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High Court Refuses ADA Excessive Force Case

a close up of an officers uniform and badge with a patrol car in the background.
By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a closely watched petition for cert. in the excessive force case against Newport Beach's police department.

The cert denial is bad news for the department as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals previously held that the case against the department, but not against individual officers, could proceed. The Newport Beach incident made national headlines as the victim was a mentally handicapped individual who was shot dead by police, and based on what’s been reported, it would seem that non-lethal force could have been used.

Extra-Excessive Force

Notably, this case not only charges the officers and department with using excessive force, it also claims that the department failed to reasonably accommodate a mentally ill person that they were taking into custody. The question of whether the ADA applies to arrests when a suspect is exhibiting violent behavior hasn't been decided by the High Court, though the Ninth Circuit has taken the position that it does.

Gerritt Vos suffered from schizophrenia, and may have been having an episode in the 7-11 store, when he injured an employee with a pair of scissors. Vos was visibly upset, and everyone inside the store left. Police arrived and created a barrier behind two police cars several feet back from the door. When Vos came out of the store, there were several police officers, all standing back behind the two police cars, with guns drawn. Officers allege that Vos was running towards them with the scissors and that they were forced to shoot as they were in imminent danger. These claims of imminent danger were immediately questioned as officers are alleged to have known that Vos was mentally ill, only had a pair scissors, and the officers had non-lethal force methods available. Despite non-lethal devices being available, two officers actually had automatic rifles drawn.

The Ninth Circuit held that the district court granted summary judgment in error because there were questions of fact as to whether the use of force was reasonable under the circumstances.

Guidance for Officers

Notably, the lack of a decision from the High Court should come as no surprise. In 2014 it took up a case that could have answered the question, but the Court failed to actually address it, sidestepping the question of whether the ADA applied to arrests of suspects who present a risk of injury or other dangers.

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