of experience defending the rights of citizens injured and killed by police brutality. If you have any questions or believe you have been victimized by police misconduct, contact our firm immediately. We give free case reviews to potential clients nationwide.