Mesa AZ | Personal Injury attorney Brian T. Allen discusses wrongful death suits involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement in the following post:
Law enforcement officers carry firearms for a reason. They are tasked with protecting the public, and unfortunately that job description occasionally requires the use of deadly force. However, their ability to use deadly force is subject to certain legal limits.
An officer who uses deadly force while on the job may face at least three separate sources of inquiry into whether the deadly force fell within those limits. The first is an internal review by the officer’s department or agency. The second may come in a criminal prosecution for murder. Finally, the officer may face a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of the deceased individual.
Wrongful death lawsuits against police officers have been frequent subjects of national news (along with police use of deadly force in general). For example, Michael Brown’s family is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Ferguson and former police officer Darren Wilson. Wilson shot and killed Brown in August of 2014, and a Grand Jury reviewed the case and declined to indict him, meaning that no criminal charges were filed. The civil wrongful death lawsuit will proceed against Wilson sometime in October of 2016.
The main question in that wrongful death lawsuit is likely to be: was Officer Wilson’s use of deadly force justified by law? In declining to indict, the Grand Jury likely decided that it was justified, or at least that there was not enough evidence to go forward with a murder charge. However, a separate jury may get the opportunity to decide in civil court next year in the wrongful death case.
If you follow the national news on this subject, you might be curious about the legal standards regarding police use of deadly force here in Arizona. It will be important to be aware of these standards if you ever find yourself considering a wrongful death lawsuit against a police officer. The pertinent standards are found in Title 13 of the Arizona Revises Statutes, and they read as follows:
The use of deadly force by a peace officer against another is justified…only when the peace officer reasonably believes that it is necessary:
- To defend himself or a third person from what the peace officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.
- To effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom the peace officer reasonably believes:
(a) Has committed, attempted to commit, is committing or is attempting to commit a felony involving the use or a threatened use of a deadly weapon.
(b) Is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon.
(c) Through past or present conduct of the person which is known by the peace officer that the person is likely to endanger human life or inflict serious bodily injury to another unless apprehended without delay.
(d) Is necessary to lawfully suppress a riot if the person or another person participating in the riot is armed with a deadly weapon.
An individual will only win a wrongful death suit against a police officer for his use of deadly force if the jury finds that the officer’s use of force did not comply with one of the standards listed above. If the officer’s use of force did not violate any of the standards, then the jury will find that the use of deadly force was justified – a regrettable but necessary part of the job of a police officer. If the jury finds that the use of force was justified, the plaintiff cannot recover any damages on the wrongful death claim.
This is a very serious – and sometimes controversial – subject. If you have further questions or if you believe you have grounds to bring a wrongful death claim, please call.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Police Deadly Force and Wrongful Death Claims, or any other personal injury, please feel free to contact Brian T. Allen at 480.461.5335, log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.